How to protect yourself from the sun

How to protect yourself from the sun

Tips and tricks from the experts to get the perfect tan onboard

Life onboard involves an unprecedented amount of sun exposure for our skin, which even the most ardent sun worshippers may not be ready for.

On a boat, we are exposed to the sun all day long. Plus, the reflection of sunlight on the sea's surface, especially if it is calm, reflects most of it at us.


Sunbathing on a boat: Some recommendations 

Protecting your skin on a boat requires a conscious and proactive approach on our part: as we have said, it involves constant, intense exposure to the sun, maximised by the glare: a condition also influenced by the effect of the wind: the pleasant breeze is refreshing, but we only realise the effects of prolonged exposure later, and it also contributes to drying out the skin, which is why it is important to intervene in the right way, and above all in good time.

For the comfort of the entire crew, all boats have a large awning on the cockpit, also called a bimini top, which creates a 4-6 square metre area of shade above the place where we spend most of our time during a day's sailing. At the bow of the cockpit, the sprayhood creates an additional shade following that of the awning.

All of this is a massive help. However, even if we are not in the sun, the exposure can be indirect. For our comfort and safety, it's imperative to protect ourselves with the appropriate sun protection. What we can do to start with is making sure we cover our skin with the right clothes. 

Light and lose shirts, preferably made of linen with a sparse weave, straw hats, sarongs, light scarves to protect the neck, shoulders and décolleté from the sun are perfect.

I use a tight-fitting, long-sleeved Lycra shirt with a bit of a collar, white with an SPF 50+ filter for sailing and a cool shirt with ¾ sleeves for the rada accompanied by a hat.

Which sunscreen for boaters?

Once we have covered up and shaded ourselves, the final frontier in sun protection is our skin. SPF 50+ protection (suitable for our phototype, but never less than SPF 30+) is waterproof and should be reapplied often, given the amount of bathing we do.

Remember to drink often because the wind dries out the skin and at the same time, doesn't exactly make us feel the heat.

Remember to protect not only your skin but also your lips with cocoa butter, or for total protection, zinc oxide cream, like the one used by mountaineers, which you can also use for your nose. 

The eye needs its share too

The view from our boat will be memorable: to enjoy it to the fullest, don't forget to protect your eyes too, with a pair of wide protective sunglasses, preferably with side shields to keep the light coming in from the sides to a minimum.

As with the body, it is important to reduce the amount of light hitting your face and eyes as much as possible with a hat with a visor.

The sunglasses' lenses must be dark and of certified quality, category 3, the most protective and still allow you to drive.

Not just dark glasses:

I recommend sunglasses lenses with a mirror finish to repel as much light as possible and prevent it from hitting the lens and the polarised type to eliminate reflections (the sea's surface is full of reflections!) and allow sharper clearer vision.  

So: plenty of SPF 50+ sunscreen and after-sun lotion, recent, handy and available to everyone in the cockpit.

We pay particular attention to children by remembering the three levels of intervention:

  • reducing the sun that affects people by creating shaded areas onboard
  • reducing the sun that affects the skin by using clothing
  • protecting the skin by applying sunscreen

Protecting yourself from the sun even in winter

What we have said about sun protection applies all the more in winter, when the cold weather tricks us into not feeling the need for it right away.

The glare from the sea multiplies the amount of light we receive with the same amount of sunlight compared to that we would receive, for example, on a lawn.

A change in latitude also influences the intensity of solar radiation: as we approach the equator, it increases, so when we go to the tropics, especially if it is winter in our latitudes, we have to protect ourselves even more in a way that we may not be used to.

If we have moles, in some cases, it would be wise to protect them with a small patch.

In some parts of the world where you'll find coral reefs, there is a growing ban on sunscreen products to preserve the reefs. In these areas, the advice to create shaded areas on board and to reduce as much as possible the portion of skin constantly exposed to the sun will be even more valid.


This post is written by Francesco Gambini. Francesco met sailing in Liguria 20 years ago. A fleet specialist in Sailogy, his favourite boat is the Dufour 310 Grand Large. 

Francesco Gambini