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Clothing Afloat

Wearing appropriate clothing when afloat is essential for both your safety and comfort. While there is a wide range of highly technical (and highly expensive!) apparel available, you don’t need to spend a fortune to have a good, safe time. However, if what you wear is not suitable it can be very dangerous. The key thing is to find out what’s comfortable for you, while keeping you safe, for the kind of environments and activities you participate in. We recommend the layering method (which is used for a wide variety of outdoor activities) as it is particularly effective when afloat. This has three main components; the base layer, the mid layer, and the shell layer. 

Be aware that wearing a personal flotation device is mandatory during Scout activities on the water. 

Personal Flotation Device 

Personal flotation devices (or PFDs), as the name suggests, keeps you afloat if you fall into the water. You don’t need to buy one, however, as we provide them. There are two main types of PFDs: buoyancy aids and lifejackets. Both types keep you afloat if you fall in and are brightly coloured so you can be more easily seen. 

Everything's stowed away

Most of our Scouts wear buoyancy aids, which have at least 50 Newtons of buoyancy and should fit well. They are designed to assist a conscious, competent swimmer in staying afloat, while allowing freedom of movement when taking part in water activities. A buoyancy aid also provides some thermal insulation and protection from impacts. The more experienced Scouts can often be seen testing the fit by lifting the shoulder straps; if the buoyancy aid slips up then it is too big and will need adjusting or replacing with a smaller size. 

A lifejacket is intended to keep an unconscious person afloat and on their back in a survival situation at sea (note that contrary to popular belief a lifejacket is not guaranteed to turn an unconscious person on to their back, only to keep them there). Lifejackets can have foam, air or both, as buoyancy, but may restrict freedom of movement. As most of our boating is active and in small boats we generally prefer buoyancy aids. 

If you already have your own and decide to wear it for Scout events it will need to be checked by a Leader before going afloat. They will check it is in good working order, has an appropriate level of buoyancy and that it is CE marked (i.e. it conforms to EU legislation for Health and Safety requirements). 

Base Layer

A good base layer dries quickly, is light weight and is worn close to the skin (trapping a thin layer of warm air against the body), but should not be so tight as to be uncomfortable. Effective materials for base layers are synthetic fabrics and wool. A rash vest and swim shorts are good examples and these can be used on their own in warm weather.

Cotton should be avoided as it absorbs water, drawing heat away from the body, which can lead to hypothermia, even in warm weather. Remember “Cotton Kills”. 

Mid Layers

The mid layers are worn over the base layers, provide extra thermal insulation and should dry quickly. Multiple mid layers can be worn, which can be added, or taken away, to easily allow you to control your temperature. A light fleece is a good example of an effective mid layer.  

Shell Layer

The shell layer should be windproof and waterproof. This layer is important, as without it you can easily become very cold (even in warm weather) from wind-chill, especially if you've fallen in and got wet. A cheap nylon waterproof jacket is ideal. Some people also like to wear waterproof trousers, especially on colder days. Even if you feel warm when you go afloat, it’s a good idea to take a light waterproof with you in case the weather changes or you fall in and want to keep the wind off you. You may not be allowed to participate in some conditions or in certain activities if you haven’t got a windproof top. 


Shoes are very important for both keeping your feet warm and protecting them from injury. A good pair of shoes should have enclosed toes and a thick sole to protect you from cuts and an adequate grip for when you are walking, and carrying boats, on shore. There is a lot of gravel, shells, sharp rocks, broken glass, etc. on shore, which can easily be avoided with an effective pair of shoes, whether that’s an old pair of trainers, plimsolls or wetsuit boots. They need to be secure to prevent loss. You won’t be allowed afloat if you haven’t got appropriate footwear. 

Hats, gloves, glasses, sun screen, long hair 

If you've got long hair, it's best to tie it back. Otherwise there's a chance that it could get caught, especially in activities like dinghy sailing that have lots of ropes and clips. 

A hat is useful to have, whether it’s to keep the sun off your head on a hot day, or to keep your head warm on a cold day. 

If you wear glasses it's a good idea to have a strap so you don’t lose them! The same advice applies if you want to wear sunglasses. 

Gloves are useful for keeping your hands warm in colder conditions and for protecting your hands when rowing, canoeing or kayaking, especially when going on longer journeys. 

Sun cream is important for protecting your skin from sun and wind burn. When on the water you can receive twice the amount of sunshine, as the sun’s rays are reflected off the water. This means it is important to cover all exposed skin (including areas you may not think of, such as under the chin) in a high factor sunscreen. We recommend using a waterproof type as it could be washed off otherwise. 

Be aware that anything you take afloat will get wet, may get very muddy and could potentially get damaged or even lost. There are a number of hats, gloves, shoes, glasses, etc. that have sunk, never to be seen again! 

A note on wetsuits 

Wetsuits are not recommended for the types of activities we run, as they can restrict movement (especially for rowing, canoeing and kayaking) and are difficult to adjust when trying to regulate your temperature on the water. If you do decide to wear one it should be close fitting, like a second skin, and you need to have a windproof layer to prevent wind-chill. 

Dry clothes and towel to leave on shore 

You also need to bring a complete change of dry clothes for afterwards, including a pair of dry shoes and a towel. You won’t be allowed to go afloat if you don’t bring dry clothes to change into. You want to be able to get warm and dry as quickly as possible, especially if we need to come ashore early.