It should be a matter of course for de dedicated skipper to carry amongst other essential items good binoculars aboard a boat. Even with the best Radar or plotter technology installed, there are countless occasions when a visual confirmation or identification of stuff situated around your yacht or going on in the vicinity is absolutely crucial to making decisions. Binoculars are a must-have aboard a sailing yacht.
During my Sweden Sailing cruise some weeks ago I had been reassured countless times that binoculars are indispensable: Be it a thick fog, fast approaching commercial traffic or landmarks helping to bring the boat safely to a new harbor – visual confirmation of things going on in some distance helps shaping and making decisions.
A good-value alternative?
But as you folks may know, dedicated sailing binoculars, such as the much admired Steiner Commander series are very, very expensive: Starting at around 1.000 Euros those gems can easily reach price tags of 1.800 Euros and more. As much as I´d wish to own one, I was looking for a maybe cheaper alternative – especially for sailors who aren´t out there on all too many occasions, low-cost alternatives may be attractive.
A friend of mine – lucky me! – was giving me sports binoculars as a gift. It´s a small, handy and lightweight Vixen Arena. Originally these binoculars are intended to be used for sporting events such as soccer, horse racing and alike. I guess that’s why they chose the name “Arena”. These binoculars come with a magnification factor of around 5 to 6. Too small? Insufficient? Better not judge all too fast here! I used these for 10 sailing days and I must say that there are numerous advantages of small binoculars at sea: At first they are lightweight, small in size and thus very handy when it comes to stowing them or carrying them around your neck. Vision was sufficient, although magnification of 6 is not huge, but I was able to utilize this instrument very nicely.
It´s a definitive alternative to “professional” dedicated sailing binoculars and with a price of around 50 to 100 Euros very attractive when it comes to going easy with your budget. Of course, there are some tradeoffs and clear disadvantages: No compass or bearing marks makes it complicated to communicate with your helmsman, you always need secondary devices for announcing bearings or new courses. Second, these small binoculars are difficult to use in heavy seas as balancing a more heavy instrument is better.
Dedicated binoculars for sailors.
When we finally hat reached Visby on Gotland during that trip and had to buy dedicated steel-anchors for the Swedish archipelago we roamed a huge supermarket dedicated to all sorts of outdoor-activities such as hiking, fishing and – of course – sailing. That supermarket chain is Swedish, called Biltema, but I would assume that in other countries there are also outdoor-specialized shops like this. I found their special offer for “grown up” binoculars of 199 Euros very compelling and bought one of these right away. Good decision, I might say! They are sold out now.
Anyway, there are certainly bargains like this in your own country so it´s definitely worth having an eye open on these. These marine binoculars by Biltema are great: Heavy weight quality, waterproof and floating – I´ve tested it! – and with optics that provide 7 x 50 mm lens vision these binoculars have a far greater magnification than the small sports-bins. Although very heavy around the neck I found this a definitive step forward when we finally entered the demanding sailing area of the thousand-island-archipelago of Sweden.
The best thing an really a plus is the integrated magnetic compass that allows you to home on to a visual target and simultaneously meter-read a correct bearing. Announcements for your ship mates are clearer, entries to the log made faster and life more easier on board as well. The downside is the bigger size and weight of this instrument.
Binoculars for sailors: Which way to go?
So, which one to choose? I am happy having both. When I go out “just around the corner” for a quick dash in the bay the small sports glasses are definitely a great alternative: I am not carrying around too much weight and size and it´s an easy to use thing. Quick, cheak – perfect! On longer, “serious” sailing trips having dedicated marine binoculars is definitely the better choice here: Greater magnification means faster identification on greater distances, thus safer within the decision finding process.
Of course, these pro-binoculars made by Steiner is still the most admired product when it comes to this, but honestly, that´s a far bigger budget to be spent for only a small gain in real advantage. I am happy with both my small Vixen and the big marine binoculars by Biltema. Best thing is, the Biltema fits neatly to my new chart table in which a dedicated spot for putting these is provided. Nice!
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