Prolonged exposure to the sun’s harmful rays can have damaging effects on your eyes, 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 deck, sails and other boats, makes your exposure far more intense, just as it is for skiing, for example.

Andrew Grose, Managing Director of eyewear specialists Bollé, points out that: "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!"

Sunglasses: buyer’s top tips

  1. Look for oversized sunglasses with wide-view wraparound lenses, anti-mist vents and cushioned pads.

  2. If the glasses are not buoyant, make them so with an adjustable, one-handed floating safety strap for about £10.

  3. On pricier models, look for prescription compatibility.

  4. A set of interchangeable pursuit-specific, polarised lenses is a top solution.

  5. The film that blocks UV rays is clear, so don’t equate lens tint with protection. Look instead for sunglasses that advertise UV protection as capable of blocking 99 or 100 per cent of UVB and UVA rays.

  6. You need to know how they fit properly, so try them before you buy. Take a look outside to see how they handle glare and colour and don’t forget to move your head around to make sure they stay on.

  7. Although glasses that are polarised also tend to protect from UV, these are in fact two separate issues, so make sure you’re covered on both counts.

  8. A hydrophobic coating will help keep your glasses clean.

Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark

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

So a pair of marine sunglasses is a vital asset on a boat. Certainly, most non-specialist High Street pairs will filter the worst of the UV rays, but good sailing sunglasses are much more technical than you might think. What about impact-resistance? What about extra eye coverage to help intercept light bouncing upwards off the water or the fibreglass? What about a fit that can resist 40-knot winds and 7G impacts? What about buoyancy if they fall overboard? And what about the performance of the lens itself?

Physical sunglass construction

The market is awash with patented materials, designs and systems, but in general terms, a wraparound shape with venting for fog resistance, padding for comfort and strong, lightweight (usually plastic-based) construction for flexible shockproofing is a very sound bet. At the market’s higher echelons, Grilamid (a nylon/plastic blend) is a particular favourite.

Sunglass lens material

Acrylic lenses are the cheapest, but they also offer the most distortion and the least durability. Glass lenses are very scratch-resistant and have superior optics, but they are also relatively heavy. In between the two, there are lenses in a variety of proprietary plastics, including polycarbonates and polyurethanes. Polycarbonates are lightweight, inexpensive and durable; and polyurethane adds uprated clarity to those assets at extra cost.

While you’re considering lenses, you should also think about fog, oil and water-repellent coatings. Photocromic technology (which adapts the filter to changing light conditions) can be useful, but as the price increases, the best no-compromise formula is usually a set of interchangeable lenses allied to prescription-compatibility, so you can enjoy a complete solution, whatever conditions you happen to face.

Polarised sunglasses

The clearer contrasts and radical glare reduction offered by a polarised filter will help you pick out detail in the water (like hidden buoys, wind shifts and gusts), as well as reducing the impact of reflected light from the water’s surface or a fiberglass dash. They will also provide much greater clarity when refracted light is filtered through wind-whipped moisture, falling rain, airborne spray or fog. The polarisation will even allow you to see below the water’s surface, which can help when watching out for weed and shallows. Of course, polarised glasses are more expensive but with prices from as little as £30, there is simply no excuse for economising in this regard. Warch out though, cheap polarised lenses can make it difficult to read digital screens like those on your phone or your chartplotter.

Lens colour

Once upon a time, it seemed like sunglasses were all the dark green of Ray Ban Aviators. These provide the least amount of colour distortion while reducing glare, and they are still popular. But grey lenses have gained popularity with boaters because they are useful in a wider range of conditions. In particular, the lighter tint enables better performance in overcast conditions, reducing eye fatigue and avoiding any colour distortion when clouds are chasing sunshine across the bay. However, the slight reddish tint of amber, which is also described by various sunglass manufacturers as bronze, copper and brown, improves contrast and depth perception. The colours may not be accurate but amber lenses enable you to spot variations in the water that you’d miss with green or grey lenses. Whether you’re looking for fish, big waves, wind patterns or something more serious like a man overboard, you’ll be glad of the extra contrast and clarity.

10 top sailing sunglasses

In no particular order, here are a few models worth a second look for sailors and boaters...

sailing sunglasses: Bloc Cobra

The Cobra from Bloc.

1. Bloc Cobra

Bloc offers quality sports sunglasses more affordably than just about any other maker around – and even its polarised, grey, graduated CAT 3 Cobras can be yours for around £30. The chunky sports hinge suggests it will endure a great deal of abuse and the adjustable hypoallergenic nose pads and non-slip temple tips help them fit as comfortably and securely as many of the much more expensive models. Built from Bloc’s ‘KARBON’ core-injected frames, they are flexible, lightweight, extremely robust and great value.

RRP: £35

Sailing sunglasses Sunwise

Sunwise's Greenwich model.

2. Sunwise Greenwich

These Greenwich sunglasses from British company, Sunwise, use a proprietary form of polarisation on their Category 3 lenses known as ‘Polafusion’ to help minimise glare while retaining vivid colour contrast. Designed for strong light, they are built for impact-resistance and 100 per cent protection against UVA and UVB rays. The polycarbonate frames are lightweight, flexible and tough, the rubber nose pads and sleeves improve fit and comfort and the wraparound lenses give greater protection from light ingress at the sides. With interchangeable lens options and a flat arm profile for use under a hat, they are very well considered marine designs.

RRP: £49.99

Sailing sunglasses: Cebe Lupka

Cebe's Lupka sunglasses.

3. Cebe Lupka Polarised

As part of the Cebe Sport Active range, the Lupkas might be general-purpose shades, but their suitability for the marine environment is not in question. The top (and most expensive) versions buy you polarised performance for less than £50, plus oversized, wraparound frames, dedicated temple sections to improve fit, and a choice of shockproof Category 3 polycarbonate lenses in either grey or brown. Designed for “strong light, water and high mountain use”, they promise all the resistance to scratches, impacts, glare and reflection the sailor needs.

RRP: £49.99

Gill pro racing goggles

Gill's Pro Racing Goggles.

4. Gill Pro Racing Goggles

While Gill’s sunglasses are all impressively marine-specific, with integrated flotation and glare-free polarised lenses, those who enjoy particularly hard-core pursuits will love these goggles. They come with a hard case and three interchangeable lenses – ‘Smoke’ for bright sun, ‘Yellow’ for low light and ‘Clear’ for overcast conditions. A hydrophobic outer coating helps shed water, while an Oleophobic inside face helps repel oil from fingertips. Despite the wraparound protection of the lightweight, shatterproof, scratch-resistant lenses, the venting channels keep misting to a minimum and the inner foam cushion provides excellent comfort. There are plenty of more conventional sunglasses in Gill’s marine range, but these goggles are the business.

RRP: £55

Sailing sunglasses: Bolle Tetra

Bolle's Tetra glasses.

5. Bolle Tetra

Available in Offshore Blue (for harsh light) or Inland Gold (for high-glare), the Tetra’s ‘premium resin’ polycarbonate lenses are 20 times more impact-resistant than glass and three times lighter. Oleophobic and hydrophobic exteriors allied to anti-fog internal surfaces mean the clarity of image is rigorously protected. You also get anti-reflective coatings, plus photocromic technology to lighten and darken the lens according to the conditions. Better still, Bollé’s interchangeable system enables you to tailor the filter to your needs and the ‘Sport Optical System’ even allows you to insert your prescription adapter lenses. They might look like everyday shades, but with their armoury of marine-specific features, the Tetras are superb sailing sunglasses.

RRP: £99

Sailing sunglasses: Von Zipper

Von Zipper's DryDock polarised sunnies.

6. Von Zipper DryDock Polarised

Italian brand, Von Zipper, made its name in sunglasses and goggles before moving into fashion but its marine glasses still cut the mustard. The basics (UV protection, impact-resistant, polarised, polycarbonate lenses and rubberised nosepads) are all in place with the Dry Docks, as are some of the more advanced features like stainless steel optical hinges, Nylon Grilamid construction and Base 8 spherical lenses. The black satin finish is a delight and while you can get the non-polarised versions for around half the price, the keen boater should avoid the cheaper option.

RRP: £99

Maui Jim Offshore sunglasses.

Maui Jim Offshore glasses.

7. Maui Jim Offshore 444

The Offshores make Maui Jim’s high-end optics more relevant to boaters than ever before. The oversized Grilamid frame looks well suited to boat life and the Maui HCL bronze polarised wraparound lenses are ideal for medium to bright conditions, with great contrast and glare protection. Salt-resistant treatments to the lenses and frame and a two-year warranty are useful assets - and the option of prescription compatibility is also very handy. In fairness, they are not the most feature-rich options around but as a do-it-all product from a top name, they remain a good choice.

RRP: £125

Rayban sunglasses

Raban's interchangeable lenses.

8. Rayban Caravan Flipout

Rayban’s classic Caravans apparently featured in Martin Scorsese’s iconic film, Taxi Driver - but their appeal is about much more than a big name, sexy styling and A-list patronage. They come with three lenses (a rich primary lens, a gradient lens and a polarised lens) that clip securely into the top of the semi-rimless frame – and the frame itself has been modified with the use of ‘Ray Light’ technology to make it less bulky but more durable than previous models. For those with larger boats, it’s a very cool compromise.

RRP: £189.95

Oakley Flak sunglasses

Oakley is a popular brand with many sailors.

9. Oakley Flak XL Prizm Deep Water Polarised

These semi-rimless sunglasses from iconic name, Oakley, use ‘Three-Point Fit’ to hold the lenses in precise optical alignment while eliminating pressure points. The XL lenses themselves give wider coverage for larger faces and an expanded field of view; the stress and impact-resistant frame is lightweight and durable; and the use of soft, grippy nose pads and ‘ear socks’ keeps the glasses in place even during movement and perspiration. The Prizm lens system, meanwhile, enables you to select one of eight sports-specific lenses, tinted to maximise clarity in the areas required. In the form of these ‘Deep Water’ models, that means the filtering out of overwhelming shades of blue and the boosting of greens and reds. Convoluted proprietary jargon aside (‘Plutonite’ lenses, ‘HDO’ optics, ‘O-Matter’ frames and ‘Unobtainium’ components), these are a class act.

RRP: £180

Rudy Zyon sunglasses

Rudy Project's Zyon Sailing sunglasses.

10. Rudy Project Zyon Sailing

These glasses from Rudy Project are formidable bits of kit. They use a full-rim frame with removable side shields to keep your eyes protected against wind and water; and they also promise “lifetime indestructibility” courtesy of the new ‘ImpactX’ photocromic lenses and the ultra-light Grilamid frame. A combination of the ‘Ergo 3 Max’ nose pads and the fully adjustable temple units promise a fit as bespoke and comfortable as any you could want and the quick-change lenses come with a choice of no fewer than 15 filters. The Zyon is also prescription-ready, either direct or with the patented ‘easy-in-easy-out‘ RX insert - but either way, this is a very serious pair of marine shades.

RRP: £250

Zoobut Zoom sunglasses

Zoobug's Zoom Team GB2 glasses - the company has a full range of fun designs.

Sunglasses for kids

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 per cent UV protective sunglasses which complies to recognised standards."

Looking for other essential boating kit? Read our feature on sailing watches.

Written by: Alex Smith
Alex Smith is a journalist, copywriter and magazine editor with a long history in boating and a happy addiction to the water. He’s worked on boats, lived on boats, bought boats, sold boats and – when he’s not actually on board a boat – he can generally be found in his Folkestone office, tapping away at the computer and gazing out to sea.