Special delivery: Sign up for the free Boating email newsletter. Subscribe to Boating magazine for $14 for 1 year and receive 4 bonus digital issues.
Quick—when you think of boating safety, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Odds are it’s a flare gun or a fire extinguisher or a life jacket or even a VHF radio. Sun protection is probably not at the top of the list, but it should be. We usually think of boating safety in terms of immediate danger—waves, storms, man overboard. But in the long term, those bluebird days can hurt you if you’re not careful. The American Academy of Dermatology states that 1 in 5 people will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and approximately 9,500 people in America get diagnosed every day. The good thing is it’s easy to protect yourself, and most of us do it already as part of our boating routine. If you don’t, you should. Here are seven products to help protect yourself from the sun’s rays.
Columbia Terminal Tackle Pants
Who thinks of pants when they think of sun protection? I do, especially if they’re lightweight and breathable like Columbia’s Terminal Tackle pants. Because they’re part of Columbia’s PFG line designed for fishing, the pants have Omni-Shade, which gives them a UPF 50 rating. As an added bonus, they have Columbia’s Omni-Shield protection, which helps repel biting insects. Made mostly of polyester, they dry quickly, clean easily, and stand up to rugged use. They come in four different colors and have six pockets, including a zipper pocket great for stowing your cellphone or car keys so they don’t fall overboard. Columbia’s entire PFG lineup offers great sun protection in everything from shirts and hats to hoodies, but I chose the pants because I wear them on the water. $60; columbia.com
Sawyer Stay-Put SPF 30
Sunscreen is probably the most important tool in sun protection and should be used to protect all exposed skin areas. The one issue people have with sunscreen, especially those who go in and out of the water or engage in activities where they might perspire, is forgetting to reapply. First developed for US troops serving during Desert Storm, Sawyer Stay-Put SPF 30 was engineered to solve that problem because it absorbs deeper into the skin and lasts longer than most other sunscreens on the market. Sawyer calls it the Breathable Matrix Formula, and it allows your body to sweat without washing away the sun-blocking properties. $13.99 for an 8-ounce bottle; sawyer.com
If there’s one place people forget to cover with sunscreen, it’s the back of their hands. Yet your hands are probably the most likely to be exposed to the sun for long periods while out on the water. Gloves such as Orvis’ Sungloves can solve this problem by protecting the backs of your hands while keeping fingers free to work the electronics, tie knots and steer the boat. Made for fly-fishing, the Sungloves also work for general boaters wanting more sun protection for their hands. Made of Spandex and synthetic leather, the lightweight gray gloves can get fully wet and still dry quickly while you wear them. The UPF 50 gloves come in four sizes. $29.95; orvis.com
Simms Cutbank Sun Hat
While the traditional baseball hat is still the go-to option for men and women alike, a wide-brimmed sun hat offers more protection from the elements while still being breathable. The Simms Cutbank sun hat is a straw beach hat that works well on a boat too. Made of 100 percent palm leaf, the straw construction makes it cool and breathable. It has an elastic sweatband and a Stampede strap to hold it in place. Plus, it’s collapsible so it can smush down for travel and pop back into shape. The wide brim protects your face, neck and shoulders. It’s like walking around with your own personal shade tree. It’s even machine-washable should it get dirty. $59.95; simmsfishing.com
Buff CoolNet UV Neckwear
The original face protector has become so ubiquitous that people refer to any brand as a Buff the way everyone calls tissues Kleenex. The CoolNet UV Neckwear comes in several styles and has UPF 50 protection. Each one is multipurpose and can cover your neck or entire face. The fabric is breathable so you can pull it over your mouth and nose. I wear them whether it’s hot or cold because they also offer wind protection. When Buff neckwear first came out, everyone looked like pirates. But now they are used so widely that nobody bats an eye when a boat full of masked crewmembers speeds by. $24; buff.com
Sunglasses are another essential but sometimes overlooked tool for sun protection. Look for shades with high-quality lenses that can filter out harmful UV rays. Costa offers several types of polarized lenses, including its 580 lenses that absorb 100 percent of UV rays and filter out harsh yellow light at 580 nm. Sunglasses also keep your eyes protected from rays that bounce off the water or your boat’s fiberglass deck, helping reduce the effects that cause ptergyum, aka “surfer’s eye,” a condition that causes your eyes to yellow from extended exposure to the sun and wind.
Costa’s new Mainsail frames are designed with micro side shields and hooding to keep out excess light. Costa’s Hydrolite grips on the temples help them stay in place. Eye-wire drains and channels keep sweat off of your face. Starting at $182; costadelmar.com
Huk Waypoint Hoodie
If you ever happen to see us on the water testing boats, there’s a good chance one of our editors will be wearing a Huk Waypoint hoodie adorned with the Boating Logo. That’s because the Waypoint hoodie offers excellent sun protection on hot days as well as cooler ones. The Waypoint hoodie feels like soft, breathable cotton, but it’s actually made from recycled plastic bottles. It has a UPF 50 rating, and the hoodie top will keep your dome and neck protected on blistering days. The shirt features cooling fibers and antimicrobial properties, so you won’t smell after working up a sweat on the water. The front pocket is a handy place to slip your sunglasses or cellphone. $55; hukgear.com
Read Next: Prescription Polarized Sunglasses Can Improve Your Boating Experience
SPF vs. UPF
When dealing with sun protection, you’ll see two different letter combinations on the products. Sunscreen and other lotions come with an SPF rating, while most articles of clothing are designated with a UPF rating. What’s the difference?
UPF stands for ultraviolet protection factor and rates the amount of harmful UVA and UVB rays a fabric allows to reach your skin. For instance, a shirt with a UPF 50 rating blocks 98 percent of harmful rays and allows 2 percent, or 1/50, to reach your skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends clothes with a UPF rating of 30 or higher, with 50 being the best.
SPF, which stands for sun protection factor, is a time-based rating for how long wearing it will keep your skin from getting burned compared to not wearing any sunscreen at all. So, a sunscreen with an SPF 15 rating will keep you from getting burned 15 times longer than if you went outside without wearing it.