I thought I had done just about everything I could to provide myself with all the comforts of home when I go cruising. I eat well, sleep well, stay warm and dry, but there’s one painfully obvious difference between home and my cruising boats that I hadn’t addressed. At home I may be standing or walking, but on board I often have to kneel or crawl. Even a day into a short cruise, the skin on my knees can get painfully tender.
At home, if I have chores that require being on my knees for a while, I’ll put kneepads on, but neither of the two pairs that I own is well suited for boating. One pair has very thick pads, which are great for comfort but can get in the way when they’re not needed, and the other pair has hard plastic outer shells that would do a mean number on a boat’s paint and varnish.
On a visit to West Marine I found and bought a pair of neoprene knee pads that are manufactured by Gill, a company specializing in apparel and equipment for dinghy sailors. They’re made of 5mm fabric-faced neoprene and contoured by glued and sewn darts to fit around the kneecap. The straps are secured with Velcro behind the knee (above and below), and have enough stretch for me to wear the pads over the combination of pants and rain pants. The cushions sewn to the front of the knee pads bring the combined thickness to 3/8″. Compared to my other knee pads, that’s not very thick, but the Gill knee pads aren’t meant to provide the same level of protection. There’s no need to guard against rocks in the garden or nails and screws on the shop floor. The cushions have a coarse, textured weave to resist wear and provide a bit of a grip.
The knee pads are comfortable to wear over pants and stay put. On bare skin, the edges of the straps can feel a bit sharp, but I never go boating wearing shorts, preferring pants for either warmth or sun protection. The padding is just enough to provide comfort while kneeling in the cockpit or crawling around. If I were to kneel on a bit of crushed gravel, a wing nut, or a drywall screw—I’ve tried them all—the contact is noticeable but not painful. The slim profile of the knee pads doesn’t get hung up moving about in tight quarters. And when wet, the fabric facings will absorb some water, about 1-1/4ounce per knee pad, but the closed-cell neoprene core doesn’t and won’t get squishy like wet sneakers.
With the Gill neoprene knee pads I don’t dread crawling over the foredeck or across the cabin roof for the umpteenth time, and my knees can take part in the cruising comforts that the rest of me enjoys.
Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats Magazine.
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