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Old 21-01-2011, 16:12   #1
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Are Navigational Binoculars Really Useful ?

Bear in mind, I'm a newbie.

I'm looking at the Bushnell, 137501 (without compass) for $120, or the 137500 (with compass) for $140.

Binoculars with a built-in compass.... Should I bother? Do these cheapies even work well enough to have faith in avoiding that hidden reef? Or do I have to put out a few more $$$ to buy trustworthiness? Even then, will I actually use that compass feature enough to justify the extra money?

-Brent
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Old 21-01-2011, 16:18   #2
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The compass in my Steiner binoculars is consistent in its readings with a handheld compass. For just $20 more, you're buying some convenience. Can't vouch for Bushnells, however.
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Old 21-01-2011, 16:28   #3
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When navigating with charts and no electronics, a hand bearing is invaluable in giving you a fix. You can tell how far off an obstruction you are by trinagulating two bearings on different points, You can estimate speed by timing the advance of your position, and a whole host of other navigation issues. You can estimate via the boats compass but it really takes a hand bearing compass/compass binocular to get an accurate bearing.

A binocular with a built in compass won't necessarily be more reliable than one without. Typically, the binoculars are the same, just one has the addition of a compass. There are different grades of binoculars with and without a compass. You can find a pretty good binocular under $200 that will meet most of the needs for waterproof construction, robustness and accuracy. For $400 you get the near ultimate in low light gathering ability, ergonomics, in addition to the benefits of a cheaper pair.

For me, having the compass is a plus I'll pay for.
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Old 21-01-2011, 16:37   #4
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IMHO, a pair of marine glasses are almost as necessary as having a proper offshore life jacket. This is not a piece of equipment to be cheap. First, the difference between a $100 pair and a $250 can be significant. The first are often Chinese made and the ladder either German or Janpanese and the quality difference is quite noticable. The more expensive pair can last a lifetime if proper care is taken, such as rinsing after exposure to salt air/water. The inexpensive pair will degrade with each use and eventually fail. A nice pair of binoculars will have much better light admission properties, allowing clearer vision, especially at night. If you ever do any night sailing, the ability to pick out ships and especially improperly lit boats is much easier with a nice pair of binoculars. The compass is not an absolute, but when you go to take a bearing, it's so much easier to do with binoculars with compass than with a hand held compass. If you're just day sailing in the bay than the $100 pair would be ok. Also, while haven't owned a pair of those $800 German made pair, I have used one and find no difference than a nice pair of Japanese made at less than half the price. I hope this helps.
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Old 21-01-2011, 16:50   #5
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vbrent,

Binoculars are a must have on a boat. Built in compass, your call, not needed.
Also must have a hand bearing compass.

We use a hand bearing compass a lot of the time at anchor when trying to see where the wind will be coming from on a weather forecast and wind shift.

Mark
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Old 21-01-2011, 16:55   #6
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Binoculars are a basic tool; but the best compass aboard is the steering compass and by sighting over it a fairly accurate bearing can be achieved; if view is obstructed or a very accurate bearing is required ,just put ships heading on your object then read compass then back on course and you will get a more accurate reading than from any shaky hand held device. The rougher the conditions the better this works.
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Old 21-01-2011, 17:04   #7
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I guess I'm odd. I don't like the distraction of the compass in the binoculars. I think it takes away from the times when you really need to concentrate. You can't help looking at the numbers moving around. My main binoculars are Steiner's without the compass.

I much prefer a big honkin' compass right in front of the wheel for bearings.
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Old 21-01-2011, 17:20   #8
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I don't like the distraction of the compass in the binoculars. I think it takes away from the times when you really need to concentrate. You can't help looking at the numbers moving around.
I have the opposite reaction, having to actually concentrate on the numbers to notice them.
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Old 21-01-2011, 17:32   #9
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WITH!

And at that price buy 2 pairs... a His and Her pair. Then you can say things like... "See that Headland at 120?"

Worth their weight in gold..
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Old 21-01-2011, 17:38   #10
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Then you can say things like... "See that Headland at 120?"
.........or the PIRATES at 180!

I read your blog about the pirates. We're talkin "pucker Factor".
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Old 21-01-2011, 17:50   #11
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Brent, i find that racing or cruising, having the compass in the binocs is extremely useful. First, for bearings and piloting, picking up markers and bouys and being able to pick up the mark and bearing almost instantly.

Second, even just for comparing notes, being able to call out a direction not just say "I think I see them at 4 o'clock" Four? Five? Oh, that's my three...

But I'd be more concerned with getting good binocs, waterproof, gas filled, good warranty. I think you'll find that on inexpensive binocs there's often very loose quality control, so if you can pick them up in person, try them out, make sure they are in good alignment with good optics. And if not, try another pair. As you may already know, there's nothing like actually looking through two or three different binocs to make it clear why one is often twice the price of another.

As long as it doesn't give you headaches...and meets the budget.
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Old 21-01-2011, 18:32   #12
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I guess I'm odd. I don't like the distraction of the compass in the binoculars. I think it takes away from the times when you really need to concentrate. You can't help looking at the numbers moving around. My main binoculars are Steiner's without the compass.
You're not the only one, oddly enough. I use the Steiner Commander V binos without the compass, because I agree that the compass compromises the view. Whenever I need to take a bearing, I use a hockey-puck type compass. Or the radar.
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Old 21-01-2011, 18:49   #13
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I certainly agree that getting good binoculars is important. Our Steiner binocs. are not the most expensive, but they are very good, and the service behind the brand is exceptional. We've been using them for more than 20 years, and it's been hard use with never a complaint from either of us.

When we bought our PDQ 7 years ago it came with some bargain 7 X 50 binoculars. They were awful; Peter could see things with them, though not easily, and he's very, very good. I couldn't use them at all - I'm not as good at using binoculars as Peter, but I'm not a novice. And that was during full daylight! They did not stay on the boat for even a week.

A hand bearing compass or a compass in the binoculars is nice, and necessary once you leave the parts of the world where there are navigation marks and frequently updated charts. You will find how important obtaining bearings is, especially when you need to take shelter in a strange harbor with nothing to help you other than an old chart and your wits. I found that trying to take bearings from the binnacle compass wasn't as successful as a hand-bearing compass or one in the binocs. But that's me. Others are better using the binnacle compass.

Please don't try to save money on your binoculars. You will really need them, and good ones will last, and will have superb support from the manufacturer. Over the 25 years we've been cruising, the amortization of our outlay on good binoculars has probably cost us less than one evening out in a restaurant per year. And very little drama when we did approach those difficult shelters.
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Old 21-01-2011, 19:20   #14
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Binoculars are a basic tool; but the best compass aboard is the steering compass and by sighting over it a fairly accurate bearing can be achieved; if view is obstructed or a very accurate bearing is required ,just put ships heading on your object then read compass then back on course and you will get a more accurate reading than from any shaky hand held device. The rougher the conditions the better this works.
G'Day all,

Dissenting opinion follows! Trying to sight over the ships binnacle is difficult at best, and on many boats, physically impossible, compass being lower than cockpit coamings or behind a mizzen mast or... Suggesting that aiming the ships heading at the object is also a bit off... say sailing downwind with a poled out genoa with a ship overtaking from your quarter. Pointing the boat at this vessel means going nearly head-to-wind, possibly with a gybe thrown in for more fun. Not practical or safe IMO, yet watching for a changing bearing is the best way to determine if you are on a collision course. Do you really want to come up into the wind every couple of minutes to determine this?

So, some sort of bearing compass is really a basic tool. Can be hand held or inside your binoculars. For us with "elder eyes" the binocs can help, but the best bearing compass ever made (again IMO) was the Autohelm fluxgate job. Sadly they discontinued manufacture some time ago. My private guess is that it was the only item they made that never crapped out, so they couldn't keep selling you new ones!!!

Thus, my advice is to try the relatively inexpensive binocs both with and without the internal compass. If they seem to have adequate optics for your usage, the extra 20 bucks is a bargain. You'll not find a separate HBC for that money.

Cheers,

Jim and Ann s/v Insatiable II lying Towlers Bay, NSW, Oz
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Old 21-01-2011, 19:32   #15
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Get the cheap pair for your guests and other watch standers and an expensive pair for yourself. Keep your pair locked up when you are not on watch... Simple right.
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