Sailing in the sun - good fun but deadly

Sailing in the sun, good fun but deadly - photo by Anthony M Davis
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Whether you sail just for an afternoon, escape to tropical climes to sail your holidays away, or have let the docklines go altogether to be full time cruising, the sun will sometimes be your greatest friend, but also can be you deadliest enemy.

Sailors are like anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors - they tend to experience sunburn and skin damage more often than the average person.


This means it is essential that cruising sailor learn as much as possible about the potentially dangerous effects of ultraviolet radiation (UV), and the steps that can be taken to limit exposure.

Some misconceptions about UV:
UV levels are not linked to how hot or cold the temperature is. UV levels generally don’t change much from day to day whereas temperatures can sometimes change substantially. For example, if a cool change has blown through overnight, sun protection will still be required even though the temperature might feel a lot cooler than the day before. This is because you can't see or feel UV on your skin as you do with the temperature.

UV levels peak in the middle of the day, at solar noon (around 12pm, or 1pm during daylight savings), but can be at damaging levels for much of the day.

Usually marine activities require people to be outdoors for a prolonged period, resulting in a higher cumulative exposure to UV and therefore an increased risk of skin damage and skin cancer. While you are sailing you will be exposed to an additional 10% of UV reflected from the water, and another 10% reflected from your boat.

Reducing exposure to UV by the slip, slop, slap, slide and seek method:
Excessive exposure to UV from the sun is responsible for almost all cases of skin cancer, however the good news is that skin cancer is almost entirely preventable. Cancer Council has five key recommendations for reducing exposure to UV and preventing skin cancer.

1. Slip on sun protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible. This includes shirts with long sleeves, longer style shorts and pants, and don't keep your sailing gloves in your pocket - wear them.

2. Slop on SPF 30+ sunscreen. Ensure that it is applied 20 minutes before going outside and reapply every two
hours. Sunscreen should never be your sole form of sun protection - it should always be used in conjunction with other forms of sun protection.

3. Slap on a hat. You can't wear a broad-brimmed hat on the boat, but you can get the largest cap shade possible when buying your next sailing hat.

4. Slide on sunglasses - eyes need protection from the UV too.

5. Seek shade. Get under the dodger or bimini whenever you can, or for long range cruising, connect the dodger and bimini to create permanent shade in the cockpit.

Take some of this advice to heart, and you won't be the next sailor to experience skin cancer.

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