Sun safe sailing: Protecting yourself on the water

Jessica Watson
Posted May 31 2016

Sailing and sunshine go hand‑in‑hand but there’s no denying that long‑term regular exposure or overexposure is dangerous, and Australia’s rates of skin cancer are among the highest in the world. The majority of the sailing community know that care needs to be taken, but faced with reflections and hours spent on deck there’s no easy solution.

So I thought I’d talk to someone who, through necessity and years of experience, is an expert at protecting herself from the sun. Judy, a long‑term cruising sailor has cutaneous lupus, an autoimmune disease that sees her severely affected by sun exposure. While Judy may be an extreme example, she did point out that her severe sensitivity prevented her from suffering the all too common consequences of many years of complacency.

When diagnosed, Judy’s doctor told her to give up sailing and move somewhere cold. But with careful management, she was able to keep sailing for 25 years. Judy was happy to share a few of the things she’s learnt over the years, starting with the advice that sunscreen should be applied ‘as soon as your feet hit the floor’.

‘It’s really not sustainable to be out in the middle of the day,’ she told me. So it’s important to ‘manage your activities’, filling the middle of the day with boat jobs and things to keep you out of the sun.

‘Snorkelling at dawn is superb, as the sun gives reef fish back their colour, a special time to experience the reef,’ she said. ‘Of course, happy hour is the best time to be social and you’ll enjoy it more if you’re not fatigued from being out in the sun all day.’

When it comes to choosing a yacht, Judy describes designing the boat around her need to be protected and suggests you think about the colour of your deck. On her boat, the surfaces ‘weren’t too reflective, no white. Non-skid was blue green. Cool but at the same time not reflective. Even in the interior there can be a lot of reflection. I can tell right away when I walk on a boat if I could live on it.’

Judy recommends the ability to cover windows, awnings and sides that roll up wherever possible to ‘stop sun in all directions’, a flexibility that will also be appreciated in wind and rain. While she’s a big fan of SPF‑enhanced protective clothing, Judy warned that many people don’t realise that protective clothing can lose its effectiveness after many washes. ‘There’s a content in the fibre that offers protection that is lost in the wash.’

When it comes to hats, Judy offers the usual recommendation that they should be ‘wide‑brimmed’ and ‘well secured under chin’. Although she did warn against some designs with fabric wrapped around the face and neck as they quickly become intolerable and smelly.

When it comes to sunscreen, Judy advises that you should ‘keep an eye on the latest research because some sunscreens are not as good as they claim. Keep a constant eye on the science,’ she warned.

More generally, Judy recommended constantly trying new things and to remember that protection should be ‘sensible and practical, compatible with real living, not just a concept that a scientist has in a lab’.

How do you manage sun exposure on the water? Head over to Deckee’s Facebook page and share your tips.

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