What's best if you're spending a lot of time on a boat? Long hair or short? I've had both (and in-between) and here's my assessment.

Boat Hair: To Cut or Not to Cut?

So, what’s the best hair style for boat life?

What a question! But hey, I’ll give my thoughts . . . add yours in the comments. For me, the two big goals are (a) to be cool and (b) not to have hair in my eyes when I’m outside, snorkeling or doing boat chores.

I’ve had short, I’ve had long, and I’ve had in-between.

In-between is awful. It’s that length where it’s too short to put into a ponytail, but long enough that even a whiff of a breeze will blow it straight into your eyes. Equally awful are cuts billed as “long” but actually layered . . . with some layers too short to go into that ponytail.

To me, “long” is any length that can be pulled into a ponytail (with or without bangs) and short is any cut where none of it can get into your eyes. So which is better? It’s really personal preference. Having had both, though, I can say what I think the pros and cons of both are:

Short Hair

Pros

  • Easy, easy, easy — run a comb through it and you’re good to go
  • Less water to wash (but not as much less as you’d think)
  • No tangles; rarely any split ends
  • Never in your eyes and about as cool as you can get
  • Less hair to clog drains — or on the floor and potentially clogging a bilge pump

Cons

  • Have to find someone to cut it every month or so
  • Time spent getting it cut (when we’d be in a town for just one day, a hair cut took up a disproportionate amount of time)
  • Since it’s always a new stylist, the cut is never the same — and some won’t be what you want (not a problem if you’re based in one place and can find a stylist you like)
  • It can quickly grow into the hated “in-between” length

Long Hair

Pros

  • No urgency to get hair cut — you can trim bangs yourself if need be
  • Almost never get a bad cut
  • Pretty much always looks good
  • Can always put on a ball cap and pull it through the “hole”

Cons

  • Curly hair can be prone to tangles in the wind (see below for a couple of products that Dave swears by)
  • Sun and wind can damage hair — worse if you color hair
  • A few wisps of hair always escape from hair tie and get in eyes
  • Hot if you wear it down
  • Watch out for hair clogging drains and bilge pumps
I had short hair when we began cruising and grew it out after about a year (I did most of the growing out while we were based at a marina for the winter). I simply got sick of finding someone to cut it and getting a different cut every time — it got so it was nowhere near the style I wanted. But, I’ll admit, it was incredibly easy!

Dave also has long hair — but it’s very curly. Two products that he’s discovered in the past year that have made it so much easier to deal with on the boat. The two together took his 20-minute combing ritual and made it less than a minute.

  • Tangle Teezer brush — it doesn’t look that different, but it is. Just glides through his hair and takes the tangles out.
  • Mane & Tail Detangler — spray it on and even a regular comb goes through much easier.

My hair is pretty straight and I don’t need either of the above. But I often like to clip my hair up instead of putting it in a pony tail, and I’ve found this clip to work a lot better than the straight ones or banana clips (both of which tend to fall out of my hair easily, especially if there’s any breeze).

And finally, you need a good vacuum or brush/broom to keep hair out of the bilge and then clogging the bilge pump.

I'd like to know about...

Explore more

Want weekly tidbits of cruising information? Sign up for The Boat Galley's free weekly newsletter. You'll get the newest articles and podcasts as well as a few relevant older articles that you may have missed.

Do you find The Boat Galley useful? You can support the site when you buy from Amazon by using the links on this site or clicking below. No extra cost for you!

74 Comments
  • Melissa Johnson
    Posted at 21 September 2015 Reply

    I’ve been growing my hair and I’ve found the best thing for me is pigtails! Yes, the part that isn’t quite long enough will pop out after a while on the jet ski or a boat ride, but I either clip it or just rebraid it later.

  • Ann Snider
    Posted at 21 September 2015 Reply

    I have long hair and keep some head bands on board. Most of the time I don’t bother but if we are docking or anchoring or if it’s just particularly windy, I can pop on an elastic head band on my head and it keeps the whispies off of my face and most importantly, out of my eyes. 🙂

  • Janice Sterling
    Posted at 21 September 2015 Reply

    I have not found a hairstyle that works for me. I have incredibly straight, flat hair. It’s also very thin so it tangles like crazy! My desire is to get a perm and cut it short, but I’m not a fan of the Ronald Mcdonald look. You are sure right about it getting into your eyes! I don’t know what I will end up doing with it. Shaving it bald and wearing a turban sounds good about now. I guess then you have to worry about sunburn!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 22 September 2015 Reply

      Funny you mention that. Dave once got a little crazy on a trip to Africa (maybe there was some beer involved?) and got a Mohawk. Talk about sunburn — even if just 15 or 20 minutes without a ball cap on!

  • Sandy Mike Collins
    Posted at 21 September 2015 Reply

    I have very short hair. My husband cuts it with the clippers! I love it. I’m in the water a lot and it’s just scrunch and go!!!

  • Lynn Kaak
    Posted at 21 September 2015 Reply

    I’m like Sandy… Short hair that my husband can cut with clippers. He actually does a very good job, and it isn’t all one length. I do his hair, too. If your hair is up or in a ball cap most of the time, might as well just cut it off!
    We’ve had guests with long hair on board, and we find the hair for weeks.

  • Lorraine Escher
    Posted at 21 September 2015 Reply

    Short. Is my current plan. And, I’ve given this thought and ink space on one of my favorite blog posts to write: http://aphrodite.cat/2015/01/27/sailing-hair-getting-gritty-not-girly/

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 21 September 2015 Reply

      As you’ve probably noted from the photos here, I stopped coloring my hair a good 15 years ago. It just turned funny colors when I was out in the sun, plus that whole “root” thing . . .

  • Janice Fleischmann
    Posted at 21 September 2015 Reply

    I think you need to find a style that suits your hair type. For example, I keep mine short because I have thick slightly curly hair and almost never get a bad cut because my hair type is very forgiving. In addition, I have dry hair not oily so I can wash and rinse my hair in about 2 cups of water. I am lucky enough to be able to go several days without washing my hair and it still looks the same.

  • Kathy Belanger-Barber
    Posted at 21 September 2015 Reply

    I am letting mine grow … I can cut my own bangs

  • Anne Ellingsen
    Posted at 21 September 2015 Reply

    I have long hair and love it on the boat. I wear it n a pony tail with a ball cap or in a French braid.

  • Lucy Wilcox Claiborne
    Posted at 21 September 2015 Reply

    I have long thick curly hair and love being able to put it into a pony tail. I use sulfate free shampoo – it uses a lot less water to rinse out. I defiantely need the detangle brush and spray – thanks!

  • Lisa Parker
    Posted at 21 September 2015 Reply

    I wish I had seen this a month ago! Detangler would have been a lifesaver on our recent Thailand charter. My wavy/curly hair was so matted I got headaches most days. I almost snuck off with drinking water to wash it! 🙂

  • Sally Larson
    Posted at 22 September 2015 Reply

    I have very thick shoulder length hair that drove me crazy because although I would keep it in a pony tail stuck through the back of a hat the little wisps would eventually find their way out around the sides and get in my face. I found a Seamless Style Bandanna Headwear Scarf Wrap at a marina shop and just love it. It’s an elastic material and you can wear it as a head band or a full hair cover even under a hat. It covers it all from forehead to the back of your head and at the end of the day my hair doesn’t have a bunch of knots, frizz and tangles to deal with.

  • Monika
    Posted at 22 September 2015 Reply

    Extremely short and I cut it myself with a battery powered men’s Conair hair clipper (called “The Chopper”). If I get too short it grows back fast!

  • Jan
    Posted at 22 September 2015 Reply

    Wow, thank you for this article – I’ve been trying to find out what women do. I have long, very layered, curly hair. I’m going sailing for the first time in 3 weeks for about 4 months. My hairdresser and I decided to keep it long but I’m growing out the top so that I can french braid it. I don’t swim much so that’s not a problem however I do color it. Oh well, it’s only 4 months – I can deal. (but I think I’ll get some elastic hair bands to keep the whispies under control.)

  • Beverly Yopp Tyler
    Posted at 22 September 2015 Reply

    Even if I cannot wash all of the salt water out I put leave in conditioner and oil in my hair after it gets wet. Feels great.

  • Marie Raney
    Posted at 22 September 2015 Reply

    Last time out (Washington to Hawaii) I cut it very short – an inch or two. It curled all up and was easy to take care of. Still the salt drove me crazy and I had to wash it with our precious water. Used very little by using a flexible bucket (see http://www.sailingphoenix.com/saving-water/ ) but I agree with Carolyn, I think long hair would not have used much more water.

    Next time (spring 2016) I’m going with long hair. Less care total, I’ll just tie it back.

  • Frank Faubert
    Posted at 22 September 2015 Reply

    Basically bald. Score one for heredity. To be honest, my white “hair” looks pretty darn good with a tanned bean. Nice contrast. LOL.

  • Chris Allen
    Posted at 24 September 2015 Reply

    I have very long hair and find it easy to live with on our sailboat. It is in a braid most of the time and wrapped around my head. I also wear a bandana and a hat. For washing, I simply pin up the braid and wash only my scalp. When I comb it out, I always stand on a cloth which collects any loose hair, then shake out the cloth overboard. We’ve never found any of my hair in strainers or pumps.

  • Selma
    Posted at 12 December 2015 Reply

    I indeed like to wear my hear just long enough to fit a ponytail… actually I always let my hair grow just before the sailing season starts, in Holland around May… and the tangle teezer is wonderful, especially for my ginger 12-year old daughter with lots of curls and really long hair that always tangles in yhe wind.

  • Steven Ricker
    Posted at 02 September 2016 Reply

    Mane & Tail? That is straight out of Blades of Glory!!

  • Rachel Roy Smith
    Posted at 02 September 2016 Reply

    always had super short hair and still do…….I could go about 3 months without a cut if I trimmed my hair with a razor type small hand trimmer called TrimComb between cuts.

  • Michelle Rene
    Posted at 02 September 2016 Reply

    The brush you mentioned is actually a great tangle brush! Didn’t realize others knew of it. I use it professionally. Great hair write up

  • Gwendolyn Webster
    Posted at 02 September 2016 Reply

    Good grief…I feel your pain! I get shorter every year and have 3 or more stylists. I threaten to cut it all off like Gary’s but somehow get talked out of it….

  • Lorna Yankee
    Posted at 02 September 2016 Reply

    Its funny that you posted this. We are getting ready to spend extended time traveling on a boat and I have been thinking about the pros and cons of short hair or long while traveling since it would be so difficult to find someone to cut it while we are away. You helped me make my choice! Long it is! Thanks!

  • Scott Erwin
    Posted at 02 September 2016 Reply

    Kathleen Erwin

  • Frank Kleinburg
    Posted at 02 September 2016 Reply

    My vote is for long hair. I am lucky in that my hair is almost no trouble and needs no cream rinse, doesn’t tangle, and combs out easily when washed. I keep it tied back just about all of the time in a tail with 3 wraps if it isn’t braided. There are other “cons” to long hair you didn’t mention.. I assume it is because the “family” rating of the blog :-).. flk k

  • Jo-Anne Mason
    Posted at 02 September 2016 Reply

    I cut hubby hair so no problem but the one time he did mine it was a nightmare. If only I could cut my own.

  • Andrea Clark
    Posted at 02 September 2016 Reply

    Kevin Clark

  • Anne Ellingsen
    Posted at 02 September 2016 Reply

    My hair is long & works best for me. Also naturally curly so just towel dry, brush through a coconut oil product & put in a ponytail. I also cut my boyfriends hair.

  • JP Pedro
    Posted at 02 September 2016 Reply

    I do it myself. Always short hair.

  • Judith Nelson Cruzan
    Posted at 02 September 2016 Reply

    My daughter has what she calls wiggly hair (wavy I guess). When she worked on tall ships she would let it go pretty wild. Always long enough for a pony tail or a knot. She was once told by a native in Tortola “you hair lock-up nice, don’t brush it!”

  • Melissa
    Posted at 01 January 2017 Reply

    Boat hair don’t care! I’ve got a hat for that!

  • Edward Biernot
    Posted at 25 June 2017 Reply

    #umustcut

  • Anne Ellingsen
    Posted at 25 June 2017 Reply

    I have long curly thick hair it works best for me in a ponytail wet or dry. The sun is my blow dryer

  • Nica Waters
    Posted at 25 June 2017 Reply

    I’ve got it short now. When we head off again, it will be long. Ponytail FTW.

  • Kristi Black
    Posted at 25 June 2017 Reply

    I keep my hair long and plan to once we become Liveaboards. It’s so easy to throw up in a ponytail. My hair grows fast so short hair is higher maintenance for me. The real question for me is, to keep dyeing or not. We are 18 months from becoming liveaboards, do I give up now or just wait and watch my hair evolve once we become liveaboards?

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 25 June 2017 Reply

      Well, as my photos show, I gave up on coloring. I found that in addition to white roots, the sun turned the brown color into a weird red. White’s definitely easier. One option since you have time is to either take it lighter and lighter each time you color, or start “streaking” it with lighter bits. My transition was a bit ugly with a stark line!

    • Kristi Black
      Posted at 25 June 2017 Reply

      The Boat Galley I am definitely contemplating the streaking for now! Thanks!

    • Marcie Steele
      Posted at 26 June 2017 Reply

      Kristi Black don’t laugh 😂 but I recently joined a FB group called “Gray and Proud” to get myself motivated to go gray. You should seriously check it out if you’re even thinking about it. I agree with Carolyn; salt water and hair color just don’t mix 😏

    • Kristi Black
      Posted at 26 June 2017 Reply

      Marcie Steele , thanks, I’ll join! I think one of the things that holds me back is that I’m only 46 (okay, almost 47).

    • Marcie Steele
      Posted at 26 June 2017 Reply

      Kristi Black I have you beat by a few years…I’m 54. And I feel the same way. I just keep reminding myself that gray is the new blonde 😂 I mean really, 20’something’s pay big money for the gray look!

    • Kristi Black
      Posted at 26 June 2017 Reply

      Marcie Steele , right?!? Crazy!

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 26 June 2017 Reply

      Kristi Black Well, I’m 57 . . . but made the transition about 15 years ago. At first, I could say I had salt and pepper hair. Now? Well, it’s still salt and pepper, if you’re willing to count white pepper! 😬

    • Kristi Black
      Posted at 26 June 2017 Reply

      The Boat Galley , well I love the “white pepper!”

  • Jamie Hack
    Posted at 25 June 2017 Reply

    Very fine, straight hair, but lots of it…. I’m all about the braids. Love my plaits, easy to maintain, I comb out in the water, in the dingy or onshore to avoid the dreaded clogging. As for colour – greys very fashion forward right now isn’t it 😀 ?

  • Dawn Read
    Posted at 25 June 2017 Reply

    I have long curly hair. No issues. Just braid or put up in a hat or cap I’m going to wear anyway. I had short hair. Too much hassle. I and my man like it long. I can go many months without a professional cut. In fact, I can layer myself and trim up myself.

    No more short cuts for me.

    If you can’t find that mane stuff, go get a detangler at a feed supply store. They always have it. Cheap.

  • Ellie Ibel Smith
    Posted at 25 June 2017 Reply

    I have long curly hair and since leaving to cruise last fall it’s been a wreck. Honestly if I could I’d cut it short…but it look very very bad on me short. I tried it a few years ago and blond afro is not a good look for me. 🙂

  • Angie Wilson
    Posted at 25 June 2017 Reply

    Long hair is gross on a boat. I make my guest comb that shit outside….ever cleaned a pump with a bunch of gross nasty ass hair tangled in it? DISGUSTING is putting it mildly.

  • Sandi Lisko
    Posted at 25 June 2017 Reply

    I keep my hair in locks now. Long and always tangled. No brushing required.

  • Kim Jamieson
    Posted at 25 June 2017 Reply

    Boat hair, don’t care !

  • Crystal Bleecher
    Posted at 25 June 2017 Reply

    The wet brush and coconut oil saved my long locks living aboard. I can’t do without either of them. http://amzn.to/2u1Qdxy

    • Sami Bolton
      Posted at 29 June 2017 Reply

      This brush absolutely works. I wish I would have found it years ago.

  • Pamela Dakin Harwood
    Posted at 25 June 2017 Reply

    I wonder how different Dave’s mane and tail detangler is from M-T-G (mane tail growth) that I used on my alpacas to comb out the “sticker burrs” aka burdock. Great stuff!!

  • Yvonne Green Short
    Posted at 25 June 2017 Reply

    Long hair forever ! Much easier. Less maintenance

  • Jeff Ferguson
    Posted at 26 June 2017 Reply

    Buzz cut for sure.

  • Montana Inkfish
    Posted at 26 June 2017 Reply

    Short. And you can cut it yourself or have you significant other cut it. May be because I am retired Navy.

  • Claudia Davis Reshetiloff
    Posted at 26 June 2017 Reply

    I’ve vacillated between the two but ultimately can’t see the point of long hair if I’d always be wearing it in a pony tail to get it off my neck & be cooler. Keeping it short 🙂

  • Linda W Jones
    Posted at 26 June 2017 Reply

    I keep it short, and cut it myself. It may be a little wonky in back, but my friends don’t seem to care.

  • Lori Beck
    Posted at 26 June 2017 Reply

    Short, and I cut it myself. I have very thick hair that takes a lot of water to rinse, and takes a long time to dry. No choice for me because I can’t justify using that much water on my hair. Plus if i have to keep long hair tied up all the time what is the point of having it? I closed my eyes and chopped it off when we moved aboard. I cut both our hair. It’s not perfect, but that does not matter to us. Depends what you care about!

  • Maria Hammer
    Posted at 27 June 2017 Reply

    I love it short, captain cut it with his good trimmer and a professional scissor. Fits with long distance sailing, living aboard a sailboat, hot climate for the most time, salt water wash out often and no hair in the diving glasses when snorkelling, circumnavigating.

  • Sarah Nagel Silverstein
    Posted at 27 June 2017 Reply

    Long hair has been best for me. Use Infusium 23 spray detangler and wet brush mentioned above. To avoid tangles, I wear a Buff multipurpose headband while diving or in high winds and a ponytail with multiple rubber bands staggered down the length. Easy to trim ends occasionally! http://amzn.to/2uctAG0

    • Sami Bolton
      Posted at 29 June 2017 Reply

      I just flipped my head over after washing it come through and cut off however much I want when I need a trim.

    • Sami Bolton
      Posted at 29 June 2017 Reply

  • Bazza Captain
    Posted at 27 June 2017 Reply

    I’m wearing a solar panel so the question does not apply. However, a moustache stops my lips getting sunburned but probably would not suit you Carolyn.

  • Kristie Henry Weiss
    Posted at 27 June 2017 Reply

    Love this!!! We all have long hair now, just because it is so much easier.

  • Russ Borman
    Posted at 28 June 2017 Reply

    Boat hair is sexy. The longer, the better.

  • Lorraine Smith O'Callaghan Dolsen
    Posted at 28 June 2017 Reply

    My answer to the haircut was having a Flowbee. Needed a vacuum cleaner, but 1-1.5 gal shop vac worked fine. Google Flowbee and if you don’t have a vacuum, consider the one you can buy from them.

  • Sami Bolton
    Posted at 29 June 2017 Reply

    Long. Never had a problem with cleaning it out of the pump. Pretty easy to gather it up and put it in the garbage.

Post A Comment