Every sailor knows that anxious moment as one is making a difficult entry to an unfamiliar port. The chances are there’s quite a seas state, the light is bad and despite the best planning in advance, things don’t quite seem to be matching up. The crew are looking to you as the skipper to get them in safely. But what you see are crashing waves, lots of light clutter from shore and a picture you can’t yet tally with your entry plan.
This is when you need a serious pair of binoculars. That cheap £40 pair from the chandlery might serve you well in easy conditions, but when things get a little more serious, you will never regret having equipped yourself with a set that can cut through the conditions and find that radio mast or buoy.
When choosing a set of binoculars, there are various factors to consider. First, for the maritime environment, they have to be waterproof and, as much as possible, shock proof. A yacht is a harsh environment and when you really need to see, there is nothing worse than trying to peer through a fogged lens. Next, look for a decent magnification. We find on our expeditions that 7-10 is ideal (the first number on your binoculars). Any less than 7 and we struggle to find our target at range. Any more than 10, and they are just too big to be practical. Just as important is the amount of light they capture. This is the second number, and in layman’s terms, the bigger the number, the bigger the front lens and the more light is captured. This is critical in poorlight and we like to have a set that has a front lens between 40 and 50.Finally, the overall quality of the materials used is key. Without heading into technical detail, get the best quality lenses and prism you can afford (bearing in mind that yacht binos do fall overboard now and again!)
For marine navigation,we have come to love binoculars with an in-built compass. These have improved so much in recent years, and they now provide an easy to view, stable gauge that allows you to take a bearing on anything you see. As you try to unpick your route through a mass of lights, buoys and breakwaters, or for checking collision probability in traffic, you’ll find this tool invaluable.
We’ve picked three top quality binoculars that are worth considering.
Best for serious navigators (& our top pick)
Steiner Navigator 7x50c
A stunning set of binoculars. The superb optics give a bright picture even in low light and the sports-auto focus system means everything from 10m to the horizon is perfectly in focus. There is a built-in compass that has excellent illumination and damping. You can put away that hand bearing compass for good with these. The actual frame feels really rugged and Steiner say the rubberised Markrolon outer will withstand up to 11G of impact. Importantly, they are fully waterproofand nitrogen injected, meaning they will not fog up in more extreme temperatures. Personally, I would like to have had a rangefinder reticle on them, but this is a minor niggle. They are the heaviest of the three, but worth every penny. I’m told the UK Border Force use these and it’s easy to see why. If you did want something lighter, the 7×30 are almost half the weight.
Marine suitability: 5 star
Picture quality: 4.5 star
Weight: 3 star (1.2kg
Cost: 4star. Rrp £599
Great Mid range option
The Fujinon 7×50 Mariner.
These are a great mid range set of binoculars. The first thing you’ll notice is that the polycarbonate housing keeps them really light, at just 0.8kg. That really makes a difference when you’re scanning the horizon for a period of time. These binoculars also have long eye relief. Put simply, if you wear glasses, long eye relief means you can use them and not suffer any reduction in your field of vision. The lenses are a good quality, although we struggled slightly in lower light. The one surprise is that the body is smooth, and that lack of grip makes them a bit slippery in the wet. It’s a strange omission for marine binoculars, but a minor grumble. The trade off is they will float with the addition of a buoyancy strap, which will one day prove to be a godsend. Serious value for money at this price.
Marine suitability: 3.5 star
Picture quality: 4star
Weight: 4star (0.8kg)
Cost: 4 star. Rrp £299
Great for nature lovers
One of the joys of sailing is the natural environment. Birds, whales, mountains – a great pair of binoculars will enable you to see all of these in spectacular detail. There is no question that the Leica 10×42 are superb. The 10 x magnification is huge and the 42mm objective means the light input is too, yet the overall weight remains a very impressive 0.8kg. In fact, these are as good as we’ve seen when it comes to binoculars. They are way over specced for navigation (& don’t have an inbuilt compass) but you will rarely use anything better and if anything is going to find that navigation mark in the gloom, it will be these. Then, once you have anchored for the night, you have some truly wonderful binocularsto see the birds, the wildlife and the world around you. The clarity and the colour are a joy to behold.
Marine suitability: 4 star
Picture quality: 5 star
Weight: 5 star (0.8kg)
Cost: 2star. Rrp £2,350