Best Sailing Watches: Nautical Options For Sailors

Best Sailing Watches: Nautical Options For Sailors | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Sailing watches are enormously helpful for navigation, planning, and numerous other tasks.

In this article, we'll cover why every sailboat owner should consider investing in a high-quality sailing watch. We'll also go over the qualities and features of the best sailing watches, along with a few of the best sailing watches on the market today.

Sailing watches fall into two categories: mechanical and electronic. The best mechanical sailing watches are the Rolex Yachtmaster and the Omega Seamaster. The best electronic sailing watches are the Garmin Instinct and the Garmin Quantix 6. The Vostok Komandirskie is the best budget sailing watch.

We based this article on information from sailing watchmakers along with the experience of expert sailors. We also source information from the owners of these watches, along with their opinions about the products.


Table of contents

Types of Sailing Watches

There are numerous kinds of sailing watches that range in style and functionality. Due to the proliferation of smartwatches, the market is now overflowing with feature-laden devices that are ideal for sailing. Traditional sailing watches are analog and waterproof, so they'll work in all conditions. Here are the most common kinds of sailing watches.

Mechanical Sailing Watches

Mechanical sailing watches are classic waterproof timepieces that don't have a battery. Instead, they rely on compact wind-up or automatic (self-winding) movements. The finest mechanical sailing watches are produced in Switzerland.

Fine mechanical sailing watches are produced by names you may recognize. These companies include Rolex, TCG, Breitling, and others. Many people use mechanical dive watches such as the Rolex Submariner for sailing, as it's highly accurate and waterproof to 1,000 ft.

Many sailing watches are mechanical chronometers. A chronometer is a marine clock or watch certified to be accurate within 0.1 seconds per day. The chronometer is often confused with the chronograph, which is a mechanical watch that also includes a stopwatch.

Chronographs are useful for timing sailing races and calculating your speed, and some chronographs are also chronometers. These watches command the highest prices in the industry.

Mechanical sailing watches are generally much more expensive than digital sailing watches. Prices for these premium watches start around the $2,000 mark, though most examples cost about $8,000 to $15,000.

Digital Sailing Watches

Digital sailing watches run on batteries and usually include a display. These watches vary widely in cost, design, and functionality. If you're looking for features, a digital sailing watch is definitely the way to go.

Today, many of these watches are highly affordable, considering what they do. The most basic digital sailing watches have a simple LCD display that shows the time, date, temperature, and possibly your heading. These watches aren't connected, which means they don't display much active real-time data. That said, they're robust and an excellent choice for pure functionality.

Features like temperature, heart rate monitoring and direction (compass) don't require any internet connectivity, which means they work everywhere in the world.

The more advanced members of the digital sailing watch family are connected, meaning they pull data from the internet and communicate with other devices. Examples of connected features include GPS mapping, live weather forecasts and data, messaging, and speed tracking.

Like mechanical sailing watches, digital sailing watches are waterproof and stand up well to harsh conditions. Standard smartwatches, while often used for similar purposes, are generally not up to the task. This is because many smartwatches are only marginally water-resistant (up to 50 feet), which is simply insufficient for offshore sailing and racing.

Understanding Water Resistance Ratings

Water-resistant watches are rated using either feet, meters, or atmospheres. However, these ratings can be deceptive, as a watch rated to 50 meters or less may not be waterproof enough to use as a sailing watch.

The lowest water resistance rating you'll find is 3 ATM or 30 meters. Technically, this watch is rated to submerge in up to 100 feet of water. But in reality, a 3 ATM watch is barely water-resistant enough to shower with. A 3 ATM watch is not well suited for sailing.

The next level of water resistance is 5 ATM or 50 meters. This watch is certified for 160 feet, and it is marginally waterproof. You can use a 5 ATM watch for brief periods underwater and in the shower, so it's suitable for coastal cruising and calm weather sailing.

Next up the scale is the 10 ATM watch, which is certified for depths up to 100 meters or 300 feet. These watches are much more reliable sailing watches, as they're waterproof enough for extended underwater use at shallow depths. That means that a 10 ATM watch will stand up very well to rain and ocean spray.

You may want to consider a 20 ATM watch if you intend to do any extended underwater activities such as snorkeling or if you anticipate an extended voyage. A 10 ATM watch is sufficient for many of these tasks, though a 20 ATM watch is a safer bet. These watches are water-resistant to 200 meters or 660 feet and are the most waterproof.

The most water-resistant watches in the 20 ATM category are dive watches such as the Zodiac Aerospace GMT automatic. Some watches are rated even higher and fall into the 30 ATM category or higher. One of the most well-known 30 ATM dive watches is the Omega Seamaster, which is water-resistant up to 300 meters or 1,000 feet.

Best Mechanical Watches for Sailing

Mechanical sailing watches are still extremely popular due to their reliability and intrinsic value. These watches can be passed down for generations and never become obsolete, and they've been used aboard boats in some form for hundreds of years. Here are two iconic and respected waterproof mechanical sailing watches.

1. Omega Seamaster Diver Chronometer

The Omega Seamaster is one of those classic, quintessential yacht watches that's a fantastic combination of looks, quality, and functionality. This premium watch is a mechanical self-winding dive watch with a water resistance rating of 30 ATM or 300 meters. That means that it will withstand the roughest conditions encountered by sailors.

Omega watches use Swiss-made movements that are on par with other luxury brands such as Rolex. This watch has a bit of a cult following similar to other yachting watches like the Rolex Yachtmaster. A watch like this can be passed down for generations, and it’s also durable enough for hard use aboard a sailboat.

As far as quality is concerned, the Omega Seamaster is just about as good as it gets. But it's not just appearances and quality that make the Omega Seamaster an excellent sailing watch. The Omega Seamaster features a superbly accurate movement, complete water resistance, and a stopwatch chronometer feature.

The Omega Seamaster is a fantastic 'luxury' sailing watch that's robust enough to take out to sea. It's also great for wearing to business or formal events, as the Omega name carries quite a bit of weight.

2. Rolex Yachtmaster II

Here's another legendary mechanical watch with a unique history and practical functionality. This watch is on the high end of sailing watches, and it represents the top quality available. In other words, the Rolex Yachtmaster II is one of the finest sailing watches you can buy.

The Rolex Yachtmaster series can cost more than twice the price of an Omega Seamaster. Mechanically, these watches aren't significantly different, at least according to some collectors and watchmakers. Both the Omega Seamaster and the Rolex Yachtmaster are extremely high-quality Swiss watches, so what's with the price difference? It comes down to branding, style, and features.

Rolex is one of the most well-known luxury watchmakers, and their products demand a premium. And when it comes to features, this classic Rolex watch has some of the most precise in its class.

The most noticeable feature of the Rolex Yachtmaster II is its bezel. The bezel features large-print numbers, and it rotates to help the wearer keep track of elapsed time. Some Yachtmasters feature a precision stopwatch and a separate second hand, allowing you to precisely time regattas and accurately measure speed.

The Yachtmaster II also features a programmable countdown feature, which is extremely rare on mechanical watches. Additionally, Rolex watches are some of the most accurate mechanical timepieces ever built. The company uses proprietary technology to ensure that each watch meets the superlative chronometer qualification.

Best Digital Sailing Watches

Digital sailing watches don't hold value like mechanical watches. That said, they're significantly more affordable. Digital sailing watches are 'smart' watches, and they pack an enormous amount of functionality in a small package. Here are two of the highest-rated and most popular digital watches used for sailing.

3. Garmin Instinct Marine Watch

Garmin is the industry leader for digital sailing watches. The Garmin Instinct is their entry-level marine smartwatch, and it also functions well for other outdoor sports. Unlike many smartwatches, the Garmin Instinct is waterproof to 10 ATM (100 meters), which makes it suitable for almost all sailing activities. It's not for diving, but this watch stands up to rain and spray well.

The design is simple and functional. Garmin designed the display with readability in mind, as it features high-contrast letters, numbers, and dials. The watchband is made of durable rubber, and the case is rated to U.S. Military shock and thermal standard 810G. In other words, it's certified and durable enough to meet strict military standards.

For the price, the Garmin Instinct has a remarkable number of high-tech features. It's a GPS watch that can help you find your location and plot a course. It also features a precision compass for navigation and a backtrack map feature, which helps you retrace your location. The watch also allows you to check your heading with the touch of a button and plot your course along the way.

It has a 14-hour battery life while running GPS and other features, and you can connect it to a smartphone for notifications. For the price, it's tough to beat the durability and functionality of the Garmin Instinct. It's the perfect entry-level tech watch for sailing, and you can also take it along on other outdoor adventures.

4. Garmin Quatix 6 Multisport Marine Smartwatch

Fundamentally, the Garmin Quatix 6 Multisport does to smartwatches what the Apple Watch did to watches. It's the ultimate sailing smartwatch, and unlike the Garmin Instinct, it's specifically designed with sailors in mind. This watch is available in multiple casings and trims, and it's loaded with features to make navigation safer and easier.

What makes the Garmin Quatrix 6 stand out is both its range of features and the seamless execution of them. This watch features the basics such as time, date, and outside temperature. The default screen resembles a traditional analog chronograph, but it's customizable to include data such as heading and the weather.

However, what really makes the Garmin Quatrix 6 stand out is its superb navigation features. The watch displays full-color marine charts through Bluechart, and it displays your live heading and course. The chart feature also includes waypoint marking, speed, depth, and navigational hazards. You can do virtually all of your daytime navigation with your wristwatch.

This watch also includes several sailing-specific features. It connects seamlessly with onboard autopilot systems to keep you on course and helps you achieve target speeds with real-time monitoring. This watch features Sailassist, which is useful for aligning and timing regattas.

Other features include sea temperature monitoring, live weather data, smartphone alerts, Garmin Chartplotter integration, and even boat audio controls. It's essentially an all-in-one marine technology command center for your wrist.

Overall, the Garmin Quatrix 6 easily earns the top spot for digital smart sailing watches. If you're looking for features, there's no better option on the market in this price category. And for less than $700 for the base models, it still costs about the same as a medium-tier standard smartwatch.

Best Bargain Sailing Watch: Vostok Komandirskie

The most bang-for-your-buck depends on what features you're after. But if you're looking for an accurate and reliable watch that's tough enough for bluewater sailing, it's tough to beat the value of the Vostok Komandirskie.

Vostok is a Russian watchmaker that has been producing watches for the Russian military for decades. The diver Komandirskie is an automatic (self-winding) mechanical watch that's water-resistant to 20 ATM (200 meters) thanks to an innovative seal. Unlike most dive watches, the Komandirski actually seals tighter the deeper you go.

The watch itself (along with the rest of the Vostok lineup) has remained almost completely unchanged for decades. The watch features a surprisingly accurate 32-jewel movement, a date function, along with a rotating bezel for timing regattas. It's shockproof and available in an enormous variety of band, face, and bezel options.

These watches are still used by the Russian military today due to their accuracy and durability. They've developed a significant following in the west for the same reasons. However, the most impressive aspect of the watch is its price. You can get your hands on a Vostok watch for between $70 and $120, with some less popular models available for as little as $40 brand new.

It is virtually impossible to find a sailing watch of this quality for anywhere near the price of a Vostok. But how can the price be so low for a quality watch? The reason why Vostok makes the most affordable sailing watch is that all of the development and tooling was complete and paid off by the 1960s. They never bothered making any changes, which allows them to sell these excellent mechanical dive watches for a fraction of the cost.

Other models to consider are the hand-wound Komandirski which typically retails for around $50. This model is only suitable for very light-duty work, as it's rated to only 3 ATM. The Vostok Amphibia is rated for 20 ATM, which makes it a slightly slimmer and more affordable option for serious sailing.

Best Sailing Watches: Nautical Options For Sailors
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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