Are You Sun Smart? Keeping Your Sails and Yourself Safe in the Sun

As temperatures and our enthusiasm for the coming season skyrocket, it’s important to consider ways to stay safe in the sun while out enjoying time on the water. Whether the sun is something you sail in year round or bask in it for a few months, be smart about how you enjoy it. Quantum experts give their top tips on how to protect your sails and stay safe in the sun.

For racing or cruising alike, a beautiful sunny day on the water is one of the top perks of sailing. However, if you’re not smart about it, that beautiful sunshine can wreak havoc on your sails and your body. We chatted with our seasoned sailors and service experts to pull together our top tips for keeping your sails and yourself safe in the sun. Keep in mind these tips aren’t just for bright sunny days, nasty sunburn and damage occurs on cloudy days, too!

For Your Sails:

Keep ‘em covered: Keep sail covers on mainsails when not in use! Just because you've got the sail flaked on the boom doesn't mean it's not taking a beating at the hands of UV rays! Get the cover on immediately after use - and if you've got a stackpack, zip it up!

This goes for canvas and lines too: If your Bimini is collapsible, fold it shut and put the cover over on. This will protect your expensive canvas! Sky halyards with a retrieval line if possible and check lines that are left in the sun, such as the mainsheet, regularly.

Use a headsail UV cover: A roller furler that lives on the headstay should have a piece of sacrificial fabric sewn onto the side that’s exposed to the sun. When rolled correctly, that piece of fabric absorbs the UV damage while your sail fabric stays protected. Maintain and regularly examine the UV cover on your headsail and make sure it’s furled the correct way so the cover can do its job.

Drop, flake and store: If you know you're going to have an extended period of not using your furled head sails, (even as little as a month or a couple of weeks), drop them, flake them and store them below. You'll get a lot more life out of the UV cover this way.

Windows: The “glass” panels in your dodger suffer from UV exposure too - consider buying a small panel cover for these windows, or at the very least polish and wax them on an annual basis, being sure to remove all salt and grit after each sail.

For more information on UV protection and the consequences of not taking preventative measures, check out this article The Invisible Sail Killer: UV Rays.

For You and Your Family:

Lots and lots of sunscreen: This one is obvious, but here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Start with a minimum of SPF 30. This is the recommendation of the American Academy of Dermatology – check out their sunscreen FAQ page here. Quantum expert and pro racer Scott Nixon likes “anything that is SPF 50 and made for babies; it won’t sting your eyes when you’re sailing and start sweating!” Sunscreens with zinc are also a great option especially for the nose when spending long days on the water.

  • Apply liberally and often. It's not a one time event. Keep in mind it isn't actively protecting until up to 30 minutes after application.

  • Lip service. Sunscreen on your lips comes off the easiest, especially if you’re drinking as much water as you should be. Find a good lip balm with SPF, buy multiples (because you will lose at least one), put them in easy to get to places and reapply often.

  • Be ecological. If you plan to swim or get in the water at all, make sure you’re using a “reef safe” sunscreen. Recent research is finding that the components in your average sunscreens are harming our ocean’s reefs. The US National Park Service issued this bulletin regarding sunscreen and its danger to the underwater eco systems. For a list of good “reef safe” sunscreen options and other good information, check out this blog post by the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI).

Protective clothing and accessories: Sunscreen is a must, but there is more you can and should do to stay protected.

  • Hats! Wide brimmed hats are the best way to protect your face, neck, head, and ears from the sun. We like this stylish one – and bonus, it floats!

  • Not all sunglass are created equal. Make sure they block 100% of UVA and UVB rays and that they’re polarized. Polarized lenses will reduce the glare off the water and make it easier to see things like puffs on the water, and will overall make it easier to see in bright light; however, you still need to make sure they have proper UV protection. WebMD outlines the importance of sunglasses and how to choose a good pair here.

  • Lens color is more than just style. It doesn’t change the UV protection, but it can affect what you see. Sailing World decoded lens colors earlier this year in this article if you’d like to learn more about getting the best sunglasses for your type of sailing.

  • Clothing. While almost all fabrics are going to protect you to some degree, some are better than others. Pay attention to the Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) when buying clothes for sailing. REI does a great job of explaining how sun protection clothing works, including the construction and dyes used. You can check it out here. You can also grab one of our sun shields to cover your face in extra sunny conditions. They are lightweight and breathable, the perfect accessory to always have on you on the water.

  • Make your own shade. There aren’t a lot of shade options on a sailboat, but you can look into getting an awning to help take the edge off during a long regatta or day on the water.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: This is important enough it needs to be repeated three times. Dehydration can affect your sailing performance and ruin your day on the water.

  • Good, old-fashioned water. Make sure there is enough on the boat for everyone and make sure people are actually drinking it. If you’re on your boat a lot or for longer periods, maybe consider implementing a water filtration system like the Farr 40 Flash Gordon team implemented a few years ago to help eliminate waste and cost. Another great option for smaller boats, daysailers, and racers is a reusable, collapsable water cube. It’s a great way to eliminate single-use plastic while also staying hydrated all day long.

  • Electrolytes. Salts are a key component to hydration. Gatorade-type drinks are great, but their high sugar content is not ideal, it can slow you down. Look for sugar-free electrolyte tablets to add to your water. If you’re curious about how electrolytes work, hydration tablet company Nuun has a great blog post about it.

What about the kids? Kids can’t take the same beating in the sun that adults can, so you need to take extra precautions with them. Follow all of the aforementioned tips and use kid specific sunscreen that won’t hurt their eyes and is active from initial application. It also helps to alternate times of sun exposure and below deck shade. Quantum Farr 40 pro Dave Gerber likes the Sun Bum Face Stick for his gang; “It’s easy for them to use and doesn’t get in their eyes.”

Don’t Forget the pets! We all love our boat pets; having your furry friend on the water makes the day even more enjoyable. But dogs and cats are subject to similar problems as humans such as sunburn and skin cancer. Make sure you’re giving them breaks in the shade and plenty of water too. For more information on keeping your pets happy and healthy in the sun, check out this article by the ASPCA.

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The Discussion

Mary Lou Scott
Mary Lou Scott

If you cruise with your dog please remember that after 30 minutes of direct sun they are subject to the same skin issues as us. Learn more about skin cancer in dogs at You can also see our Spf50+ rashguard shirts for dogs 35lbs and under. Thanks!­čśÄ

Julie Davidson
Julie Davidson

Hi Mary - thanks for the great tip! I know there are a lot of boat dogs out there that appreciate your comment. - Quantum Sails