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Guide to Buying Boating Binoculars

Guide to Buying Boating Binoculars

by August 11, 2020

Binoculars are a wise item to add to your navigational toolkit so you can spot landmarks, debris, rocks sticking out of the water, or other boats. They come in handy at dusk or dawn, when you need to survey your surroundings in low light. They are also beneficial if you like to do some bird or other nature watching while you are out on the water.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when looking to buy a pair (or two) of binoculars.


The first thing most people talk about is magnification. Binoculars are classified using two numbers. For example, you will see 7×50 or 8×25. The first number tells you how much a target object will be magnified. Binoculars with 7x power, for instance, magnify things by seven times their size.

The second number gives you the diameter, in millimeters, of the “objective” lens, the one found at the front. The bigger this number is, the larger that lens is, and the more light it will gather.

Many people recommend that boaties opt for binoculars with 7x power. Since higher magnification reduces your field of view, it is harder to find smaller objects at sea. Bigger is not necessarily better, and sticking with a seven-numbered product is usually the best choice (especially when you have to factor in a rocking, pitching boat).

However, do keep in mind that if you want more magnification power, you can purchase image- stabilising binoculars. These automatically compensate for movement to provide increased magnification with more comfortable viewing.

As for the best choice for objective lenses, many people suggest choosing a product with a 50 as the second number. The larger diameter of this lens means that the binoculars will gather more light, which you will need when on your boat at times of low light.


Another factor to consider is how waterproof binoculars are. Obviously, in a boat, you will be spending time in a damp marine environment, and having to deal with not only the chance of water getting into your boat or things falling overboard, but also changes in temperature and binoculars fogging up. Thus, the more waterproof your tools are, the better.

Binoculars marketed as waterproof are constructed in a way that means their interior O-ring is sealed and then filled or “charged” with dry nitrogen. Plus, these boatie-friendly options come with flotation built into their straps. If your binoculars fall overboard, they will not sink before you can pluck them out again.


Binoculars featuring built-in bearing compasses aid many boaties. For marine use, this is a plus because when you look at a target through the lens, the compass will appear superimposed close to it, usually at the bottom of your view. This compass enables you to take bearings from an object. If you are out on your boat after dark, choose products that are backlit for night usage.


Lens coating should be a consideration. Coatings reduce reflections, increase contrast, and improve light transmission. They also sometimes help bead and remove water spray, to reduce internal fogging. There are numerous levels of lens coatings, ranging from coated to fully coated, multicoated, and fully multicoated. The best choice for boaties is seen as the latter. With fully multicoated binoculars, multiple coatings are put on each lens to achieve better vision.


If you have a smaller, less stable vessel, consider binoculars with “armour” on them. This will protect them if knocked or if they roll around while you are underway. Binoculars with this type of rubber treatment are also handy because they give you a better grip on the product when standing on a rocking boat. They are also less likely to move about because the rubber helps lodge them in place on whatever surface you lay them.

No matter the reasons for your needs, it is best to have an idea of what to look for when you compare binoculars at your local chandlery store, hobby store, or elsewhere. It is important that your choice of binoculars suits your needs and works well for the purposes you are using them.



By Kellie Byrnes


Published in the April – July 2020 print edition.