It’s that time of year again; time to break out the eggnog, light a fire in the fire place, and snuggle up to watch everyone’s favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard. It’s also that time of year that you can mail it in and write a blog about Christmas gift ideas, which is fortuitous for me since I have a 5-mo old at home and am in the middle of a cross country move.
So, if you’ve waited until now to start looking for a gift for that special boat obsessed person in your life or you’re just looking for ideas to put on your wish list to Santa, this is the post for you. Much of these came from advice given to me on essential gear to purchase prior to reporting aboard my first ship or things I’ve found useful over the years. Without further ado, here’s the top five (we’ll see if this does better than my seminal six list).
1. Binoculars. A pair of good quality binoculars goes with me on almost every boating journey. After spending a few years standing a bridge watch, scrutinizing every navigation marker and passing vessel with my binoculars has become second nature. Having used Fujinon on the bridge, I purchased a more consumer grade version (Fujinon Marinier WPC-XL) for myself, which I’ve been happy with, but there are a plethora of consumer grade binoculars out there. The important thing in choosing binoculars for the marine environment is the optics, which should be 7 x 50. The objective diameter (50) means they have good performance in low light conditions, producing a sharp, bright image, and the 7 time magnification is ideal as they are easy to hold steady on a moving platform, like a boat. Also, I wear glasses and the generous eye relief of these binoculars allows me to use them without difficulty while wearing my glasses.
2. Float Coat/Collar. One of the first things I was issued when I boarded the ship was a float coat, which came in handy in the Alaska. I was first issued a Mustang float coat that was complete with a beaver tail (a neoprene flap that you could secure from front to back between your legs to help hold in the warmth if you went into the drink), but that’s probably a little extreme for your average recreational boater. If you’re operating in a colder climate though, a nice water activated float coat is a nice addition to any mariner’s wardrobe. On my second sea tour I sat behind a desk more than I was out on a boat and I got a Stormy Seas float coat that was a standard jacket with a built in automatic inflating PFD; I can not find one for sale, but here is a similar jacket from Float Tech. If you’re in a warmer climate, a horse collar automatic inflating life vest might be a more useful option, like this one from Mustang.
3. Marlin Spike/Knife. One thing every good sailor carries is a knife and for years I carried a locking blade Gerber on the ship, but if you’re going to carry a knife, you might as well carry something with a little more functionality. I purchased a Davis Instruments Rigging Knife, which includes a marlin spike for working with lines and a shackle key, to keep in my boating tool kit. However, if you’re looking at a nicer gift knife, you might consider a Myerchin or a Victorinox.
4. Dry Bag. When you’re getting into and out of launches every day for 8-hours of survey work, you want to bring a few things with you and for that purpose Dry Bags were very popular. It was especially helpful when doing open boat work; a Dry Bag would keep your stuff dry and, in the event is was accidentally dropped during the transfer, it would float. This one from Marchway provides the security of a dry bag while also giving you the functionality of a backpack.
5. PPIRB. Nothing says I love you like and emergency signaling device. As smaller version of the EPIRB, or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, the PPIRB (Personal EPIRB) is idea for recreational boaters and can also be used for emergency signaling during other outdoor activities like hiking. A PPIRB operates under the same principles as an EPIRB, broadcasting a signal on 406-MHz that is received by the COSPAS-SARSAT system. The COSPAS-SARSAT system can triangulate your position with in 3-mi in about 45-min, depending on what satellites are visible, but most EPIRBs are now GPS equipped and will transmit their position instantly, which provides a more precise position (within 100-m) within 3-min. Many will also still transmit a distress homing signal on 121.5-MHz, but you should avoid any that rely on the 121.5-MHz system exclusively as this is an outdated system and is no longer required to be monitored. I have been considering purchasing this PPIRB from ARC, which has GPS and a 121.5-MHz homing signal, and have it on my personal wish list. Just be sure to register your PPIRB so that any distress signals can be verified and rescue can be expedited.
Wishing you and your family have a Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year. Until next time, here's wishing you fair winds and following seas!
Brent Pounds has over a decade of experience in the maritime industry and has been involved in recreations boating since he was a child. See the About section for more detailed information.