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Four Sun Safety Tips for Boaters

Today, there are many easy ways to protect yourself and your crew from the harmful effects of UV rays.

How-To On the Water
Four Sun Safety Tips for Boaters

Hot sun, cloudless skies, bright water – this is the recipe for a wonderful day on the water. But the same conditions can also lead to a serious sunburn. One that could be harmful to your skin and can even put a damper on future boating adventures. Happily, with a little forethought, over-exposure to the sun is preventable.

Sunburn is caused by too much exposure of unprotected skin to ultraviolet (UV) rays. This invisible electromagnetic radiation from the sun penetrates Earth’s atmosphere in the form of UVA and UVB waves.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Protection from UV rays is important all year, not just during the summer. UV rays can just as easily reach you on cloudy and cool days, and they reflect off surfaces like water.... In the continental United States, UV rays tend to be strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daylight saving time (9 a.m. to 3 p.m. standard time).”

Of course, this is also peak boating time. Here are some simple sun safety tips to keep in mind the next time you head out onto the water.

  1. Apply sunscreen. Applying sunscreen to exposed areas of your skin before you go boating should be as automatic as putting a life jacket on your child. Apply the sunscreen about 15 to 30 minutes before you go out into the sun. This will allow your skin to thoroughly absorb it. Don’t forget to include the backs of your legs, your ears and other areas of your body that are easy to miss. To maintain the sunscreen’s effectiveness, be sure to re-apply at least every two hours, after a swim or if you are sweating.

    Sunscreen is labeled with an SPF (sun protection factor) number that indicates the level of protection against sunburn caused by exposure to UV radiation that it provides. The higher the SPF, the greater the protection. It is a common misperception that the SPF number relates to how long you can stay out in the sun without burning. For example, SPF 30 lets you stay out 30 times longer. This is not true. SPF relates to the level of protection that the sunscreen offers against solar energy, not exposure time.

    The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen (one that provides protection against UVA and UVB rays) that is SPF 30 or higher and is water-resistant. Choose a lip balm in addition to a lotion, stick or spray intended for the rest of the body. Look for a brand of sunscreen that is eco-friendly, especially if you plan to go swimming or snorkeling near a coral reef. Ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate can contribute to bleaching or permanent damage to delicate coral organisms.
  2. Cover up. In addition to using sunscreen, a hat can help to save your scalp from the sun. Neck gaiters also have been growing in popularity, especially with anglers since they protect the neck. You can also pull them up to shield your lower face. (Check out Mercury Marine’s hats, gaiters and other apparel at the Mercury Dockstore.)

    Additionally, the Mercury Dockstore offers a wide array of rash-guard shirts and other clothing made with fabric engineered to protect you from the sun. Be sure to check the tag for the UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) number. The Skin Cancer Foundation rates a UPF of 30 to 49 as “very good” protection and 50 or higher as “excellent.”
  3. Consider adding a sunshade to your boat. Boat manufacturers know that many of their customers want to stay out on the water and in the sun for long periods of time. As a result, many boat models come with a hard top, T-top or Bimini top as standard equipment. If you have a Bimini top stored onboard, take advantage of it.

    Today, there are also aftermarket sunshade solutions that extend your boat’s existing shade options forward or aft to shelter more of the deck. A telescoping sunshade can be attached to a cabin roof, hardtop or T-top – some are even electronic, deploying at the touch of a button.
  4. Wear the right sunglasses. Check the label when you buy a pair of sunglasses to ensure they have UV protection. Without that protection, the sun’s rays can penetrate your glasses and potentially harm your eyes. For boaters, polarized sunglasses are strongly recommended. They typically are more expensive than non-polarized glasses, but the added safety benefits can make them worth every penny. Polarized sunglasses are specially treated with a chemical filter engineered to block sun glare. This makes things appear a bit darker, but also crisper and clearer. Anglers love polarized sunglasses because they fight glare on the water and help them to spot fish. 

With so many excellent sun-protection options available today, there really is no reason not to take advantage of them. So go ahead and spray on the sunscreen, slap on a hat, pop on your shades, and enjoy your day on the water.

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