What To Wear on a Boat
If you’re just getting into boating yourself or you’re planning to visit friends or family on their boat, it’s always a good idea to be familiar with what’s going to be appropriate in terms of clothing. It’s not like you need a formal boating outfit with a pirate hat or anything so involved as that, but there are some clothes better suited to being on a boat than others. I would argue that the most important article of clothing for any boat ride is the proper footwear and, after that, everything else has a lot of wiggle room.
Depending on what kind of boat you’re going to be on and what you’re going to be doing on the boat there are a few ways you can adjust your outfit to make you the most comfortable while still being dressed for the occasion. Let’s take a look at some of the more common reasons for taking a boat trip in the first place, whether that be a fishing trip or a boat part, and go from there.
Choose Your Boat Trip Footwear First
Lots of sites will put this down the list of things to choose from but I’m listing it first and most important. Why? Because no one ever got into an accident on a boat for wearing the wrong shirt. But the wrong shoes can ruin your day.
There’s a reason they make boat shoes or deck shoes and that’s because boats can be slippery. The wood of a boat deck can be too slick sometimes, especially if it’s wet from rain or sea spray. Combine that with the motion of the boat and, if you’re not used to being out on the water, your footing can suffer.
If you can’t get a good pair of boat shoes, or don’t want to invest in new shoes for what might just be a one-time event, look for shoes with a non-slip sole. Try to avoid black rubber because that can scuff and leave big, ugly black marks on the deck. Your host will probably not appreciate it.
A lot of people will lean towards sandals and flip flops for a boat trip because that’s typical footwear for the beach and being around water, but it’s often a bad idea for boats if they’re just cheap ones that don’t have grip. Flip flops especially can leave you slipping all over the deck of a boat in bad conditions.
The other reason I put this first is that, for many people, you want to be able to coordinate an outfit down to the shoes. So if you know what shoes you are going to have to wear to be safe on board, it makes it easier to build the rest of your boating outfit around that.
If you’re attending a yacht party or another formal event, in particular if you’re a woman, you’ll want to resist the urge to wear heels. I’ve seen women do it and sometimes it’s fine and goes off without a hitch but more than once I’ve seen someone wearing heels on a boat take a dive when the boat lurched over a wave. It’s a risk that may not be worth taking.
They do make boat shoes in a number of styles so you can find shoes to suit most tastes and occasions if you’re interested.
Casual Boat Ride Outfits
Just heading out for a fun ride, a sort of no big deal event? There are a few options for this kind of voyage where we’re guessing the weather is probably mild to warm.
Outfits for Women
Since you may be dealing with wind and some unpredictable weather at times, it’s good to not make your outfit too complicated on a boat. Simple stuff works best.
Shorts and a t-shirt is the basic and go to for anyone and it can work great on any type of boat trip. If the weather is a little cooler or breezy, a light jacket or windbreaker is a good option as well as some longer pants. Light colors to stay cool and light materials as well.
If you’re looking at boat-specific clothing you’ll notice a lot of the recommendations for women amount to little more than large sun hats, swimsuits and maybe a sundress. This has a lot to do with boating history and how women were often never even allowed on boats and then, when they were, it was simply as passengers so there was no real effort made to produce outfits for women specifically on boats. Men were piloting and controlling the boats and women did little if anything.
That said, there’s nothing wrong with those casual options for a woman, either. Kaftans, dresses, and wraps or a bathing suit cover up to go with swimsuits make for reasonable and comfortable options for most casual boat rides.
Outfit Ideas for Men
For casual boating trips, shorts and a t-shirt are again a solid option. Light materials like cotton, nylon long sleeves or especially something light and breathable like linen is a great option. You want that air flow to avoid getting too hot under the sun.
For shorts or pants, something cotton is never a bad idea but denim is also a good choice, especially if you’re planning to be moving around but not getting wet at all. Denim is tough and durable and less likely to snag or tear on anything on a boat.
If there is a chance of getting wet, ditch the denim for something lighter and fast drying.
If you plan to be out in the breeze or towards evening, a long jacket or windbreaker is also a good idea in case foul weather rolls in.
For both men and women, you’ll want to make sure you have three key things in addition to whatever other outfit you choose.
- Hat. A wide-brimmed hat to protect from intense sun is always a good idea. Remember, nothing is casting much shade out on the water so on a cloudless day you get full exposure. You can also go for a captain’s hat or just a ball cap if that’s more your style, but a wide brimmed hat for fishing or lounging will obviously keep more sun off of your face and the back of your neck as well. If you don’t have the full brim, hit the back of your neck with sunscreen.
- Sunglasses. For the same reason as above, a good pair of polarized sunglasses can protect your eyes from the sun’s rays. This is doubly important on the water because you have direct sun and also sun that reflects back from the water’s surface, so you have several angles coming at you.
- Sunscreen. Just like sunglasses, sunscreen is important to protect you from the direct sun as well as the reflected sun. You can burn remarkably fast on a boat as a result of this dual sun exposure so you want to use at least an SPF 30 but something stronger wouldn’t be a bad idea.
What to Wear to a Boat Party
If the occasion is a little more formal then you want to spruce things up a bit. This has a range as well, of course. You don’t want to wear a tuxedo to a boat party unless it’s a formal affair. Not that you can’t, but definitely dress for the event.
If we’re not fully formal, and usually boat parties, even yacht parties, don’t get that formal, then find something casual but dignified. Shorts may no longer be the appropriate choice here, but a decent pair of dress pants, khakis and a button down shirt and sport coat or blazer is probably appropriate. If it is formal, then even a suit may be the most appropriate choice unless it’s specifically black tie.
For women, a formal occasion might see something like a cocktail dress or gown being appropriate, but hopefully your host has clarified just how formal this is ahead of time. Otherwise you shouldn’t look out of place in a wrap skirt, wide-legged pants, or whatever outfit you’d feel just as comfortable wearing to a pool party type event.
Men or women, you still need the right shoes for a party. This is again where it’s good to look at the different styles of boat shoes. Some can be very dressy and formal looking. If you still can’t find what looks best for you, just remember you want non-slip soles. That’s the most important thing here.
How to Dress for Fishing on a Boat
There is a much wider range of possibilities for fishing on a boat for any number of reasons. To start, fishing trips tend to happen with less concern for the weather. You may be out early morning before the sun, in fog, even in a light rain. Plus, heading out in colder weather is par for the course for many anglers. So you need to dress for the occasion.
Fishing on a boat is an active thing and, as such, it’s good to wear layers to help make this more comfortable. Your base layer when you go fishing should be a lightweight shirt that can help wick away sweat and, if possible, block UV rays. You want light plus breathable here, so maybe a cotton-poly blend, nylon, or even polyester. The reason you don’t want to go full cotton is that if you sweat a lot, or just get wet in general, your shirt will not dry quickly and that can make you uncomfortable.
A long sleeve shirt is a good idea for a second layer. It sounds counterintuitive if you’re fishing on a hot day, but being covered in the sun is essential. It keeps you protected and also slows potential dehydration. Waterproof clothing is always a good idea to wear on a boat when fishing.
You can buy good quality shirts or light jackets designed for anglers that have great air circulation to keep you cool but also well protected from the elements.
In terms of color, it’s obviously a personal choice but a lot of anglers like to keep things muted and natural with greens, browns, grays and even camo. That said, it’s important to have a life jacket on when you’re in a boat, especially if you’re up and down a lot when fishing.
Nylon fishing pants are a good idea for the same reason a nylon top is. Make sure to get something with a good number of pockets if you need them. You can go for shorts as well but make sure you’re using sunscreen on your legs.
In terms of shoes, this is another mixed bag of options but non-slip soles are still the most important part, even more so than just for casual boating. Your fishing boat is going to get wet inside when you’re fishing and you may be dealing with fish slime as well. So you want to make sure your shoes have a good grip and make it as hard as possible for you to slip and have an accident.
If you have closed shoes, make sure they’re waterproof or they could get uncomfortable and also end up smelling dreadful when you’re done for the day.
Like cruising and day trips, you need a good fishing hat, sunglasses and sunscreen for a day of fishing. Make sure you bring water to drink as well. The activity under the sun can dehydrate you faster than you might think.
Fishing gloves are an extra item you may want to consider. They help you keep a good grip when things are wet or slimy but also protect your hands from the sun since they’re going to be exposed for a long while.
Things like hip waders aren’t typically necessary if you’re boat fishing, unless you plan on hopping out of the boat here and there for whatever reason, so it’s not usually something to worry about.
The Bottom Line
Dressing to be on a boat needs to be a mix of practical and comfortable. You want clothes that won’t hold moisture from sweat, rain or the surf. You want boat outfits that are lightweight to allow air flow and prevent sweating and dehydration as much as possible. But you also want protection from UV rays. A linen shirt for men, maxi dresses for men, or other items that have a nautical vibe can be used for boat trips on hot summer days.
Shoes that are no slip are vital on a boat. Beyond that, comfort is something to look for, so light tops, wraps, swimsuits, shorts and shirts are always a good plan. For more formal attire, make sure your shoes are still non-slip and keep focused on balancing what looks good with what is practical for the time and place.