A few fishing trips with close friends here in Florida got me thinking. All shared a common factor: while spending quality time in the boat, I learned each of my buddies were doing something to better their health. One celebrated his 15th year as a non-smoker, while another had exercised religiously since last fall and was in the best shape of his life.

Other friends showed good judgment through their actions; a pair of fishing brothers gladly joined me to sit out a little lightning, despite leaving a giant school of surface-feeding largemouth.

But despite “living right” in other facets of their life, during their visit, each buddy made a vital error that may have longterm effects on their health. They all got sunburned.

Now before anyone calls me out for acting like their mother – especially those close enough to know some of my personal poor habits – give me a minute to make a point. You see, while we all know the negativity of too much exposure to the sun, few of us consider how serious the effects may be. I did a little research and was nothing short of astounded, despite being involved in an industry that caters to sunburns. My findings were based on simple Internet searches and should not be considered medical “proof” by any means – for that ,consult a doctor. In any case, consider the following:

> Skin cancer is incredibly prevalent in our society. Each year, there are more new cases of skin cancer than breast, prostate, liver and lung cancer combined.

> Since the 1980s, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined, and 1 in 5 Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime.

> Skin cancers are basically divided into two groups: melanoma and non-melanoma. While the non-melanoma form can be life-threatening, melanomas are far worse. It’s estimated over 10,000 people will die of melanoma skin cancer in 2016.

> The vast majority of melanomas are caused by over-exposure to the sun; research indicates over 85 percent.

> The majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white males over 55 years old, but skin cancer is also the most common form of cancer in young adults.

> One blistering sunburn during childhood more than doubles a person’s chance of developing melanoma.

> Your chance of melanoma doubles if you’ve had more than five serious sunburns.

Scared yet? I was. Immediately after reading such stats, I reflected back on so many summers as a kid, wading and waterskiing, later joking about turning “red as a lobster." Or my bachelor party at St. Pete Beach, where my buddy and I fell asleep in the sun. And then there was the Jamaican honeymoon with my wife; so anxious we forgot the sunblock.

The point is this: anything but regular protection is simply a gamble. And in this day and age, such defense has never been easier. But before you spray on the SPF 80 and call it good, there’s a few things to learn about sun protection, too.

Again, consider the facts. When it comes to basic sunscreen, labeling can be misleading, and proper use is often non-existent.

SPF rating on sunscreen is a measurement of the approximate amount of time it would take the average person to sunburn while wearing the material. It is NOT the amount of UV rays being repelled. In fact, sunscreen with a rating of 30 blocks 97 percent of UVB rays, and the difference in sunscreen with SPF ratings higher than 30 is basically negligible.

My research indicates that the two biggest faults of sunscreen users are not using enough (recommended “dose” is actually a glob about the size of a golf ball), and not re-applying. Sunscreen must be reapplied every 2 hours to be totally effective, as the body “uses up” the active ingredients for repelling UV rays.

According to new rules by the FDA, no sunscreen can be labeled as “waterproof," as this claim is impossible to back up. While some sunscreen materials are more resistant to being washed off than others, it’s important to reapply even more frequently when swimming or sweating.

And the term “broad spectrum” is popping up a lot lately in the sun-care business. This refers to a lotion’s effectiveness to block both UVA and UVB rays, although total protection and corresponding labeling is still a bit hazy.

So ask yourself this: Are you applying huge globs of sunscreen, with SPF of 30 or higher, every two hours, all day long, when in the boat? If not, evidently, you’re not protected.

Also, researchers advise not to be fooled by products offering SPF protection that, really, do little to help. Women’s make-up is one, as are balms and oils that only require a dab for their primary purpose. Again, such a limited application quantity prevents proper protection.

Finally, don’t forget to protect these overlooked, and often mega-burned, areas:
> The tops of your feet. While I’ll never give up my flip-flops, I routinely sub in canvas full-cover shoes like those made by Sanuk. Huge help.

> The top of your head. Sure, I wear my hat when fishing, but not when running down the lake. And now that the hair on the top of my head has decided to vacate, I find the need for sunblock up on top, every day.

> The top of your cheeks. As bass nuts, we all wear quality sunglasses, all the time. But I find the reflection off my glasses, right on the top of my cheek, causes frequent burns and spotting.

Knowledge on the effects of the sun on our health is developing daily. Next week we’ll discuss new sun-specific clothing, how to choose the proper gear and stay cool, and dispel a few more myths about sun protection. Until then, stay outside, but stay covered up.

(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)