At the Annapolis Sailing School, wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved tech shirts are encouraged for the greatest amount of sun protection.

Boating and Sun Protection: What your Dermatologist Wants You to Know

Boaters are at a greater risk of developing skin issues than non-boaters. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself fully.

Being on the water all summer puts us boaters at a higher risk of skin damage than our landlubber friends. As longtime cruisers, anglers, and any other water lovers approach retirement age, it’s common for concerning sun-related skin spots to develop—some even requiring biopsy or removal.

Sure, we’ve all been preached to about the importance of wearing sunscreen. But there’s a lot more to consider when you spend your summer days on Bay.

“We certainly do see an increased amount of sun damage and skin cancers in people who report regular boating,” says Dr. Molly Walterhoefer at Current Dermatology in Annapolis. That means boaters need to go the extra mile with sun protection. To get a full picture of how we can better protect ourselves, we asked Dr. Walterhoefer some questions.

Q: Why is it easier to get sunburnt while we’re on the boat than when we’re on land?
A: “Surfaces that reflect light also reflect UV rays. Therefore, when on the water and/or boat, one has more UV exposure than on the land from the reflection of UV rays off the water and boat deck. Additionally, boating during prime UV exposure times (10a-3pm) increases this risk even further.”

Q: In terms of sunscreen, what’s really important? What should we splurge on, and what’s a total waste of money?
A: “I would look for a sunscreen that is water-resistant and has an SPF of 30 or higher. Equally or even more important would be investing in sun protective clothing that has UPF50+ in the fabric. UPF clothing is easy to wear and doesn’t require compliance with re-applying. This can include sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, neck protectors, and long-sleeved shirts.”

Note: Find our gold-standard UPF clothing picks here!

Q: And about sun clothing … is it actually protecting us? Or is it just another gimmick?
A: “UV clothing is excellent! Wide-brimmed hats provide more coverage than baseball caps especially for the lateral face and tops of the ears, so if you can wear those on the boat, do so. There are many great lightweight, stylish brands these days that create UPF athletic clothing that make wearing clothes in the summer heat enjoyable.”

Q: Finally, sometimes is seems as if even when we apply sunscreen, we get burnt to a crisp. What are we missing?
“Sunscreen should be applied every two hours. This is because as we move through our daily activities sunscreen can be rubbed off or shifted, resulting in coverage gaps. The labeled SPF only works if there is a uniform film, so reapplying every few hours is to ensure there is adequate product coverage over the entirety of the skin. You should try to use designated facial and body sunscreens when outdoors rather than moisturizer with SPF. The reason for this is the moisturizers have other ingredients that can dilute out the SPF factor. Another reason is that the SPF factor is dependent on the quantity applied and when mixed in a moisturizer people may not apply as much as they truly need.”

In short: Reapplying sunscreen every couple of hours, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and using sun-protective clothing along with your SPF can keep you enjoying your boating lifestyle longer.