Let’s start with a little bit of history to marine watches. In earlier sailing days, it was almost impossible for ships to determine what their position at sea was. Especially once land was out of sight. Navigation didn’t take the conditions into account, like current and wind. These inaccuracies have thrown many a ship off course. At that time, figuring out latitude was easy, but not so much longitude. This problem went on for so long that in 1714 in Britain, there was a huge competition to solve it. And in came John Harrison and his marine chronometer.
A marine chronometer is both precise and accurate for portable time standards. It can be used for telling longitude by measuring the time at a fixed location. For example, GMT, and the time at the current location. Since the birth of the marine watch, there have been many advancements and offerings from some of the best brands on the market.
There are many multisport watches that are waterproof and specifically designed for life aboard a boat. The more advanced your watch technology is, the better marine and sailing watches get. There are options on the market now that have a persistently accurate radio-control time, as well as tide data, barometric pressure, compass bearing, temperature and depth gauge. There’s also Bluetooth connectivity. Saying all this, there are still sailors who will always have a fondness for owning an analogue watch that simply tells the time.
If you’re looking for a multipurpose Casio, an analogue from Nautica, or something from a big brand name like Rolex, there are sailing watches that will cater to your requirements.
5 features to look for in a marine watch
Possibly the most important feature to look for in a marine (or sailing) watch. It’s key that a skipper can measure intervals that lead to the start of a race. This can be really hard to figure out, based on the wind conditions and the current.
With a countdown timer, this will automatically convert to a race chronograph once it gets to zero.
This isn’t referring to getting something aesthetically pleasing. There are some useful design features to consider in your marine watch. For example, you should opt for less clutter on your watch face. Pick something that offers large and fluorescent hands, digits that are easily read, ideally a backlight and coated glass face that reduces glare. These micro-features all make for a smooth visual experience. Something invaluable when you’re on the water.
What your marine watch is made of has a huge impact on its longevity. By nature, your watch will be subjected to the brutal elements. Water and wind.
It is, therefore, advisable to go for a watch that has a silicone wristband, rather than a leather one. The case and strap are really important. Consider what clothes you’ll be wearing and get a strap that suits this, for example, one that will stretch over clothing.
As for the case. Stainless steel is the most common material for the case, buckles, clasps and bracelets. If money isn’t an option, you can get other materials such as gold and titanium, even sapphire and ruby. You really need something that will be shock-resistant.
No watch ever made has been totally waterproof. This term is quite misleading. All watches have a level of water pressure that they can withstand and after this point, it leads to seals leaking or maybe gas or water bubbles getting into the mechanism and ruining the watch.
Waterproof ratings are given in ATM. The general rule of thumb is that the higher than ATM, the better. You might be surprised to find that anything under 100ATM is generally not advised by experts to dive with. If you’re a sailor, we can only assume that your timepiece will be exposed to intense changes in water pressure (waves, heavy rain and diving into water count as intense and instant changes). Your ideal sweet spot is a rating of 200ATM.
A valuable digital marine watch will have digital features that’ll be of great use at sea. A digital watch with useful marine features like:
- Tidal information (including moon phase)
- A barometer to measure atmospheric pressure
- An altimeter to determine altitude (as it suggests)
- Audible and vibrating alarms
Long battery life
This is vital. Boat trips are rarely quick. You want to look for a marine watch that will withstand the intense usage for as long as your journey lasts.
The heavier the use the more drain on the battery. Ditto the more digital features a watch has, the quicker you’ll find that your watch is dying. When you’re out at sea, the last thing you want is to drain the battery on your boat in order to use your watch.
Luckily, the battery life on marine watches tends to be fantastic, so they’re fit for purpose. You can get 200 hours between charges on some devices.
Always be clear about what features you’re looking for before purchasing a marine watch. There are a lot out there, and the price tag tends to be pretty high. Often into the thousands.
The type of marine activities you’re into will shape what kind of watch suits your requirements. Either way, you want a device that will be durable, comfortable, accurate and above all, will last as long as your journey.
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