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Basic Boating Gear:  Sun-Protective Clothing

Wearing a shirt with a UPF of 50+ literally can save your skin during a day on the water.

Basic Boating Gear: Sun-Protective Clothing

The days of wearing only swim trunks for a day of fishing on the water are long gone. Today, when anglers fish in the daytime from a boat or the shore, they usually wear a sun-protective shirt, a neck gaiter and a hat. And most will also apply sunscreen to exposed areas of their skin to block the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

The two main types of UV radiation that penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere are UVA and UVB. Exposure to UVA radiation ages the skin, while UVB causes sunburn. Both types of radiation can play a role in causing skin cancer. 

“In Florida, I think we all have learned over the years to protect ourselves from the sun, whether it’s wearing performance clothing or sunblock,” said Capt. George Gozdz, a 10-year Mercury Pro Team member based in Stuart, Florida, who also has a medical background as an emergency-room nurse.  

Sunscreen comes with a sun protection factor (SPF) rating on the label. Clothing that offers protection from the sun typically has an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating on its tag. With both rating systems, the higher the number, the stronger the coverage the product provides.

Currently, SPF only measures a sunscreen’s effectiveness in blocking UVB rays. UPF ratings, on the other hand, measure a fabric’s ability to block both UVA and UVB radiation. The higher the UPF number, the greater the percentage of UV rays it blocks. UPF fabric ratings range from 12 (blocking about 93% of UV radiation) to 50+ (blocking 98% or more).

“Most of the performance fishing shirts that I wear on my boar are SPF 50-plus,” Capt. Gozdz said.

It’s important to note that studies have shown if you get sun-protective fabric wet, it will lower its UPF factor. Therefore, if you go for a swim in your performance shirt, be sure to dry it or change to a fresh one afterward.

Today, a wide variety of UPF-rated clothing is available, including shorts, swimwear and hats. For anglers and boaters, long-sleeved performance shirts tend to be the most popular items. Many anglers also wear gaiters to guard their necks from sun exposure or look for hooded shirts.

When you are shopping for sun-protective clothing to wear on your boat, be sure to check for its UPF rating on the label. In addition, keep in mind that darker fabrics typically provide greater UV protection than lighter ones, denser weaves have better coverage than looser ones, and polyester and nylon offer more protection than cloth made of natural fibers like cotton.

When it comes to wearing UPF-protective clothing on the water, “It’s also important for the kids,” said Capt. Gozdz. Children have relatively thin, sun-sensitive skin compared to adults. Any sun damage your child’s skin sustains at an early age can build up over time and could become a concern later in life.

In hot climates, young children (and some adults as well) may protest against wearing a long-sleeved shirt out in the sun all day. To make sure they stay comfortable, look for clothing that is lightweight and breathable. Some shirts also have vents in the side, back and/or armpit area to help keep the wearer cool. Many performance shirts are made with “moisture-wicking” technology that draws sweat away from the skin and channels it to the upper layer of the fabric, where it will evaporate.

Sun-protective clothing has an advantage over sunscreen, which needs to be reapplied frequently during the day. However, we highly recommend wearing a combination of 50+ UPF clothing and high-SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen on any exposed areas of your skin (don’t forget your ears, hands and feet!). For more information about sunscreen and other sun-safety tips, check out this Dockline blog.

When it comes to boating and fishing, the sun is one of our biggest sources of pleasure, but it can also cause painful sunburn, premature aging and other health issues. Wearing sun-protective clothing as well as sunscreen will help provide you and your children with whole-body protection from UV rays while you’re on the water.

Mercury Marine offers a full line of apparel, including performance shirts, hoodies and neck gaiters with UPF sun protection. For more information, visit

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