Prolonged exposure to the sun’s harmful rays can have damaging effects on your eyes, as they are such a sensitive part of the body, and on the water the dangers are heightened. Not only are you likely to be out in unsheltered sunshine for long, but the glare off the water, not to mention the sails, the deck and other boats, makes your exposure far more intense, just as it is for skiing, for example.

Just like your skin, your eyes can get sunburnt as well. Over-exposure to ultraviolet light, such as a day at the beach or on the water without proper eye protection, can cause a painful burn to the surface of the eye (cornea).

Andrew Grose, Managing Director of eyewear specialists Bollé, points out that eyewear is as vital as sunscreen: "For anyone, taking your sunglasses off, or leaving them ashore, is rather like going out on the water without sunscreen.  A number of eye diseases have been linked to extreme sun exposure, UV rays and harsh glare including cataracts, macular degeneration, keratitis (snow blindness) and pterygium, as well as damage to the sensitive skin around the eyes, which includes wrinkles!"

Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark

470 Olympic sailors Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark racing in Bolle glasses

Zoobut Zoom sunglasses

Zoobug's Zoom Team GB2 glasses - the company has a full range of London 2012 branded eyewear for children as well as other fun designs

Children and eye protection
Children's eye specialists Zoobug are keen to ensure the message gets out about just how important children's eye protection is. "Children’s eyes are at greater risk than adults in the sun because the UV filtering mechanism within the young human lens is not yet fully developed. Hence, they are ultra sensitive to UV and blue light.

"By the age of 18, children would have already been exposed to more than half of their total lifetime exposure. The damage starts early and is cumulative. It is therefore vital that children adopt good UV habits early on in life - avoid the midday sun, cover up with factor 50 suncream and UV protective sunwear, put on a 3-inch wide brim cap and, of course, a pair of 100% UV protective sunglasses which complies to recognised standards."

Polarised lenses
"Another issue you will experience on the water is distracting glare," says Bolle's Andrew Grose. "Even when the weather is overcast it can still have an impact on your vision. You will find glare reflecting off the water, sails, the deck and other boats. Glare causes you to squint and strain your eyes often resulting in eye fatigue. To overcome this, polarised lenses are ideal as they give you crystal clear vision to pick out the wind on the water. The polarisation will even allow you to see below the water’s surface, which can help when watching out for weed and shallows!"

It's not just the sun that's your enemy, "Sunglasses should protect you from more than the bright sun, it is also important to protect your eyes from wind, dust, spray and salt by wearing a quality pair of wraparound sunglasses. The wrapped nature of the sunglasses protects you, not only from the elements, but also from any glare creeping in through the side giving you complete peripheral protection. Look out for lenses that feature a hydrophobic coating as this will repel both water and oil off the lens surface keeping them dry and smudge free," says Andrew Grose.

Top quality eyewear is an essential piece of kit for eye protection on the water and with the unpredictability of the weather out at sea it is key to be prepared for any conditions.

Many companies offer special collections designed for the marine environment. A number of marine companies also offer sunglass ranges specifically designed for sailing or boating.

Bolle Tetra Marine sunglasses with polarised offshore blue lenses

Bolle Tetra Marine sunglasses with polarised offshore blue lenses

A few examples
Bollé’s high performance polarized Marine Collection of sunglasses, for example, are designed for the harsh, unforgiving sailing environment.  They have been thoroughly road tested by the RYA’s Skandia Team GBR in the build up to 2012. Combining the latest optical technologies, embedded polarisation and anti-reflective coatings eliminate distracting glare, and a hydrophobic coating repels spray, helping sailors see the breeze on the water. The glasses also feature Thermogrip® nose pads and temple tips to help keep your sunnies securely in place, so you can focus on the race.

Another of the larger brands in the UK, Oakley, has a number of polarised designs and hydrophobic lenses, including their Water Jacket design, which is a favourite with many active sailors (including our own Lenny Rudow).

Marine clothing specialist Gill also has a sunglasses range. The company is well aware of the importance of sun protection, and if you are looking for a pair of budget glasses, they have a range of options including their racing sunglasses, which have integral flotation. Musto and Henri Lloyd are also among the marine brands which have sunglasses designed for sailing.

Don’t forget a retainer
Many sailors recognise the importance of eye protection, and invest in high quality eyewear, but sunnies are all too easy to lose over the side – there are a range of retainers on the market, some have flotation built in, find one that you are comfortable with and wear it – your eyes and your pocket will thank you!

Six brands worth a second look
In purely alphabetical order, here are six sunglass brands to get you started on your search for the perfect eyewear:
1. Bolle
2. Cebe
3. Dirty Dog
4. Kaenon
5. Oakley
6. Zoobug

Also check out Lenny Rudow’s top pick of sunglasses for boating, see The Best Five Sunglasses for Boaters: Costa Del Mar Vs Oakley vs Ocean Waves vs Onos vs Wiley.