With the best marine binoculars you can really make a splash! We help you choose the best saltwater-ready binoculars for seafaring, yachting and other adventurous watery pursuits...
It goes without saying that when choosing the best pair of marine binoculars out there, decent waterproofing is going to be high on our list of essential features, as is an ability to survive being submerged for extended periods should the device end up in the ‘drink’. We’ll also examine magnification power, lens quality and, of course, value for money in terms of how much bang we’re getting for our buck. But there are some key things that make marine binoculars rather different to the candidates in our main best binoculars guide…
What's different about marine binoculars
Ideally, binoculars for use at sea will have some or all of the following features, which mark them out from their landlubber counterparts:
• Nitrogen filled: a step in the manufacturing process which expels all air and any possible trace of moisture from the optics and replaces it with 'dry' nitrogen gas to prevent fogging.
• Individual focusing: regular binoculars have a single focus adjustment for both eyes. It's quick and simple for multiple users, but marine binoculars often have individual adjustments for each eye – these will be better adapted to their owners, and don't need readjusting once set up, making them good for lowlight.
• Reticle scale: a navigational aid which uses a horizon line and a vertical scale for measuring the distance of objects of known height (such as a lighthouse) – sometimes an important navigational aid.
• Compass: not just a clip-on gadget, but on the best marine binoculars these project a compass bearing on the image – another important navigational aid.
• Floating strap: some marine binoculars float on water, ideal for boat use - but those that don't are usually supplied with a strap that will function as its flotation device.
Take note of the specification quoted, too, such as 7x50, where the first number quoted is the magnification power and the second the size of the objective lens in use. A larger magnification will obviously let use see further, while a physically larger objective lens measurement should in theory let in more light, so the image will be brighter and we can continue getting good results as natural light starts to fade at the end of the day.
The trade off however is bigger lenses mean physically larger, so typically heavier, binos. It can therefore be worth literally weighing up which pair will suit you best and give the clearest view – especially on the deck of a moving boat!
Magnification may appear more modest on these marine binocular examples than regular binos for use on land; this is because the likes of a 7x magnification is what’s required to maintain a decent view when the boat is rocking – higher magnifications may make it hard to achieve a steady image at all.
So without further ado, let’s drill into what we consider some of the best marine binoculars around.
The best marine binoculars in 2021
Steiner’s Navigator binoculars have been around for a while in their ‘Pro’ iteration, but the 7x30 and 7x50 options – where the ‘7’ is the magnification offered and the second figure the size of the objective lens – have had a design revamp to improve handling. Both options come either with or without a built-in, shock-absorbing compass, with roughened exterior promising to deliver steady viewing even in rough seas. Look for the models with the ‘c’ suffix, like the more affordable of the two we’re highlighting here, if that compass ‘extra’ may prove useful.
As well as allowing for a more comfortable, stronger grip, thanks to a ridged, water-repelling surface, on the latest generation models a new open bridge system promises to make adjustments easier. Waterproofing is sufficient to withstand being dunked to depths of five metres, while a 10-year guarantee offers further peace of mind to prospective Steiner owners.
The USA-based brand Bushnell is known for its good value build wedded to a decent performance, so this water proofed, buoyant and saltwater corrosion resistant model marrying a 7x magnification to a large 50mm objective lens is worth further investigation. Not only is it legit O-ring sealed and covered in rubber ‘armour’ to absorb shock while providing a tighter non-slip grip for wet-handed use, but it’s also nitrogen purged to prevent fogging. The specification continues to impress as we get BaK-4 prisms for bright and clear viewing plus a digital illuminated compass to help avoid mariners getting lost at sea. In short, this one suggests itself as literally a purchase idea worth floating.
With an identical core 7x50 specification to the Bushnell option above, we can always rely on Nikon with its long history of optical excellence in the photographic trade to deliver binos in decent, um, nick, in spite of the relatively compact proportions here. Naturally this durably rubber-armoured, polycarbonate construction device with central focus knob is waterproofed courtesy of its O-ring sealed body, plus comes with a floating neck ‘belt’ so it doesn’t disappear beneath the waves if it’s accidentally flung overboard in rough seas. With a 33ft close focus distance, it likewise features a comparably generous 22.7mm of eye relief, allowing for comfortable viewing, as well as a wide 378-foot field of view, so as much of the ocean as possible is within the user’s vision. Look out too for the version of these binos that features an additional compass built-in, if that feature would further aid your own voyages of nautical discovery.
These high-end, heavy-duty binoculars from the Fujifilm brand rendered in grey would look as equally at home aboard a warship as a luxury yacht. Just shy of 2Kg, they’re a fairly weighty option too, but cram in all the bells and whistles we might expect, including a world compass and lens coatings to ensure the best light transmission – and so a great view – is possible.
The ridged, rubberized exterior also ensures a firm and steady hold, while protecting the binoculars against accidental knocks. That large 50mm objective lens will deliver a clear view even at dusk, while allegedly even the likes of the US Navy are fans. The only downside is all of this coats; expect to pay a premium price for these premium binos.
Celestron is another big brand in the world of binoculars and so naturally it offers an ‘Oceana’ model suitable for the marine market. Like the others here the core specifications are once again a 7x magnification wedded to a 50mm lens, encased within a waterproofed aluminum construction, its rubber armored shell offering a comfortable 22mm eye relief and multi-coated optics for optimum light transmission and visibility. We also find an illuminated compass usefully on board, along with, more unusually, a distance calculator dial. Plus, unlike many others, this one includes a tripod adapter (the actual tripod is extra) should users want to try and increase stability. Naturally it’s waterproofed and nitrogen purged too to prevent fogging, not leaving many boxes un-ticked as far as this all-encompassing example goes. Impressive stuff.
We’re less familiar with Barska as a brand, but this compact pair of binoculars half the weight of some of its close competitors seems to offer a decent degree of bang for our buck. These American binoculars furthermore ticks boxes for the required O-ring sealed waterproofed, nitrogen purged innards, non-slip rubberized exterior, plus BAK 4 prism, multi coated optics to produce a clear image into the bargain. On top of this we get an internal rangefinder and directional compass included, while the device floats if it ends up in the ‘drink’. These binos seem to offer value for money for those who want a pair of marine binoculars for less than the cost of berthing in an actual marina overnight.