Whether for warmth or sun protection, going afloat means wearing a hat. David Harding picks out 12 of the best sailing hats available right now
In the summer as well as a good pair of sailing sunglasses, you need a good sailing hat for protection from the sun (especially those of us who sport low-profile hairstyles).
For dinghy and keelboat racing, many prefer a peak but no brim – a cap, in other words. And if your boat has a low boom, it might be sensible to choose a sailing hat with built-in skull-protection. Being bashed on the head is painful at the very least. Besides, who wants blood on the deck?
On colder days, a sailing hat is key to keeping you warm on the water. The ubiquitous beanie might be the obvious starting point. Or you could have a lined sailing hat, perhaps waterproof, that incorporates ear-warmers and a peak.
What makes a good sailing hat?
Some of the best sailing hats serve multiple purposes too. They might have a brim for sun-protection and be made of a water-repellent material. If opting for a brim, consider how wide and how stiff it should be. A wide, stiff brim might seem best in the sun, but could present a challenge when you’re ducking under the rail on a racing yacht.
Another consideration is that as much UV is reflected from the water as you’re exposed to from above. So a sailing hat in the ‘bucket’ style – with a brim that’s narrower and lower – might be more effective, if not quite as stylish. What’s more, it’s less likely to blow off in a breeze. Any style of brim that’s too floppy is unlikely to be much use in stronger winds either.
Whichever type of sailing hat you might choose, there’s plenty to think about. Here is our pick of the best sailing hats available right now in various styles.
The best sailing hats available right now
Classic sailing caps
Henri-Lloyd Mal HL sailing cap
A straightforward cap will be many people’s starting point when it comes to choosing a sailing hat. Some of us have picked up such a collection from the water (it’s odd that most sailing caps don’t come with retaining lanyards) that we’ve never needed to buy one.
Then again, what you find floating past your boat isn’t necessarily what you would choose to wear, so if you want something new, smart and branded with one of the best-known names in sailing clothing, you might go for something like the Mal HL sailing cap from Henri-Lloyd.
Available in navy blue or pale grey, it’s made from a polyester twill that’s said to be fast-drying and to offer a UV protection factor of over 50.
Reasons to buy: Made by a high-end yachting apparel brand; fast-drying; offers a high level of UV protection.
Reasons to avoid: Cheaper options are available if the HL brand is your main consideration.
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Gill Pursuit Cap
The Pursuit Cap from Gill is one of the few sailing hats that comes with a retaining lanyard. A clip on the end attaches to your collar, so you’re less likely to find yourself fishing one of these out of the oggin.
Available in bright blue, dark blue, graphite or silver, it features a UV treatment of 50+ and a generously-sized peak to help keep the sun out of your eyes. The underside of the peak is also designed to absorb light reflected from the water.
Breathable fabric (polyester for easy cleaning) and a wicking headband should help you keep a cool head in the heat of battle on the race course.
Reasons to buy: Retaining lanyard means you’re less likely to drop it overboard.
Reasons to avoid: May not suit sailors with smaller heads.
RRP: £20 / $26
Best brimmed sailing hats
Tilley T3 sailing hat
I have been wearing these classic Tilley hats for over 15 years and am now on my third. They don’t last forever, despite the lifetime guarantee, but Tilley will replace them if/when (for those of us who practically live in them) they wear out.
The cotton duck gives good sun protection (factor 50+) and this sailing hat also has a water-repellent finish to help keep the rain off.
Padding in the top affords a degree of protection and that’s where you find the secret pocket for stashing away an emergency fiver.
The padding contributes to the buoyancy, which you might appreciate if you haven’t made use of the double head-straps to stop it blowing off.
With its brass grommets for ventilation, and poppers for snapping up the brim either side, the Tilley is a tried and tested titfer with a well-deserved following among sailors.
Reasons to buy: Classic design, water-repellant finish; secret pocket for storing cash.
Reasons to avoid: There are much cheaper ways to keep the sun off your head.
RRP: £70 / $88
airSUP Bucket Hat
This might not be a sailing hat you would choose to wear for style alone – but if functionality for active watersports is your priority and you prefer not to have a wide brim, it might be a good choice.
For a start, a strap that buckles under the chin means it really shouldn’t come off no matter what you’re doing on (or even in) the water.
The strap broadens out at the top to cover the ears (with mesh) and the side of the face too.
Further sun-protection is in the form of a button-on neck-flap that pulls out from an inside pocket, while the brim is designed to be firm enough not to flip up or down in the wind or in unexpected watery encounters.
Reasons to buy: Chin strap makes it almost impossible to lose; ear protection is a rare feature.
Reasons to avoid: Styling is reminiscent of the early 90s rave scene.
RRP: £20 / $29.99
Best beanies for sailing
DexShell Beanie Solo
Traditional beanie hats have their limitations as sailing hats: they keep your head warm as long as you’re not out in the wind or rain (or exposed to salt spray).
That’s why this one from DexShell comes with additional features: it’s claimed to be windproof, waterproof and breathable, with a waterproof membrane and microfleece lining for warmth.
The outer shell in acrylic gives the beanie its knitted look and comes in a range of colours from grey and black to cyan blue and even high-vis yellow for those who really don’t want to get lost.
Reasons to buy: Windproof, waterproof and breathable – a beanie for all seasons.
Reasons to avoid: May not fit sailors with larger heads.
RRP: £20 / $29.99
SubZero Factor 4 Softshell Windproof Hat
With this British-made beanie from SubZero, keeping your head warm and protected from the wind is the priority.
The soft-shell fabric itself is waterproof, but not the stitching, so you would be best to think of it as shower-proof.
Check out SubZero’s waterproof beanie if full-water repellency is what you need.
To keep the wind and cold at bay, the Factor 4 hat has a soft fleece inner face designed to trap warm air around your head.
A double-thickness headband provides extra insulation around your ears and brow, while the flat stitching should eliminate uncomfortable rubbing – something not all sailing hat manufacturers seem to think about.
There’s no knitted look with this beanie: the windproof fabric on the outside is smooth to reduce the effects of wind-chill.
Reasons to buy: Flat stitching makes for a comfortable fit.
Reasons to avoid: Shower-proof, but not fully waterproof.
Best winter sailing hats
Sealskinz Waterproof Extreme Cold Weather Hat
If you want a sailing hat that incorporates ear-warmers and a peak that’s also windproof and waterproof, Sealskinz might have the answer.
As its name suggests, it’s designed to cope with seriously wet and cold conditions but the ear-warmers tuck away if you want and the peak can be folded back and held with a popper.
Made with a waterproof breathable membrane sandwiched between an outer nylon shell for durability and a fleece inside for warmth, it comes in sizes from small to XXL.
There’s also a Velcro tab at the back to make sure of a snug fit. If it does blow off and get dirty, just throw it in the machine: it doesn’t need any special treatment.
Reasons to buy: Machine washable; available in a wide range of sizes.
Reasons to avoid: Sizing comes up small – if in doubt, go one size up.
RRP: £30 / $50
Musto Fleece Lined Waterproof sailing cap
An alternative to the Sealskinz comes from Musto. Offered in one size to accommodate larger heads, and in black (or green for your country weekends), this sailing hat has a fleece lining, a larger, stiffer peak, and fold-down protection for the ears and neck.
A drawstring can be secured under the chin in windy weather, but if this one blows off you’re advised not to put it in the machine: it’s for hand-washing only.
The polyester fabric is claimed to be waterproof, windproof and breathable, taped seams helping to make sure no water seeps in.
Musto also say that taping the seams eradicates stitch holes and reduces abrasion against the skin.
Reasons to buy: Fleece lined; waterproof, windproof and breathable; taped seams should make for a comfy fit.
Reasons to avoid: Only one size available.
RRP: £30 / $39
Best sou’wester sailing hats
Guy Coton sou’wester
The sou’wester was good enough for lifeboat crews in days of yore, but has fallen from fashion in recent decades.
When you’re getting high-pressure spray full in the face, a well-fitted hood might be a more effective solution – and, being attached to your jacket, it’s always there when you want it – but even the best hoods can often be restrictive. Sometimes a proper sailing hat just feels better.
So it’s good to see that Guy Cotten, a company known for its traditional-style, no-nonsense clothing, continues to offer the humble sou’wester in equally traditional colours: green or bright yellow.
It’s made from the company’s ‘classic fabric’ – PVC-coated polyester – which it describes as ‘extremely long-lasting, tough and cheap’.
Reasons to buy: Excellent face and neck protection; built to last.
Reasons to avoid: The Captain Birdseye look isn’t for everyone…
RRP: £30 / $39
Helly-Hansen Svolvaer Sou’wester
It says something about the practicality and appeal of the sou’wester that two of today’s better-known manufacturers of this traditional sailing hat are from parts of the world that still have a strong fishing industry.
Helly Hansen’s offering, made from PVC-coated polyester with a cotton lining, incorporates ear-flaps and has a chin-strap to keep it on.
It features a shallower brim at the front than some sou’westers, with a suitably long one at the back to keep the rain well away from your neck.
Given the resurgence of retro styles in so many walks of life, perhaps a classic sou’wester would make a perfect and inexpensive Christmas stocking-filler for the practically-minded sailor who thought he or she had everything.
Reasons to buy: The most affordable option on our list, despite being from a big-name brand.
Reasons to avoid: The Guy Cotton sou’wester offers better face protection.
RRP: £19 / $43
Best hard sailing hats
Gul Elite Watersports Helmet
A sailing hat or a cap might help stop your head getting cold or sunburned when you’re afloat, but what about protection from bangs?
It used to be rare to see sailors wearing helmets, but their use on some of today’s high-profile race boats has made them more acceptable to a wider cross-section of sailors.
And modern styling also means you’re less likely to look as though you’ve just walked off a building site.
Gul’s Elite Helmet is designed for all manner of watersports including dinghy sailing.
Complying with the CE EN 1385 standard for personal protective equipment, it has ventilation holes, a quick-release chin strap, ear-protection and an adjustable liner.
The shell is made from impact-resistant ABS.
Reasons to buy: CE compliant; plenty of ventilation; adjustable lining and chin strap.
Reasons to avoid: Unless you’re racing something seriously fast, or partaking in extreme watersports, a helmet will probably look out of place.
RRP: £50 / $59
SafaSail hard sailing hat
For bump protection in a less obvious form than a helmet, Nauticalia’s SafaSail cap might be what you’re looking for.
At a glance it looks almost like an ordinary peaked sailing hat, but inside is an injection-moulded shell that offers similar protection to that of a building worker’s bump cap.
Foam padding should make it comfortable to wear and there’s a chin-strap to help keep it on.
If the standard peak is too long and gives you a crick in the neck when you have to look aloft, you can order the SafaSail with a shorter one.
Reasons to buy: Added protection without compromising on style; available in a choice of peak sizes.
Reasons to avoid: No protection for neck or ears.
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