Whether you are dinghy sailing or racing foils, every boater needs specialized apparel to weather the elements. Here are a half dozen of the best sailing shirts for men that blend technical performance with style for serious sailors.
Best sailing shirts: 6 technical tops for protection on the water
A day of sailing never begins or ends on the water. From prep time at the marina to socializing over sundowners, the boating life makes for full days exposed to the elements.
Quality clothing is your best line of defense against the heat, cold, and harmful UV rays inherent to our sport.
Proper sailing apparel starts with a good technical shirt, usually one that combines traditional fabrics with synthetic materials to achieve the ultimate blend of comfort, durability, and performance.
We’ve scanned the marketplace to identify six of the best sailing shirts for men. Here’s how to find the top sailing apparel in a half dozen common categories.
The best sailing shirts have these features
Fabric and tailoring are the two most important components of any well-conceived garment.
100 percent cotton is not a good choice for performance sportswear, but when blended with synthetics, such as Spandex or polyester, the resulting materials are ideal for outdoor use.
Cotton blends that incorporate synthetics, such as Spandex and Elastane, also enhance freedom of movement, a critical function for active sports.
Anything with merino wool is also worth a look. Like other wools, super-fine merino threads retain heat even when wet, but they remain soft and more comfortable even after the toughest use.
Tailoring is as important as fabric. Darts and gussets that create articulated sleeves, armpits, and shoulder areas increase the range of motion. Flatlock stitching reduces chafing.
Of course, sun protection is an integral feature of all the best sailing shirts. Any area of skin that you can cover with UV-protective clothing means that much less chemical goop you have to slather on. Take a look at these top choices in shirts for sailors.
6 of the best sailing shirts on the market
Gill UV Tech Hooded Shirt
Best sailing shirt hoody
For all-around protection, it’s hard to go wrong with a long-sleeve hoody. The key is to find a lightweight and highly UV-resistant fabric.
Using 100 percent polyester, the Gill UV Tech Hoody achieves a UPF rating of 50+. That means only 2 percent (1/50th) or less of the sun’s ultraviolet rays can penetrate. UPF 50+ is the apparel industry’s highest sun-protection rating.
The hood offers extra protection for vulnerable areas of the neck, ears, and scalp.
Technical tailoring features, such as flatlock stitching and thumb loops, add to the comfort and performance of this versatile shirt.
- Highest possible UPF rating.
- Integrated hoody for extra protection.
- Fast-drying 100 percent polyester.
- Non-shrinking and lightweight.
- Polyester tends to retain body odors.
- Not as breathable as cotton blends.
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Tilley NW16 Tech Airflo Shirt
Best sailing shirt button-down
For a more traditional style, take a look at the Tilley NW16 Tech Airflo shirt. It has the appeal of a casual button-down with the performance of a technical shirt. And it is manufactured in Canada by makers of some of the best sun hats available, the venerable Tilley Endurables.
The UPF rating of this shirt varies from 35 to 40 depending on the fabric colour. But either score is high enough to qualify as good sun protection.
Technical features include roll-up sleeves with Velcro ties, double chest pockets, and a zippered pouch.
The nylon/polyester blend is breathable, soft, and wrinkle-free for years of wash ‘n wear comfort.
- Suitable for on the water or around the yacht club.
- Back pleats provide an increased range of motion and a tailored fit.
- Fast-drying synthetic blend.
- The blue version is only UPF 35.
- Not a specialized sailing shirt, but rather a casual shirt with technical features.
Helly Hansen Merino Lightweight Tee
Best sailing shirt with short sleeves
Even the hottest days can get a little cool when you combine wind and water. That’s where an insulated short-sleeve shirt excels.
The Helly Hansen Merino Lightweight T-Shirt achieves a wide thermal range by incorporating fine Merino wool with Helly Hansen’s proprietary Lifa technology.
While this top is probably a bit warm for stagnant days, when the wind picks up or you need a sheer base layer for spring and fall sailing, the short-sleeve tee gives you some breathing room but will still knock off the goosebumps when a wind chill sets in.
Merino is also an excellent choice for base-layer fabric because it does not trap body odor.
- Wide thermal range.
- Wears like a tee-shirt but insulates like a base layer.
- Merino resists fabric pilling after washing.
- Lightly insulated fabric may be too warm on very hot days.
- Short sleeves offer minimal sun protection.
Red Performance Long Sleeve Top
Best sailing shirt mid-layer
A versatile mid-layer is essential for extending your sailing into the shoulder seasons. The Performance Long Sleeve Top from Red Paddle Co will keep you on the water when other captains have headed for home and hearth.
Red is a UK-based paddleboard manufacturer whose apparel line is perfectly adaptable to sailing.
We like this fast-drying top for its casual fit and versatility either as a mid-layer or a top layer.
The flatlock stitching and stretch fabric ensure comfort, and technical details like fold-down wrist guards with thumb loops and a zippered turtleneck increase the thermal range.
- Lightweight long-sleeve pullover is suitable for mid-layer or top layer.
- Made of a fast-drying synthetic blend.
- Reportedly good wind-blocking properties.
- Not a sailing-specific manufacturer.
- The breast pocket is a bit small.
Gill Pro Rash Shirt
Best sailing shirt for a rash guard
A rash guard may be one of the best sailing shirts you can own. Worn alone, it blocks UV rays. Worn as a base layer, it reduces chafing from wetsuits. It works over a bikini top or next to your skin to protect from stinging organisms while snorkeling or free diving. It even provides a modicum of warmth when paired with other layers.
Think of a rash shirt, or rash “guard”, like a second skin. This close-fitting top will take the abuse from the elements, so you don’t have to.
The Gill Pro Rash Shirt offers UPF 50+ sun protection, and the long sleeves and high collar shield vulnerable areas of the neck and arms.
- Highest possible UV protection rating (UPF 50+).
- A versatile garment for use as a base or worn alone as a rash guard.
- 4-way stretch fabric for mobility.
- Some may find it too tight-fitting.
- Reviewers have reported sizing issues.
Musto Foil Sunblock Impact Top
Best sailing shirt for hardcore racers
Competitive sailing is not without its bumps and bruises. That’s why Musto developed the Foil Sunblock Impact Top.
It’s a rash guard with integrated padding at the shoulders, elbows, and forearms, areas that are prone to taking a whack from the rigging.
Developed for sailors of high-speed foiling boats, anyone who sails aggressively can potentially benefit from the removable D30 pads. D30 is a soft thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) that changes its molecular structure upon impact to instantly harden and cushion the blow.
As a bonus, the Impact top also has a UPF rating of 50+, keeping you safe both from swinging booms and sunstroke, whichever comes first.
- Advanced technical shirt with impact-resistant pads.
- Tight-fitting top that can be worn solo or as a base layer.
- Maximum UV protection.
- Too techy for the everyday sailor.
- High price point.
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