With the arrival of another of those significant birthdays, (I’m not telling which one), my wife asked me if I would like a sailing watch. She knew I have never owned a decent watch and the ancient seven day wind up ships chronometer on our schooner was unreliable especially when we forgot to wind it up. Of course, nowadays you don't need a ships clock to tell the time accurately, because any number of digital gadgets will give micro second accuracy.
I actually didn't know what a “sailing watch” was until I started looking at them on the web. The first thing that struck me was the sheer number, actually hundreds, of watches that go by the name sailing watches. It seems like every watch maker in the world makes wrist watches they call sailing watches, but many are just ordinary chronograph stop watches with fancy dials. Some are horrendously expensive fashion watches that I would be frightened to even wear on a boat.
I decided to look for watches that actually offer information helpful to a sailor on his boat, whether he has an offshore cruising yacht like mine or a racing dinghy. This distinction is really where sailing watches split, between watches for racing and those for yachting but some overlap both jobs so I looked at the specifications of both.
A watch used on the water is sometimes subjected to very adverse conditions, especially when racing or heavy weather. I therefore thought it might be an advantage to have a digital readout with large numbers instead of an analog face with many small dials. Some watches have the ability to switch from one to the other The wrist band, (strap), is also important for a watch used on the water. If it fails, an expensive watch might bounce overboard. Most watches have soft rubber synthetic bands, considered more sustainable than either leather or stainless steel in the sailing environment. Rubber straps are also lighter than stainless, easier to adjust and come in many different bright colors.
I was reluctant to order any watch on line without first seeing it. On reading the sizes of some of them they would be far too big and heavy for me to use on a daily basis. The Timex Optimum is over 2½” inches round and 5/8” inch thick! The following are watches I looked at, but I was not able to physically examine all of them Specifications were gathered from manufacturers websites and discussions with product managers.
GARMIN: Quatix 6x: Solar version:
Garmin were kind enough to send me this watch to examine, but return afterwards, unfortunately I had promised to return it...
This is a very comprehensive and real “sailing watch,” with functions for every type of pastime on the water, including diving. It is beautifully crafted and a quite extraordinary wrist computer. Garmin is well known for superior boating instruments and they have now managed to squeeze all the data of a ten inch chart plotter into a two inch round watch. Bluetooth interconnects it to Garmin chart plotters using Garmin Connect, (a free app), and to other makes using the Garmin transceiver ($150.00 extra). This allows all the features of a chart plotter to be displayed on the watch, including charts, (an extra cost), and even autopilot control provided it is also connected through the chart plotter. Another amazing feature is the hundreds of different faces that can be downloaded to customize the watch, including a rather nice antique face and a copy of Big Ben’s London face. The watch can also be switched between analog and digital. The diameter overall is 51mm (2” in) with a 1 5/8” face, 17mm (11/16” thick.) Weight is 83gm (3.00 oz. with plastic strap, 5.5 oz with stainless band). It receives emails and texts; controls music on board; waterproof to 100 meters; sunlight readable and with night light, and monitors the users heart rate. The watch has a soft synthetic band available in various colors. The battery version lasts 14 days with normal use. This watch does everything except steer the boat for you, but I suppose it would also do that if you knew how to program it. However, one thing it does not do is swim. Do not drop this watch overboard, it does not float.
GARMIN Instinct: Garmin also sent me this watch to examine.
This is Garmin’s all-round watch that they call their outdoors watch. Features that yachtsmen could use would be, GPS positioning on charts (charts extra); barometric pressure; a compass; interconnects with mobile phones, receives emails and texts and controls smartphone music. It has a thermometer and a heart-rate monitor smf available in an astonishing twenty different styles and colors. The actual diameter is 47mm (1 13/16” in) face is 32mm (1 1/4”). Weight is 53gm (2 oz). For the racing fraternity it has a world sailing 5,4,1,0, match racing timer; multiple start sequence options; loud intuitive countdown with start sound signals; Synchronization function; countdown repeat and up options; re-synchronization for early or late start, etc. This watch is a good alternative for people who do not want the cost of the Quatix 6.
SUUNTO Core Deep:
This basic Suunto wristwatch is both a sailing and race watch. Features include all the normal things racers need; Also, barometric pressure; tidal data; a compass; digital bearing; dual time and countdown timer; temperature; sunrise/sunset times for more than 400 worldwide locations and a digital thermometer. An interesting addition is a storm alarm and weather trend information. Size is 49mm (1.93” in) diameter, 14.5mm (0.57” in) thick, weight 79 gm (2.79 oz). This is a big heavy watch.
This is a very striking larger than normal analog watch, built specifically for racing sailors. It has all the necessary features, race time from start to finish, etc. It is 46 mm (1.81” in) diameter and 14mm (0.55” in) thick. You would need to carry the instruction manual until you become familiar with this complicated watch. It has functions that require three buttons to be pressed in sequence. There are no cruising yachtsmen features, not even GPS.
TIMEX Optimum Series 3:
A lower priced yet functional race watch. This is the biggest watch I have ever seen and far too large for my wrist. It is a gigantic 65mm (2.56” in) diameter and 16mm (0.62” in) thick—nearly 5/8” inches. I could not find the weight anywhere on Timex’s website but it is bound to be heavy. An advantage for racing is that this watch is easy to read at a distance, and a bracket is even supplied to fix it to a mast. It has a three row display for easy viewing of the time and the timer simultaneously. It also has the sync’ button if you miss the start gun. This is a multi-function watch with tidal information; atmospheric temperature and compass. It has a silicone strap that can be personalized from different highlight colors. USB powered charging of the batteries is unique.
RONSTAN Clearstart. RF4055:
Another watch comes from a reputable marine equipment manufacturer. It is essentially a specialist race watch. Race mode features include: multiple start sequence options; world sailing 5,4,1,0, match racing; loud intuitive count down with start sound signals; Synchronization function; re-synchronization for early or late start; count down repeat and up options. It is unusual in that it has a fiberglass case available in three striking colors. It has a 50mm (2") diameter face, that is larger than most watches with a 13mm (0.5" in) digital display, weight is 74gm (2.61oz). One function that makes it less appealing as a watch for yachtsmen is the absence of GPS.
OPTIMUM Series 12:
Another race timer with countdown time and pre-programmed start and audible warnings. There is no GPS or interconnectivity function; countdown repeat option; 5,4,1,0 ISAF start sequence pre-programmed with audible warning signals; 5 minute 3 minute and multiples of 1 minute programmed; sync’ button if the start gun is missed. It is available in many colors, but has a small 26mm (1.02” in) display with 10mm (0.34” in) figures, that will make it hard to read in the middle of a hectic race start.
All these watches present a bewildering choice of features and some high costs. I would just love to have the Garmin Quatix 6, but for the moment we will keep winding up Britannia’s good old brass clock. This is not because I can't afford one of these watches. I just don't have an advanced degree in rocket science to understand any of them.