In Search of the Perfect Sailing Hat


In Search of the Perfect Sailing Hat

Ever since October 2011, when the dermatologist announced that I had skin cancer at the age of 46, Ive been looking for good hats and other accessories to keep my face, in particular, out of the sun. Im a sailor, and Im not ready to change my life completely, but I do need to make a diligent effort to prevent this dangerous, but generally preventable and treatable form of skin cancer-squamous cell carcinoma-from becoming more serious. Ive been cancer-free for the last 18 months, but Ive now got a nice battle scar running down my right cheek, and I would prefer not to have any more.

As weve seen in our past tests of sunscreen, the best defense against UV rays (apart from moving to a cave in Canada) is a physical barrier-preferably UV-protective clothing. And as our most recent hat testshowed, there are all kinds of options for covering ears, noses, and necks. Still, Im having a hard time finding one I like. Thats where you come in.

Hats are such a personal item-think Tom Landry, Bear Bryant, Abe Lincoln, Charlie Chaplin-that I think any straight product test will be of limited help. Sure, we can measure how much shade each hat casts, how well it stays on a head in a breeze, and how well it holds up to weathering. But what good are all these features, if it makes you look like a dork (whatever your private vision of a dork may be)?

Lately, Ive become attached to wide-brimmed straw gardening/beach hats that I pick up in local hardware stores. The hats cost about $8 and will last a year, if my kids don’t sit on them. They have nice wide brims that provides a lot of shade, and with a tropical headband, they seem appropriate for the task. The trouble with this my current one is that it tends to invert in a breeze, and I really have to cinch it down to keep it on in winds over 15 knots.

I have a few other hats. Ive got a new Columbia baseball hat made with some sort of new “Omni Freeze” fabric that acts like an air-conditioner and has a French foreign legionnaire-style neck flap; another long-billed hat with a wide brim around the back to cover my neck (an Aussie style popularized by Florida fishing guides); and a canvas Tilly-type hat with a neck flap that I picked up at the Miami boat show. Ive also got a couple of pull-over buffs that cover my neck and cheeks (and nose, if I like) when Im on the water for a long time. These days, I can’t help but feel like Butch Cassidy on the way to a holdup when Im out on the water. I expect my eldest son to start ribbing me about this any day: You keep thinking, Butch, thats what youre good at.

Each of these hats has its pros and cons, and I’m not really attached to any of them. Clearly, my priority is function. It needs to provide plenty of shade in breezy conditions, but Id prefer it to look halfway agreeable. I like the Tilly hats, but the price is steep, and because my father wore one for so many years, I keep feeling like I age 20 years every time I put it on. (Like I said, hats are a personal matter.)

So, I guess this is a long-winded way of asking for your help. Maybe Im just too damn picky, but Id like to know whether our readers have any particular hats they are fond of that PS has not yet tested, or that we may not know about. If you do, just post a comment below. Your help will be greatly appreciated.

Once I get a good list of finalists, we can put together some sort of rigorous comparison to share with the larger readership. Wed also be very interested in hearing what hats women are finding practical for sailing these days. Matter of fact, if youve got some other ideas on other apparel for covering up this summer-share those too, so we can pass them on.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him at