Dinghy sailing can be started with a swimsuit and a pair of trainers, but once you get hooked you'll want more suitable equipment. Your first purchase is a wetsuit to go over the swimsuit, with the appropriate leg and arm length to suit the conditions and your preference. You'll need to do a lot of trying on to get the right suit. Make sure the body of the suit is long enough to allow you to crouch over; windsurfing suits are generally cut too short and too tight for dinghy sailing, but conversely a loose wetsuit is also no good as it lets far too much water slosh through. You need something over the suit as dinghy decks can be quite rough; a pair of big tough surf shorts will do for a start, you can invest in a spraysuit later. I get the impression that 'ladies' wetsuits are more expensive, less hard wearing and cut for someone far too thin to go sailing. Go for a man's suit and live without the pretty colours.
For the summer, shortie wetsuits (short legs, short or no arms) keep your torso warm without overheating you, and are very cheap. If you want to wear a wetsuit in the winter, you need thicker neoprene and good blind stitching - a warm wetsuit must let in very little water. Some sailing wetsuits have thinner panels at knees and underarms to allow easier movement.
A drysuit is a good alternative; this is effectively a giant plastic bag that you wear and works by keeping the water out totally. There are tight seals at neck and wrists, and either ankle seals or socks. IMPORTANT; A drysuit must always be fully zipped up before you go on the water; and once fastened, pull out the neck seal and crouch to expel excess air. Otherwise the air goes to your feet and they will float if you fall in. This is the wrong way up...
Wetsuits don't provide much protection against windchill, and some drysuits need an extra layer over the top. This is a spraysuit, a water-resistant nylon-type one piece overall, which goes over your wetsuit or drysuit to provide extra wind resistance and protection against chafing on the boat. Some of them have internal braces which is good, and it should also have reinforced seat and knees, and cuffs to keep UV light off your drysuit seals. You can also get spraytops if it is too warm to wear the full suit.
Wetsuit versus Drysuit
|Easy to take on and off, works even when ripped||Needs care in donning, needs help if rear zip, useless if ripped|
|Needs to fit tight to work, can be restrictive||Can be loose and lightweight, but still needs tight seals|
|Can be rolled down or unzipped||Must always be worn zipped up|
|Need to get wet||Stay dry - no nasty cold water shock!|
|Provides some padding||Needs clothing underneath for padding|