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


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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”


  • 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.

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  • 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:

    • 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 ) 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!

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