Choosing the perfect marine binocular

Few sailing navigation tools top the marine binocular when it comes to sailing safety. As a matter of fact, this single item should be near the top of your 'pack before you leave' list.

What qualities make a great binocular? You may be surprised to know that my personal pair has proven to be superb--and it cost a lot less than $125 on sale. Few instruments top a good pair of marine, waterproof binoculars as a piloting aid. Look for these qualities in a binocular:

1. Waterproof

2. Good 'Movement' Magnification

3. High Light Gathering Capability

4. Center-Focus

5. Comfortable to grip, hold, adjust and use

Waterproof or Water Resistant?


Choose a waterproof binocular--not one that makes the lesser claim of 'water resistant'. Ignore any binocular that does not have written documentation in the specs that says 'nitrogen charged'. That claim means it's sealed and watertight. They might cost more, but you will not have to deal with fogged lenses that fail to 'de-fog', or water intrusion that can cause internal damage.

Keep Targets in View:

My personal choice has always been the 7 X 50 marine binocular. Some folks prefer 7 X 35. That first number tells you the magnification. Anything more than 7 X and you will have a tough time keeping the object or image in the viewing area. Pitching or rolling can cause the object to 'jump out', so stick with 7 X for less aggravation. The second number tells you the light gathering capability. 50 X offers good all-around performance in haze, fog, dusk, dawn, or darkness.

Focus with Ease:

A center focus binocular will be easier to use and require less tweaking than an individual focus binocular. Follow the easy steps below with any center-focus binocular. Pass them along to your sailing crew or partner.

How to Adjust the Center Focus Binocular:

1. Focus the left eyepiece. Close your right eye or cover the right objective

lens. Use the center focus wheel to focus the left lens while viewing an

object at least 1 mile away. Mark the scale setting on the center focus ring.


2. Focus the right eyepiece. Close your left eye or cover the left objective

lens. Using the right eyepiece focus ring, adjust the focus by viewing

the distant object. Mark the scale shown on the body and focus ring.


3. Fine-tune with the center focus ring. When you need to make

adjustments as viewing ranges change, use the center focus ring.


Make Comfort and Ease of Use No.1:

Forget the advertisements and fancy features--unless those top your list of gotta-have-it bells and whistles. The #1 most important feature will always be comfort with any binocular. Your binocular must be comfortable to hold, wear around your neck, and look through-- or you will not use them.

For example, I love the Fujinon binocular. They are high quality marine lenses and excellent for sea going duties--on a large ship. I used them over tens of thousands of sea miles aboard Coast Guard Cutters.

But I find them way too heavy when you are pitching and rolling on a small sailing vessel. That might seem counter-intuitive because a heavier binocular would seem more stable. But, their weight around your neck can be brutal, and they are tiresome to hold more than a minute or so.

For sailing, I prefer a much lighter weight binocular that I can hold to my eye for five minutes at a time. For stability, you can brace yourself against a corner of the cockpit or coach roof. The photo above shows the binoculars used on three crewing deliveries offshore in all types of weather. And they cost less than $125 on sale (West Marine). By the way, they also pack well in my sea-bag--light and compact.

But what works for me might not work for you. Try out several pairs and use the factors recommended to make a choice you will be happy to use any time of the day or night without hesitation.

Binocular-Etiquette:

A binocular will always be a personal piece of equipment. That means that they are adjusted and set for the owner's eyes. Tell your crew to reset the binocular back to your personal original settings. They are welcome to use them--but those are the rules.

Once each crew focuses the binocular for his or her eyes, they should write down the scale for each focus ring. That way, when it's their turn to scan the horizon, find a buoy, or look for landfall, they can make an adjustment in a second or two instead of starting over from scratch.

My Sailing Tip:
Use the neck-strap to free up your hands. A sudden pitch or roll could cause you to lose your grip. A binocular dropped from any height can cause damage to the internal optics. Wedge your binocular in a corner or in an installed binocular box when not being used.

Follow these simple sailing tips to choose the best binoculars for your hard earned cash. Pack this vital gear for sailing safety--wherever in the world you choose to go sailing!

John Jamieson (Captain John) with 25+ years of experience shows you the no-nonsense cruising skills you need for safer sailing worldwide.
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