From Garmin to Suunto, Roger Hughes looks at 7 of the best sailing watches available right now...

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 sailing 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 ship’s clock to tell the time accurately, because any number of digital gadgets, including your mobile phone, will give microsecond accuracy.

I actually didn’t know what a sailing watch was until I started looking at them on the web. The first thing which struck me was the sheer number – actually absolutely hundreds – of watches that go by the name ‘sailing watches’.

It seems like every watchmaker in the world makes wrist-watches that they call sailing watches. But many are just ordinary chronograph stop-watches with fancy dials. Some are horrendously expensive fashion watches, which I would be frightened to even wear on a boat.

I decided to look for watches that actually offer information that’s helpful to a sailor on their boat, whether they have 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. Some overlap, so I looked at the specifications of both.

What makes a good sailing watch?

A watch used on the water is sometimes used in adverse conditions, especially when racing, or in 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 internal small dials. Some watches have the ability to switch from digital to analogue readouts.

The wristband, (strap), is also important for a watch used on the water – if it fails an expensive watch might fall overboard.

Most watches have soft, rubber, synthetic wristbands, which are 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 colours. These are the watches I considered…

The best sailing watches available right now


Garmin Quatix 6 sailing watch

Read MBY‘s Garmin Quatix 6 review

Garmin were kind enough to send me this watch to examine (and return afterwards, unfortunately).

This is very comprehensive, and clearly one of the best sailing watches out there, 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 chartplotter into a 1.3” inch round sailing watch.

Bluetooth functionality means you can connect it to a Garmin chartplotter using the free Garmin Connect app, and to other makes of plotter using the Garmin transceiver (a $150 extra).

This allows all the features of a chartplotter to be displayed on the watch, including charts and even autopilot control – provided it is also connected through the chartplotter.

Another amazing feature is the hundreds of different faces that can be downloaded to customise the watch, including a rather nice antique face and a copy of Big Ben’s face.

The Quatix 6 can also be switched between analogue and digital. The overall diameter is 51mm (2” in) with a 36mm (1 5/8” in) viewable face,  and it is 17mm (11/16”) thick.

The weight is 83g (3oz) with the plastic strap or 156g (5.5oz) with the stainless band, which is quite a bit heavier than a normal watch.

It receives e-mail and texts, can be used to control music on board, it is waterproof to 100 meters, sunlight readable and comes with night light. The Quatix 6 also monitors the user’s heart-rate.

The watch has a soft synthetic band, available in various colours. The battery version lasts 14 days with normal use, but there is also a solar-powered version, available at twice the price. But whatever you do, do not drop this sailing watch overboard, as it does not float!

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Garmin Instinct outdoors watch

Read our Garmin Instinct review

Garmin also sent me this watch to examine. The Instinct is Garmin’s all-round watch, which they call their outdoors watch. Features which yachtsmen could use would be: GPS positioning on charts; barometric pressure and a compass.

It also has smartphone connectivity, receives e-mails and texts, and can control smartphone music. It has a thermometer and a heart-rate monitor.

The Garmin Instinct is available in an astonishing 20 different styles and colours. The actual diameter is 47mm (1 13/16” in) but the viewable face is 32mm (1 1/4”). The Instinct is 16mm (5/8” in) thick and weighs 53g (2 oz).

For the racing fraternity it has a multiple start sequence options. This outdoors watch is a good alternative for people who do not want to stump up the cost of a Quatix 6.

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Suunto Core Deep sailing watch

This basic Suunto wristwatch is both a sailing watch and race watch. Features include all the normal things racers need: 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.

This is a big heavy sailing watch, measuring 49mm (1.93” in) in diameter, 14.5mm (0.57” in) thick, and weighing 79g (2.79 oz).

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Timex Intelligent Quartz Yacht Racer watch

This is a very striking larger than normal analogue watch, built specifically for racing sailors. It has all the necessary features, including race time from start to finish. 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’s features though, not even GPS.

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Optimum Time Series 3 sailing watch

A lower priced, yet functional race watch, this is the biggest watch I have ever seen, and far too large for my wrist. It’s gigantic – 65mm (2.56” in) diameter and 16mm (0.62” in) thick – and 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 at the same time. It also has a sync button if you miss the start gun.

This is a multi-function watch with tidal information, atmospheric temperature, and a compass. The Optimum Time Series 3 has a silicone strap that can be personalised, while the USB charging is unique.

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Ronstan Clearstart RF4055 sailing watch

Another watch that comes from a reputable marine equipment manufacturer. This watch is essentially a specialist race watch. Race-mode features include multiple start sequence options, World Sailing 5-4-1-0 match racing timer and re-synchronization for an early or late start.

The Clearstart RF4055 is unusual in that it has a fiberglass case, which is available in three striking colours. It has a 50mm (2″) diameter face, which is larger than most watches, with a 13mm (0.5″ in) digital display, and the weight is 74gm (2.61oz). One function that makes it less appealing as a watch for yachtsmen is the absence of GPS.

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Optimum Time Series 12 sailing watch

Another race-timer with countdown time and pre-programmed start and audible warnings. There is no GPS or interconnectivity, but you do get a countdown repeat option, World Sailing 5-4-1-0 start sequence pre-programmed with audible warning signals, and a sync button if the start gun is missed.

The Optimum Time Series 12 is available in many colours, but has a small 26mm (1.02” in) display, with 10mm (0.34” in) figures, which will make it hard to read in the middle of a hectic race start.

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All these sailing watches present a bewildering choice of features and some high costs. I would love to own the Garmin Quatix 6, but will need to save up – in the meantime we will keep winding up Britannia’s good old brass clock.