When the sky is blue, the sun is out, the sea is calm — and, if you are a sailor, the wind is up — you have all the ingredients for a perfect day.

The headache you might get from squinting for hours on end is not, however, the only damage your eyes may undergo. Exposure to too much sunlight, in particular, UV rays, can harm your eyes and lead to conditions such as cataracts or photokeratitis, a condition similar to a sunburn on the eye.

There are of course a huge variety of sunglasses available on the market, but boaters need some specific qualities, whether they are fishing on a small lake or sailing on the wide, open sea. By its very nature, boating exposes mariners to sunlight and glare for long amounts of time with little or no protection. Below is a guide to some of the different aspects of choosing the best pair of sunglasses for your boating experience.

Best Kind of Sunglass Frames for Boating 

  • Fisherman frames have small windows on both sides so that your vision is not blocked by the arms, but your eyes are protected from the sides.
  • Wraparound frames fit snugly to your face so that no light can enter into your eyes from the top, sides, or bottom. These are ideal for total eye protection, and are good for people with sensitive eyes.
  • Aviator frames are the classic pilot look — wire frames and teardrop-shaped lenses that follow the curve of the cheek. 

If you already wear prescription glasses, you can still protect your eyes from the sun without needing to wear contacts.

  • Clip-on sunglass frames can be attached to your existing frames. If you go inside while wearing them, they can be flipped up so that you do not have to take them on and off every time you use the head.
  • Cocoon lenses will fit around your glasses.
  • If you want to have constant sun protection, prescription glasses with photochromic lenses may be the right choice for you. These lenses darken in sunlight and brighten again in shade, so they consistently adjust to your needs. They can, however, be fairly costly. It is also possible to get polarized prescription lenses for less expense.

Best Sunglass Lens Type for Boating 

The first question that many people ask when buying sunglasses is: glass or plastic lenses?

  • Glass lenses are more resistant to scratching, but are more likely to crack if dropped.
  • Plastic lenses are lighter, which can make them more comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
  • Glass lenses are thinner, but plastic lenses are more resistant to glare.
  • Plastic lenses come in a wider variety of shapes and sizes.

Before thinking about the color of your sunglass lenses, it is essential that you choose sunglasses with polarized lenses. Lenses that are not polarized reduce light but not glare, so the sun off the water, sails, or white hulls will still give you a headache. In addition, when a lens is polarized it does not have to be dark, so your visibility will be just as strong as it was without sunglasses.

Different types of lens colors are good for different situations, so keep the list below in mind when you are deciding what lens color works for you. 

  • Gray lenses are a neutral, all-purpose color. They do not distort colors much and are good for everyday use.
  • Red lenses heighten contrast between items against a blue or green background, so they can be very useful for boaters.
  • Yellow lenses are good for seeing in hazy or foggy conditions, but they distort colors a fair amount.
  • Brown/amber lenses are good for high-contrast situations and many different conditions.
  • Green lenses sharpen vision, so they are good for situations like sight fishing, and for everyday use.

Whatever type of sunglass lenses you choose, they should afford you protection from both UVA and UVB radiation. UVB radiation is what gives you a tan and can give you sunburn, and is the type that was long thought to be the one worth watching out for. UVA rays, however, can enter your eyes and damage them, so your sunglasses should shield you from both.

How to Tell if Your Sunglasses Fit

All of these qualifications, however, are no good if your sunglasses do not fit properly. When you try them on, check for the following: 

  • They sit (and stay) high on your nose. If your sunglasses slip downwards, the lenses are not protecting your eyes the way they should be. Slipping also makes them much more susceptible to slipping overboard, a fate that has met many a pair.
  • They do not feel heavy. If a pair of sunglasses feels heavy on your nose, it will cause headaches once you are out on the water.
  • They are central to your vision.
  • The arms are above your peripheral line of sight, so your vision is not hampered.

Of course, no matter how well sunglasses fit, accidents can happen. For this reason, many boaters invest in a tie or strap (sometimes called croakies) that wraps around the back of the head and connect both arms.

One more thing to keep in mind about sun protection is that it should be worn even on cloudy days. You may not be able to see the sun, but UV rays still make their way through the clouds and pose a danger to your health.

A good pair of sunglasses is likely to be on the expensive side, somewhere around $150, but if you are using them for hours at a time on the water a good pair is what you need. Once you have your sunglasses chosen, you are ready to spend long hours on the water without worrying about sun damage (as long as you have sunscreen on, too!).