Sunglasses for Boaters and Anglers

When you are boating or fishing, you are exposed to a lot of bright sunlight and glare on the water.  This not only limits your visibility, but it can also cause eye strain, headaches, and even damage your eyes over time.  That is why you need a quality pair of sunglasses.  In this article, I discuss the key things to look for when shopping for sunglasses for boaters and anglers to help you find the pair that is right for you.

Please note that I have included links to some products near the end of this article for your convenience.  If you click on a link and buy something, BoaterInput will receive a small commission to help defray some of the cost to maintain this site. 

Polarization

When I am out fishing near sunrise, the glare is intense because of the low sun angle.  This can make it very difficult to see where you are going or where you are casting.  To reduce this glare or to help see under the surface (as when sight fishing), you need sunglasses with polarized lenses.  Polarized lenses are chemically treated to block light that is reflected horizontally – such as when reflected off the water, road or snow.  In fact, an easy way to determine if your current sunglasses are polarized is to hold them up to a bright computer screen or cell phone.  When held horizontally, the image through the lens should appear dark (because the sunglasses are blocking the horizontal light waves).  But if you turn your sunglasses 90 degrees so that they are vertical, the screen image should brighten considerably.

How to Check if Sunglasses are Polarized - Horizontal Check
How to Check if Sunglasses are Polarized - Vertical Check

UV Protection

Be sure to look for sunglasses that are labeled as having 100% UV protection or UV 400 protected.

Prolonged exposure to UV rays can cause corneal damage, cataracts, macular degeneration and ultimately decreased vision.  However, polarization and the darkness of the lenses has nothing to do with UV protection.  Instead, it is a separate protection that is often embedded in the lens.

There are two types of harmful UV rays.  UVA  rays have longer wavelengths and can penetrate deep into your skin and contribute to premature aging and wrinkling.  UVB rays are shorter wavelengths and are the main cause of sunburn and skin cancer.  Either type can impair your vision and so be sure to look for sunglasses that are labeled as having 100% UV protection or UV 400 protected.

Lense Color

Sunglasses come in a variety of colors – either through tinting the lens itself and/or by applying colored mirrors.  More than just aesthetics, each color has slightly different vision properties.

Gray

This is a good all-around color (for driving, boating, etc.) that reduces overall brightness without distorting colors like many other lens colors do. However, they might seem too dark on cloudy, overcast days or during low-light conditions.

Brown/Copper

Brown or Copper lenses enhance contrast and depth perception to help with visual acuity (i.e., ability to pick out details at a distance). These are suitable for a variety of light conditions.  Many consider this the best choice for inshore or shallow-water/sight fishing.

Blue

Blue lenses help to reduce glare in very bright, sunny conditions and so are a popular choice for offshore boaters or fishing in deep waters.

Green

Similar to Brown/Copper, Green lenses enhance contrast and color accuracy while reducing glare (like other polarized sunglasses).

Yellow

Yellow sunglasses will help brighten your vision while reducing glare and so are best suited for foggy, overcast or low-light conditions.  They are not well suited for intense sunlight, but some boaters/anglers use them as a secondary pair when out at sunrise or sunset.

Mirrored Lenses

Many sunglasses have a mirror finish.  This is a thin metal coating applied to the outside of the lens.  Not only does this look cool, but it also helps to reduce light penetration through reflection.

While the polarization process limits horizontal light waves to reduce glare, the mirror layer limits the total amount of light hitting the lens.  So for optimal protection from intense light and glare, look for polarized sunglasses that are also mirrored.

Light Transmission

Another factor to help you decide which lens color or type to go with is to find out the “light transmission” level for a particular pair of sunglasses.  Many manufacturers will post this on their website or in their catalog.   For example, the Bronze mirror polarized glasses I purchased from Wiley X has a transmission rate of 15%.  This means that 15% of available light passes through.  Other colors from this manufacture range from 10% to 17% for polarized lenses, but the rates are much higher for non-polarized versions.

If your main concern is to shield light and glare on really bright days, then look for sunglasses with a low light transmission level.  In my case, I wanted something that would work even in low light conditions such as when sight-fishing during early morning hours.  That is why I went with something with a more moderate light transmission level.

Frame Style

While the choice of frames is partially a matter of personal preference, there are also some practical considerations for boaters/anglers.  For example, my eyes tend to tear up when exposed to moderate to high winds. Wrap-around frames can help with this by blocking the amount of air hitting my eyes.  With a good, tight-fitting pair of frames, you should not be able to touch your eyelid with your finger without moving the sunglasses.  Some brands and models even offer a foam or plastic insert for even greater blockage from the wind.

Finger test to check the fit of wrap around sunglass frames

Also, the sunlight and glare can be brutal in the early morning hours or near sunset when the sun is at a low angle over the horizon.  That is why I prefer frames  with high sides that limit the amount of peripheral light coming in.

Lens Material

Sunglasses are available in a variety of materials that vary in durability, cost and performance.

Glass

Glass lenses provide superior optical clarity and are scratch resistant but are heavier and more expensive.  They are also more prone to breaking/shattering.

Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate lenses are very popular because they are lightweight, impact resistant and less expensive than glass but also scratch a bit easier.

Trivex

Trivex is a less common lens material that is impact resistant like polycarbonate but offer better optical clarity.  They are more expensive than polycarbonate but less expensive than glass.

Plastic

Plastic lenses are lightweight and less expensive than others but are also less scratch and impact resistant.  They are typically associated with lower quality sunglasses.

Brands

While there are many brands of sunglasses available, here are some of the key brands that are popular with boaters and anglers.

Costa

Costa has been making sunglasses for over 40 years.  The company was founded by avid fishermen looking for quality eyewear.  Unlike other companies, their focus is almost exclusively on boaters and they are a very popular choice with freshwater and saltwater anglers alike.  Their 580G polarized glass lens is especially well regarded because of its optical quality, durability and scratch resistance.  The company was acquired by a large conglomerate (Luxottica) which also owns Oakley’s and Ray-Ban.

Costa Man Sunglasses Matte Black Frame, Green Mirror Lenses, 59MM

Maui Jim

Maui Jim started as a small company selling sunglasses on the beaches in Maui and are now a major corporation that was recently acquired by Kering Eyewear.  They offer both polycarbonate and glass sunglasses.  Some consider these to be the best sunglasses for boaters and they have a reputation for excellent customer service.

Maui Jim Men's Local Kine Polarized Wrap Sunglasses, Soft Black/Sea Blue/ Grey/Blue Hawaii, Large

Wiley X

Originally called Protective Optics, Wiley X’s claim to fame is their impact resistant polycarbonate lenses that are designed to withstand stringent ANSI safety standards.  For this reason, they are a popular choice with hunters and motorcyclists in addition to boaters and anglers.  If you have ever had a ½ oz jig fly back at you at nearly 100 mph on an errant hookset, then you can appreciate the value of these protective lenses.

Wiley X WX Omega Sunglasses, Safety Glasses for Men and Women, UV Eye Protection for Shooting, Fishing, Biking, and Extreme Sports, Matte Black Frames, Tinted Lenses

Smith Optics

Perhaps a lesser-known brand, SMITH offer quality glass and polycarbonate polarized sunglasses at a reasonable price compared to some of the bigger brands.  Their Guide’s Choice model with their “ChromaPop” lenses are a popular choice with anglers because of their ability to enhance color and clarity.  As with Maui Jim, they also have a reputation for excellent customer service.

SMITH Guide’s Choice Sunglasses – Performance Sports Active Sunglasses for Biking, Running, Fishing & More – For Men & Women – Matte Black + Grey Green ChromaPop Polarized Lenses

Oakley

A very popular and stylish brand with a reputation for quality, Oakley makes sunglasses for a variety of outdoor activities – not just boating and fishing.  They are owned by the same corporation that makes Costas and Ray-Ban.

Oakley Men's OO9416 Split Shot Rectangular Sunglasses, Matte Translucent Blue/Prizm Sapphire Iridium Polarized, 64 mm

Other Considerations

One other key consideration is fit and comfort.  However, everyone is a little difference in terms of head and nose size and shape.  If you have the ability to try on various sunglasses before you purchase, that is the best way to determine whether or not they feel comfortable and will not slide off your face.

Finally, a quality pair of sunglasses is not cheap.  Keep them in their protective case or other safe area when not in use – not on the dash of your vehicle (ironically, continual exposure to the sun will eventually damage them).  Also, be sure to get a pair of floating sunglass holders in case they accidently go overboard.

Conclusions

When shopping for sunglasses for boating and fishing, there are a few “must haves”, a couple of “it depends”, and a couple “personal preference” items to consider.

Specifically, be sure to get polarized lenses with 100% UV protection.  However, the lens color and lens material depend on where/how you plan on using your sunglasses and what is most important to you.  For example, if maximum visual clarity/acuity or scratch resistance is key, then look for glass lenses.  But if impact resistance is a bigger concern, then polycarbonate is a better choice (they are also more budget friendly).  Things like frame style and brand are largely a matter of personal preference and/or budget.

Let me know what brand(s) of sunglasses you own and your experience with each in the comments section below.

Sources:

Boyd, Kierstan and Turbert, David.  “What Are Polarized Lenses For?”  Web Blog Post.  American Academy of Ophthalmology.  15 June 2022.

How Does Ultraviolet Light Damage Your Eyes?”  Web Blog Post.  Nevada Eye Physicians.  14 July 2020.

Perisin, Emily.  “How Do UV Protection Sunglasses Work?”  Web Blog Post.  American Optical. 

How to Polarized Sunglasses Help Fishing”  Web Blog Post.  American Optical.

Burden, Tom and Farmer, Tom.  “Selecting Sunglasses for Boating“.  Web Blog Post.  West Marine.  29 May 2020.

Johnstone, Rachel.  “Lens Colors Decoded“.  Web Blog Post.  Sailing World.  14 April 2016.

Tips for Choosing the Best Sunglasses for Boating“.  Web Blog Post.  Rocket Marine.  

Ghangam, Vasudev.  “10 Best Sunglasses for Boating“.  Web Blog Post.  Marine Insight.  27 November 2021.

The Best Lens Colors for Different Fishing Conditions“.  Web Blog Post.  Florida Sport Fishing.  6 June 2023.

Polarized Fishing Sunglasses“.  Web Blog Post.  Costa.

Bedinghaus, Trod OD.  “Choosing the Right Tint for Your Sunglasses“.  Web Blog Post.  VeryWellHealth.  29 December 2023.

Basaraba, Sharon.  “Choosing the Best Sunglasses to Protect Your Eyes“.  Web Blog Post.  VeryWellHealth.  7 January 2023.

Byas, Kristina.  “What Color Are Your Sunglasses? It May Matter for When You’re Using Them“.  Web Blog Post.  CNET.  19 May 2024.

Best Sunglasses for Fishing (Plus Which Sunglasses to Avoid)“.  YouTube Video.  Salt Strong.  2021.

Kuo, Irene MD.  “How to Protect Your Eyes from UV Damage“.  Web Blog Post.  Johns Hopkins Medicine.  24 July 2019.

Jerry Mona - BoaterInput

About the author

Jerry Mona is an avid boater and angler and long-time boating industry insider. With over three decades of experience, he is often considered to be the leading research expert with boaters and has helped numerous manufacturers and trade associations to understand the needs, wants, attitudes and behaviors of boaters. He now shares many of his insights about boats and boaters for free on his BoaterInput.com website.

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