David Harding explains why good quality sunglasses are so important for sailors and picks out 10 pairs that provide a good level of protection
Those of us who go afloat expose ourselves to a lot of ultraviolet (UV) radiation – even on cloudy days in northern Europe.
We all know that too much UV is bad for our skin, but it can damage our eyes too: over-exposure can cause cataracts, macular degeneration and photokeratitis among other conditions.
That’s why we need sunglasses. Any that you buy should filter out UV rays – carrying the CE mark in Europe to show that they meet the required standard – but a good pair of sailing sunglasses will do more besides.
They will make for easier and more comfortable vision in strong sunlight by reducing glare and increasing clarity. Glare is an obvious problem on the water, and bear in mind that water reflects 100% of the UV radiation from above.
For these reasons and more, you might decide it’s worth paying for more than just a basic pair.
What to look for in sailing sunglasses?
Sunglasses that are polarised should cut out more glare than those that are not polarised, and some manufacturers incorporate more effective polarisation technology than others.
Additional anti-reflective coatings are a feature you will often find, while hydrophobic finishes help repel water – an obvious benefit when you’re afloat.
Bear in mind that darker lenses don’t indicate a higher level of UV protection: the level of tint is a different factor. A further potentially confusing element is that the base colour of the lenses – the cast (if any) that they add when you look through them – is not necessarily the same as the colour of the lenses that you see from the outside.
Whatever features you choose, it’s worth buying close-fitting or wrap-around styles if you want to minimise the amount of unfiltered light reaching your eyes from the sides. And larger lenses can be worth having, because they will help protect the delicate skin around the eyes.
Our pick of the best sailing sunglasses available now
Gill Classic sailing sunglasses
Few of the big names in sailing clothing include sunglasses in their range, but Gill does. Available with frames in black, navy or grey, Gill’s Classics claim to block 100% of the three types of UV radiation – UVA, UVB and UVC.
They feature a hydrophobic coating to shed water (thereby reducing salt residue) and an oleophobic coating on the inside too, to help prevent smudgy vision from fingerprints and sun creams.
A bonus for boaters is that, despite their slim style, they’re designed to float if dropped overboard. They provide a good close fit and are light and comfortable to wear.
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Gill Race Vision Bi-Focal sailing sunglasses
Like Gill’s Classic sailing sunglasses, the Race Vision Bi-Focals are polarised, coated to repel water, oil and fingerprints, designed to eliminate UV rays and also offer built-in flotation. The injection-moulded lenses are said to offer high levels of impact protection as well as scratch-resistance.
As their name suggests, their principal extra feature is the bi-focal element. Virtually undetectable from the outside, and set into the lower part of the lenses towards the nose bridge, it’s available in strengths +1.5 and +2.5 diopter. If you need reading glasses, Gill’s Bi-Focals might well allow you to leave them at home when heading afloat for the day. Frames come in black or wood-effect.
Eyelevel Clearwater sunglasses
Despite their budget price, these stylish, partially-framed shades from EyeLevel’s Polarised Sports range claim to block 100% of UVA and UVB and come with mirrored lenses in a choice of red or blue.
They felt a little more flexible than some alternatives with frames that extend around the entire lens. On the other hand, the full wraparound shape, close fit and generous size of the lenses all combine to give good protection from every angle, which is important when you’re on the water and often surrounded by highly reflective surfaces on boats.
Triggernaut Transmission sunglasses
German technology comes to the fore in these ‘performance sports’ sunglasses from Triggernaut. For a start they come with interchangeable lenses: if the polarised grey ones are too dark in low-light conditions, you can change them for an orange pair that will give you a lighter and brighter outlook. Both are made from a polycarbonate that’s described as shatterproof. Also said to be shatterproof, as well as flexible, are the polyamide frames.
Setting the Triggernauts apart from many sunglasses are two features that make them particularly suitable for watersports. One is the inclusion of a head strap, to help keep them in place if you meet the water unexpectedly. The other is the ‘windblock’: a padded insert that fits inside the rims and reduces the amount of wind (and light) that can pass between the lenses and your eyes. It can be snapped in and out as you like.
Maui Jim Waterman sunglasses
These are among the more expensive polarised sunglasses you can buy, but Maui Jim maintain that they offer levels of eye-protection, glare-reduction (99.9%), comfort, toughness and scratch-resistance that few others can match. The quality of the lenses is also said to ensure vibrant colours and exceptional clarity, while water-repellent and oleophobic treatments should help keep them clear.
Recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation as ‘an effective UV filter for the eyes and surrounding skin’, all Maui Jim sunglasses come with a two-year warranty and are backed up by an after-sales service that includes a free annual check and overhaul.
The Waterman frame comes with a choice of lenses: neutral grey (best in bright sunlight), bronze, Maui HT (green tint), or Maui Rose. All can have a Bi-Gradient mirror, at the top and bottom of the lens, to reduce the brightest light reaching your eyes from above and below. The idea is that the sunglasses effectively do the squinting to save your eyes having to.
RRP: £218 / $249
Tribord Sailing 900 sailing sunglasses
Designed specifically for sailing, this pair from Decathlon incorporates many of the features that might be on your check-list for use on the water: 100% UVA and UVB protection, polarised lenses (said to achieve 95% polarisation), buoyancy so they will float, and a wraparound shape for protection from light that might otherwise sneak in from the sides.
Grey-tinted lenses are widely favoured for use in bright sunlight and for maintaining natural colours. The lenses also have a mirrored finish for effect, though mirrored lenses are more prone to showing up scratches.
Made with polycarbonate lenses and polyamide frames, Tribords are supplied in a semi-rigid case and with a two-year warranty.
Gul Race Code Zero sunglasses
As you would expect from a company with its origins in surfing, this pair by Gul will float is polarised and comes in a wraparound style offering good protection from the sides. The partial frames in TR90 polyamide hold lenses that are described as lightweight and shatterproof.
Offered in two colour combinations of red and black, they’re sensibly supplied with a zipped, semi-rigid travel/storage case, a microfibre pouch that doubles as a cleaning cloth, and a head strap so you don’t have too many occasions to test the effectiveness of their buoyancy.
Dirty Dog Wetglass Curl II sunglasses
Both the appearance and the features of the Wetglass Curl II make it clear that they were designed with serious watersports in mind: they have polarised lenses in polycarbonate, four UV filters to keep damaging rays away from the eyes, vent holes in the polyamide frames to reduce fogging, and a clip-in detachable strap that looks more likely to stay in place than some of those that slip over the ends of the earpieces (and all too easily slip off again).
Colour options include green lenses in a black frame or grey/blue lenses in a crystal frame.
Bollé Python Black/Blue Matte sunglasses
Bollé’s solution for better vision on the water is to give the polycarbonate lenses in their Python sunglasses a blue tint to enhance contrast. However, the wraparound Python style (pythons are known for wrapping around things, after all) is also available with lenses in grey or ‘Brown Fire’, while the frames, made from a lightweight nylon, are offered in shiny black as opposed to matte.
Whichever colour of lens you choose, all are polarised and given hydrophobic and oleophobic treatments. Bollé Pythons are supplied with a microfibre cleaning cloth and a soft protective case.
RRP: £89 / $69
Oakley Clifden sailing sunglasses
If you prefer flatter lenses to the curved wraparound style, but still want protection from the sides, Oakley’s Clifden might be what you’re looking for.
Oakley says that the polarised lenses are set apart by the fact that they’re made using an infusion moulding process that forms a single layer, as opposed to several layers bonded together with adhesives.
Side shields provide protection around the outside edges of the lenses and a ‘bridge blocker’ fills the gap in the middle over the nose. Lenses are available in a range of tints, the ‘Deep Water Polarised’ being suggested for sailing.
RRP: £200 / $199