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Boating Sun Protection: Enjoying the Outdoors Safely

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Photo by Connie McBride
Boating Sun Protection with a great hat! Photo by Connie McBride

Boating Sun Protection Tips and Tricks


We are all aware of the ill-effects of the sun – increased risk of medical problems, the pain of sunburn, and its propensity to cause wrinkles – yet many continue to spend time on the water under-prepared for the conditions. Though we would never go out in a blizzard without a coat, many of us expose ourselves to the dangers of the sun without adequate boating sun protection.

Over the years, boaters have adopted headgear from other sports. The visors worn by sportfishing captains, Tilly hats made famous by adventurers and sailors, baseball caps, and even cowboy hats can be seen out on the waterways. If your noggin happens to be lacking in hair, a hat is particularly important. When choosing protection for your head, keep in mind other body parts, too. A hat with a wide brim protects not only your head, but also keeps the sun off your ears and helps remove some of the glare that bounces off the water.

Sunscreen companies have done their job well and have made us aware of its benefits and the necessity to reapply. But the sun is omnipresent and has a way of getting to the places we forget about. Women tend to be particularly careful to apply sunscreen to their faces. Even our daily moisturizers often contain high SPF. What we may forget is what carnies have known for years. They offer to guess your age, and all too often they are right. One of their tricks is to look not at women’s faces, but to consider instead the state of their neck and the back of their hands. These are the places the sun finds to damage that we often forget to protect. When applying sunscreen, we also tend to only remember the places we can see. If you normally wear your hair down, but put it in a ponytail because of the wind when you are out on the boat, the back of your neck is getting the direct effect of the blazing sun and will quickly go from its normal silky white to lobster red.

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Sunglasses to protect your eyes from wind- and sunburn, and lip moisturizer with sunscreen are good habits when you are on the water. Another form of boating sun protection that is increasing in popularity is a buff. Often worn by divers to keep their hair out of their masks, these circles of cloth are now showing up at nearly every outdoor event. Worn as a cap, around the neck, or over the lower part of your face, it is the ultimate in boating sun protection, though the fashion statement is still being debated.

Because even sunscreen that claims to be waterproof washes off after swimming or sweating, and reapplying isn’t always pleasant or possible, covering your skin with clothing is always the best protection from the sun. Fishing guides have known for decades the benefits of wearing a long-sleeved white shirt, and the idea has spread. Several companies make fast-drying, light, high SPF shirts that are comfortable and actually look good. The selection, especially for women, has increased drastically in the past few years as people start to realize that, not only do these shirts protect your skin by “shading” you from the sun, they also keep you much cooler.

Children are especially prone to getting sunburned since they generally spend so much time in the water and on the beach. Reapplying sunscreen to a child once his skin is wet and sandy is nearly impossible. Once again, other sports have offered us a good solution. Surfers wear rash guards to prevent their chests from getting abraded during hours of laying on their boards waiting for the right wave. These fast-drying form-fitting shirts are perfect for children. They provide protection from the sun, yet they do not get weighed down and baggy when they are wet like T-shirts. Long-sleeved versions are available for all sizes, newborn to adult, and act as a comfortable sunscreen that doesn’t need to be reapplied.

There are some body parts that we just don’t think about getting sunburnt. Standing at the helm for hours with the sun behind you may not immediately signal to you that you should apply sunscreen. The next day when you can’t sit down because the backs of your legs are burnt, it is too late. The tops of your feet are another potentially painful spot to get too much sun, making wearing shoes Monday morning a painful punishment.

We all know we should, but a reminder of the importance of protecting our skin from sun damage may help prevent sunburns, wrinkles, or worse. Keep a supply of sunscreen products in the boat, or better yet, in the cooler for an invigorating treat when you reapply.

Connie McBride has been exploring by boat for over a decade. You can read about her adventures in her latest book: Eurisko Sails West: A Year in Panama available at Amazon and her web site simplysailingonline.com.

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