Fun in the sun can catch up to boaters
It was while I was on my semiannual visit to my dermatologist last week that I discovered my error.
Not the error of spending too much of my life in the sun - that was a given years ago - but rather that as May had been National Skin Cancer Awareness Month, I would be a month late with a column about how it related to boaters.
Nevertheless, the subject is way too important to ignore, especially for folks who spend much of their time on, in, or around the ocean. Our tropical sunshine is hazardous enough, and then boaters multiply their exposure with the reflection off the water.
Why is this important? Because according to the American Academy of Dermatology, exposure to excessive ultraviolet light (from the sun or sunlamps) is the cause of most skin cancer.
The American Cancer Society tells us that skin cancers, with more than a million diagnosed annually, are the most common forms of cancer in the U.S.
And make no mistake - if not treated early - these cancers can kill.
Dermatologists have created comprehensive lists of preventative measures we can take to avoid undue exposure to the sun, as you might expect. However, one measure suggesting we avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. is not likely to be consistent with a boater's lifestyle.
Wearing protective clothes, such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and wide-brimmed hats, is always advised for UV protection. But aboard a boat in Hawaii's warm, humid climate, such clothing often runs counter to comfort.
On the other hand, there are several steps those of us out on the water can take to protect ourselves from a UV overdose, and the first is to use sunscreen.
It should have at least a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15, be applied 1/2-hour before exposure, be reapplied every 2 hours, and be slathered over all exposed skin. Reapplying after swimming or sweating is also highly recommended.
Another tip is to try finding shade whenever possible. Sit on the shady side of the cockpit, or if the boat doesn't have a canvas "Bimini top," we might consider buying or making one.
Most proactive suggestions for skin care advise us to wear UV-blocking sunglasses as well because the sun's rays are also known to cause cataracts and worse, incurable macular degeneration.
Finally, dermatologists advise us all to visit them at least once a year for a professional checkup, and every six months isn't unreasonable for those of us who have had a multi-decade history of overexposure to the sun.
They also strongly advise our doing monthly head-to-toe self-examinations.
These should be done in a well-lighted area and, with the help of a mirror, we need to check out every patch of skin, from our scalp to the soles of our feet.
The object of all this is to detect any abnormalities in our skin as early as possible. When detected early, the American Cancer Society reports, melanoma - the most statistically lethal skin cancer - has a 99 percent survival rate.