Binoculars for Lookouts

Author:
Publish date:

Robert Reeder is a seamanship instructor for a series of online courses through Boaters University. His course, Fundamentals of Seamanship: Rules of the Road, is a great way to get a full understanding of how to interpret the USCG rules of the road and how to apply the rules in your daily navigation when on the water. Take his course for additional tips on the importance of watchstanding!

Sign up today and use the coupon code: SAIL for 15% off.

BinosOnDeck-02
A WPA poster requesting binoculars for the US Navy.

A WPA poster requesting binoculars for the US Navy.

Our most fundamental tool as a visual lookout, other than our eyes and ears, are our binoculars. Here are some basics to consider for our boating adventures. Many years of trial and error have long settled the question of what is the "best" size optical binocular for maritime lookouts. 7x50 has been our standard since World War II, and with good reason. It is the single best compromise between magnification, light gathering, and field of vision. It is also small enough to wear and carry comfortably for shipboard watchstanding. Because they are traditionally used for seafaring, some 7x50 binoculars come with a built-in compass, which can be useful. If we are only going to have one pair of binoculars at sea, our 7x50 would be that pair.

However, if as a recreational mariner, we know that we are ONLY going to be underway during daylight hours, with no exceptions, then most of the benefit of the large light-gathering 50mm objective lenses will be lost, by virtue of our pupils constricting and blocking most of that light. In this case a pocket-size pair of 7x25, or even 10x25 binoculars might be a better option.

Examples of binoculars for the recreational mariner.

Examples of binoculars for the recreational mariner.

Especially for ocean voyages, it is rarely - though occasionally - nice to have a bit more magnification and light-gathering than our 7x50. It's a bit of a luxury, but if I have the stowage to do so, a pair of 15x70 binoculars are realistically about the largest that would ever be useful on a recreational boat. These are made mostly for amateur stargazing, and frankly, on a clear moonless midnight watch far away from the city lights, I might well use them this way. In a manner consistent with safe watchkeeping, of course. But the 7x50 binos are pretty sufficient for this as well.

How much should we spend on binoculars for recreational boating? Hopefully, we will be using them quite a lot, but we will be doing so in a potentially rugged environment. My rule of thumb is to not take any hand-held tools on the boat that I would be heartbroken if they were launched over the side. With modern manufacturing, even the cheapest optics are probably sufficient to resolve what navigational lights a gill-netter is displaying.

Binoculars are important enough for redundancy to be a consideration; I would probably prefer two $200 binos to one $400 pair. Ideally, every watchstander on the boat should have a pair of optical binoculars, pre-adjusted to his own eyesight and interpupillary distance.

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jordan Lochmann uses night vision binoculars to scan the horizon for Tomahawk missile trails from the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge during strike missions supporting Operation Odyssey Dawn in the Mediterranean Sea, March 19, 2011.

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jordan Lochmann uses night vision binoculars to scan the horizon for Tomahawk missile trails from the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge during strike missions supporting Operation Odyssey Dawn in the Mediterranean Sea, March 19, 2011.

What about night-vision binoculars? They certainly have their place in the wheelhouse, although I would strongly recommend that if we are going to use them, an additional, committed lookout should be stationed specifically for that purpose. By design, the person using the night-vision goggles will not have their eyesight night-adapted without them. Not so long ago night-vision binoculars and monoculars were prohibitively expensive, but now many are available for less than $200.

Most importantly, remember to put the binoculars down. Our naked eyes are still our best tool as a lookout. Good watch!

April 2018

Related

shutterstock_1158262783

A Catamaran Takes on the American Great Loop

After completing the European Great Loop on our 1987 40ft Catalac catamaran, Angel Louise, my wife, Sue, and I sailed home to the States and spent two years sailing up and down East coast between Maine and Florida, like migratory waterfowl. Eventually, though, we decided to ...read more

01-LEAD_Alex_Irwin

Mirabaud Yacht Racing Image Competition

The Mirabaud Yacht Racing Image competition once again captures the excitement that is sailing from around the world An impressive 109 photographers from 25 countries took part in last year’s Mirabaud Yacht Racing Image 2018 competition. And while Portuguese photographer Ricarado ...read more

judges2-1024x319-0219-600x

2019 Pittman Innovation Awards

For the past couple of decades, the digital side of sailing has become increasingly important, to the point where it’s now almost inconceivable going offshore, even aboard a daysailer, without at least a modicum of electronics onboard—a trend that has been very much in evidence ...read more

Nathan-Bates-San-Diego,-CA

SAIL 2018: Reader's Photographs

Are you out there sailing, cruising and living the sailing life? If so, we’d love to see it. Send your sailing photos to sailmail@sailmagazine.com And don’t forget to sign up for our free eNewsletter. Check back for updates! I took this shot from Cooper Island Beach Club as my ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Fall in line In the days before GPS, the best trick outside the book for finding a harbor in dense fog went like this: if it’s surrounded by rocks, forget it; if not, in you go, but never try to hit it ...read more

190115-Mark-Slats-Golden-Globe-Race2048x

Photo-Finish in the Golden Globe Race 2018

With less than 1,700 miles to go to the finish in Les Sables d'Olonne, France, second-place Mark Slats of the Netherlands has cut another 393 miles out of the lead held by French sailor Jean-Luc Van Den Heede in the Golden Globe 2018 race.  Jean-Luc aboard the Rustler 36 Matmut ...read more

06-Heineken-1-R2018_1March_©LaurensMorel_LMA5965_p

Post-Irma Heineken Regatta

Even more than a year and half later, the scars from Hurricane Irma are still all too visible on the island of St. Maarten. But if Irma couldn’t prevent the famed Heineken from taking place in the winter of 2017-18, you can bet it’s not going to put a crimp in either the racing ...read more