Updated on August 28, 2020

We’ll sail in any weather, but when summer comes and the air turns warm the water is more inviting than ever. Sailing shorts are at the core of our warm-weather wardrobe, and any old pair of shorts won’t do. Fortunately, we have a range of sailing and water-sport specific shorts to choose from, and whether you’re sailing dinghies, keelboats, or anything in between, you’ll find the best sailing shorts for your needs on this list.

Sailors look for shorts that dry fast, stand up to repeated wetting and drying, and have solid seat protection to deal with friction on non-slip decks. We like deep side pockets and secured cargo pockets. Cuts have to be loose enough to avoid binding or impeding movement but snug enough not to snag on deck equipment. Some of us even prefer shorts that look good! Whatever your priorities, read on and select the shorts that meet them.

For more of our top sailing gear recommendations, check out the Best Sailing Shoes.

 

Quick Answer - The Best Sailing Shorts

  1. NRS Hydroskin 0.5
  2. Musto Evolution Deck Shorts
  3. Zhik Deckbeater
  4. Gill OS3 Coastal
  5. Helly Hansen Hydropower 120

 

Comparison Table - Best Sailing Shorts

PictureNameMaterialPocketsPaddingClosurePriceRating
NRS Hydroskin 0.5NRS Hydroskin 0.50.5mm NeopreneNoneNoDraw Cord$4.0
Musto Evolution Deck Shorts96% Nylon, 4% Elastane2 Side, 2 ThighNoButton/Zip$$4.5
Zhik DeckbeaterSpandex/NeopreneNoneNoNone$$4.5
Gill OS3 CoastalNylon/Polyester2 Side, 1 ThighNoButton/Zip$$4.5
Helly Hansen Hydropower 120Nylon/Polyester2 Slant Hip, 2 Zippered ThighNoDouble Button/Zip$$$5.0
PictureNameMaterialPocketsPaddingClosurePriceRating
Want to learn more about a technical term? Check out our Features Explained section below.

Need buying advice? Take a look at these Things to Consider.

Reviews - Best Shorts for Sailing

NRS Hydroskin 0.5


View Women's Version
Specs
  • Material: 0.5mm Neoprene
  • Closure: Draw Cord
  • Padding: No
  • Pockets: None
Features
  • 4-Way Stretch Fabric For Maximum Mobility
  • Soft ThermalPlush Lining For Added Comfort
  • Friction-Free Seams Prevent Chafing
  • Water-Repellent Coating Sheds Water And Prevents Evaporative Cooling
NRS Hydroskin 0.5

BEST BUDGET SHORTS FOR SMALL BOATS

If you’re sailing aggressively in dinghies, small catamarans, or self-bailing boats you’re likely to spend time in the water pretty much every time you sail. If you plan to be wet and you aren’t concerned with pockets, these fleece-lined neoprene shorts are ideal. The lining keeps them comfortable on the skin and the durable water-resistant coating helps water roll off, reducing evaporative cooling and keeping you warmer.

These shorts are an ideal underlayer for colder days and work well as your main shorts for any water sports that require mobility and comfort. They’re designed for paddling but adapt well to sailing in conditions that keep you close to (and sometimes in) the water. They’re also reasonably priced, a useful feature in a versatile water sports short.

Musto Evolution Deck Shorts

Specs
  • Material: 96% Nylon, 4% Elastane
  • Closure: Button/Zip
  • Padding: No
  • Pockets: 2 Side, 2 Thigh
Features
  • Light Fast-Drying Stretch Fabric For Comfort And Mobility
  • Reinforced Seat For Added Durability
  • Deep Thigh Pockets With Secure Closures
  • Water-Resistant Inner Pocket Inside Left Cargo Pocket

BEST FOR HOT WEATHER

This is a classic warm-weather sailing short. The material is soft, breathable, and comfortable, with a spandex blend adding enough stretch to assure mobility. They’re designed for sitting down, with upward-facing pockets that won’t spill their contents while sitting and a tough reinforced seat paned to keep the shorts intact even when you’re sitting on rough non-skip decks. There’s lots of secure pocket space, there’s UV protection for your thighs, and the shorts dry fast.

If you’re looking for a reasonably priced all-around sailing short specifically for those hot summer days, this is a solid bet.

Zhik Deckbeater

Specs
  • Material: Spandex/Neoprene
  • Closure: None
  • Padding: No
  • Pockets: None
Features
  • Specifically Designed For Seated Water Sports
  • Ergonomically Designed Padded Seat Panel Stands Up To Non-Skid Decks
  • 3D Body Mapped Fit For Ultimate Comfort
  • Perforated For Fast Drainage

BEST FOR AGGRESSIVE SAILING

To build these shorts Zhik took all the traditional elements of sailing short design, rolled them into a tidy package and threw it out the window. The Deckbeater shorts look like nothing else on the water, but they also perform like nothing else on the water. The spandex/neoprene combination is aimed specifically at seated water sports, and the heavy-duty 7mm neoprene seat pad puts a lot of protection between your backside and any hard or rough objects it might encounter. They are sleek, form-fitting, and comfortable despite that beefy pad.

On the downside, these shorts may be hot off the water and they certainly aren’t fashionable. If you’re looking for shorts that fit in at the yacht club bar after sailing, these may not fit the bill. If you want to get out on the water and beat your shorts up, they’ll do just fine!

Gill OS3 Coastal

Specs
  • Material: Nylon/Polyester
  • Closure: Button/Zip
  • Padding: No
  • Pockets: 2 Side, 1 Thigh
Features
  • Abrasion-Resistant Seat Panel
  • Water Resistant Fabric With Taped Seams Keep Water Out
  • Comfortable Semi-Elastic Waist
  • External Pad Pocket To Add Optional Padding

BEST REMOVABLE PAD SHORT 

Gill’s OS3 line of sailing-specific clothing is designed specifically for offshore sailing, and these shorts fit that mold perfectly. The 2-layer coated fabric, taped seams, and water-repellant coating keep your backside dry even when sitting on a wet deck. The shorts are fully lined for comfort and drain easily if water gets inside. Two large side pockets and a cargo pocket on one thigh handle the storage duties and the abrasion-resistant seat stands up to wear.

Helly Hansen Hydropower 120

Specs
  • Material: Nylon/Polyester
  • Closure: Double Button/Zip
  • Padding: No
  • Pockets: 2 Slant Hip, 2 Zippered Thigh
Features
  • Durable Quick-Dry Ripstop Material With Reinforced Seat
  • Gusseted For Freedom Of Movement
  • Comfortable Semi-Elastic Waist With Velcro Side Adjustments
  • D Ring For Secure Attachment Of Tools Or Keys

BEST ALL-AROUND SAILING SHORT

These water-resistant, quick-drying sailing shorts are built for the water, with elastic fabric providing mobility, reinforced high-wear areas providing durability, and zippered side and velcro-sealed thigh pockets providing storage where you need it. They’re cut long for full protection and the fabric is waterproof, windproof, and breathable. The leg is roomy enough for comfort but snug enough to avoid snagging.

If you like to walk off your boat and straight into normal life, you’ll like these shorts: they look as good on the street as they do on deck!

 

 

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING SAILING SHORTS

Sailing places unique demands on a pair of shorts. Sailors are often wet. We spend a lot of time sitting, often on wet surfaces. Those surfaces are often highly abrasive: non-slip deck coatings are critical for safety onboard but they abrade fabrics very quickly. There are obstacles on a deck that can get in our way. Who can forget the first time they sat on a cleat? We carry tools and other objects in packets and we need to keep them secure. We need full freedom of mobility but we also can’t have fabric snagging on objects.

Modern sailing shorts are designed to operate and perform within those constraints. Here are some common features to keep in mind.

 

MATERIALS

Sailing shorts need to be comfortable, they need to dry fast, and they need to have some elasticity to provide freedom of movement. Nylon fabrics are often chosen, often with some Spandex, Lycra, Elastane, or other elastic fabrics woven in to provide stretch.

Some shorts, especially those designed for sailing in small boats where you’re essentially wet all the time, use neoprene or a Spandex/neoprene blend and are closer to wetsuit shorts than to traditional cargo shorts.

Sun protection is also a factor, and many shorts advertise a UPF factor that rates the level of sun protection they provide.

 

WARMTH AND WATER RESISTANCE

Shorts are mainly used in warm weather sailing, but the weather can change fast and water is often cold even when the air is warm. Water and windproof shorts can keep your butt dry even when sitting on a wet deck and keep spray off your upper legs, which helps keep you comfortable.

Many shorts have durable water repellent coatings that encourage water to bead up and drip off. That also helps keep you warm. If water on your shorts runs off it won’t evaporate, and evaporating water pulls heat from whatever’s near it, a process called evaporative cooling.

Waterproof shorts may be hot and uncomfortable in very warm weather or off the water, so many manufacturers use breathable fabrics to make them more wearable in those conditions.

 

PROTECT YOUR SEAT

Most sailing-specific shorts incorporate some level of seat protection. 

Reinforced shorts use an extra layer of rugged, abrasion-resistant fabric to protect the shorts from wear from sitting on rough surfaces.

Padded shorts go further and incorporate a physical cushion to prevent impact and abrasion damage to both the shorts and your backside. Some shorts integrate the padding into the shorts, which is convenient but may lead to slow drying and can make them awkward for off-water wear. Others integrate a low-profile pocket that accepts a seat pad, usually sold separately. In most cases, you have to take the shorts off to install the pad.

 

DESIGN

Sailing shorts typically integrate common design features to enhance on-water performance.

Length is usually above that of a typical short. Longer cuts provide more protection to your thighs and the backs of your legs. Many sailors prefer shorts cut just above the knee, though many women’s models are cut shorter.

Waist adjustments come in multiple forms. Many shorts have belt loops, but some sailors find belts inconvenient, so many shorts also integrate adjustment tabs using velcro or other closure systems. Some use drawstrings. Buttons, often oversized, are the preferred waist closure.

Pockets have to be designed to avoid spilling while seated. Sailing sort pockets are usually on the sides and thighs, not the back. Again, we sit a lot, often on hard, rough, surfaces. 

The cut needs to be loose enough to avoid constraining movement and provide air flow, but not so loose that the shorts easily snag on obstacles.

 

LEARN MORE

Annapolis Performance Sailing has a good introduction to choosing sailing shorts. Practical Sailor ran field tests on popular sailing shorts, including some of those reviewed here.

 

 

SPECS AND FEATURES EXPLAINED

 

MATERIALS

Nylon is the preferred base material for sailing shorts: it’s light, it’s tough, it dries fast, and it’s comfortable. Some shorts mix nylon with elastic materials like Spandex, Elastane, or Lycra to allow some stretch. Some may also be lined with softer materials, especially around the waist.

Some shorts designed for fill immersion are made of neoprene or a Spandex/Neoprene mix, and tend to look more like wetsuit shorts than conventional street shorts. These may be lined with fleece materials for comfort.

Cotton and other natural materials tend to retain water, dry slowly, and wick heat away from the body, and are not usually used in sailing or other water sports shorts.

 

POCKETS

Sailing short pockets need to be designed to keep contents secure in a sitting position. Side pockets usually have upward-facing openings and may have zippers. Cargo pockets are usually on thighs and may have velcro or zipper closures.

Back pockets are not generally used on sailing shorts, because of the frequency of sitting on hard decks.

 

PADDING

Padding on seats may be built-in or may come in the form of a removable pad that slots into a discrete rear pocket. Pads are usually sold separately and must match the shorts. In most cases, the shorts must be removed to insert the pads.

 

CLOSURE

Buttons, often oversized, are the preferred waist closure for most conventionally styles sailing shorts. They are usually used in combination with a zipper. Neoprene shorts tend to be elastic and often have no closure.

 

GUSSETS

Gussets are pieces of fabric sewn into a seam to allow it to expand when needed. They are often used to enhance freedom of movement without making the shorts excessively baggy.

READ MORE

For more of our top sailing gear recommendations, check out these popular articles:

About The Author

Steve Rogers operates an adventure travel business in the mountains of the northern Philippines, where he organizes and guides mountain biking, canyoneering, trekking, and white water rafting and kayaking trips. He has guided sea kayak trips among the islands of northern Palawan and sailed small catamarans up and down the coast of western Luzon. He owns an outdoor shop, accumulates excessive quantities of gear, and occasionally throws shields around. He is the primary author of Action Asia’s Adventure Travel Guide to the Philippines and has written extensively on a wide variety of topics.

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