Best Sunglasses for Sailing


Sunglasses When Sailing: Nearly as Important as the Boat

What do you get when you combine a high action activity, with broad horizons on a very large reflective surface, constant water spray and wind activity, and a whole lot of sunshine? The absolute need for the right eye protection to help you sail, that’s what. Sailing is an activity which, if looked at from an optometrist’s point of view, is potentially very bad for the eyes. The reflective qualities of the large expanse of water you are sailing on increases the light hitting your eyes and face by many times, and the UV exposure to your eyes is incredible. What most people don’t realize is that sunglasses can play a vital role in the handling of the boat as well.

Shape of Your Frames

The shape of the frames does not play such a critical role as other sports. Of course, the glasses should cover both eyes adequately to filter all light getting to your eyes, including stopping ambient light coming in from the sides. This light is potentially even more dangerous than straight on light to your eyes, as most people do not even realize the multiplicity of light reflection from the water. One double eye lens or one for each eye is fine. Many sailors, though, prefer to choose wraparound sports style frames to further cut down on wind and spray getting to the eyes. Just remember, metal frames are a big no-no as they will quickly begin to corrode in a marine (salty sea spray) environment. Read about different frame materials to help you choose, here.

The Lens is All

Your sailing sunglasses should be made with either polycarbonate or Trivex lenses. Trivex tends to be preferred over polycarbonate. While they both have similar specification concerning blocking UVA and UVB waves and both are shatterproof, Trivex lenses are more clear, lighter, and stronger. Additionally, Trivex has better chromatic distortion performance. This means that there is less distortion as you look away from the center of the lens, therefore curved lenses have a much better view all around, never distorting your depth perception.

Lens Color

It goes without saying that lenses for the mariners among us need to be polarized. While some grumble about a slight distortion in depth perception, this is more than made up for by the glare reduction properties of polarization. When choosing the color, gray tends to be one of the more popular options, as it optically does not change the color spectrum, just makes the whole picture look darker. On a sunny day, this can be a lifesaver when its bright as far as the eye can see. Check out this article at Sailingworld.com to see what we mean.

Those who end up on the water a lot tend to have two or even three pairs of sunglasses. While gray is a good overall choice, yellow lenses are perfect for overcast and low-light conditions, and copper colored lenses are good for variable light conditions and deep (i.e. dark) water.

Lens Coatings

Many times, sunglasses made specifically for boating will have not only an anti-reflective interior coating to cut down on reflections to the eyes, but also have a waterproof coating to make the spray just run off your sunglasses like it streaks right off your waxed hull. As for mirroring, the jury is out, as it tends to be a personal preference. Yes, it helps to reflect more light from your eyes, but when combined with a lens, it often adds a blue tint, especially with gray. This article by Corning may help you get a better idea about how lens coatings work.

The blue wavelength is one that you want to avoid more, especially when focus and clarity are important, as it always is when sailing. That being said, those with blue eyes should probably steer hard-a-port of mirrored lenses, as they are more sensitive to incoming blue light than darker colored eyes. Gray and light green eyes don’t fare so well either.

A Final Word

Sailing sunglasses also need a bit more care than other types of sunglasses. As important as it is to either fuel up your boat or stow your sail, cleaning your sunglasses from the saltwater (or any particulates) is necessary. Not doing so is just asking them to fall apart. Getting a reputable brand that highly advertises scratch resistance is good, and it may be worth it for you to purchase your own waterproofing layer to rub on top of your lenses if they do not have it. This provides a very thin but strong layer of protection. Enjoy riding the waves!