Best marine binoculars for boating – Buyer’s Guide

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When it comes to selecting a pair of binoculars for boating, some choices are better than others. But if you’re not clear on what to look for, making the right choice can be difficult. To get what’s best for you, you have to understand how binoculars work.

If you’re using binoculars in diminished light, you most likely want a large objective lens (the lens at the back). The further away an object is, the greater the magnification you’ll need to properly see it. There are two types of binoculars to choose from, roof prism or Porro prism, but no matter which type you pick, you’ll want a coated lens and a wide angle of view for the best viewing experience.

This article explains the differences between binoculars in more detail so you can confidently choose what’s appropriate for your needs. When you’re ready to buy, check out the best marine binoculars we’ve handpicked for you to see which is best suited for you.

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Why are marine binoculars 7×50?

7×50 is the traditional marine binocular, due to its comfortable magnification power, very good light-gathering capabilities, and large exit pupil. However, in reality, any binocular can be used on the water regardless of size, features, or power.

What’s the difference between 7×50 and 10×50 binoculars?

A 7X50 binocular provides an exit pupil of 50/7, or just over 7mm in diameter. A 10X50 binocular provides a 5mm exit pupil, as does a 7X35 or 8X40 model. 

What does 20×50 mean on binoculars?

In the case of the formula 20×50, the 20 indicates the magnification power. A pair of binoculars with this magnification would produce an image that is 20-times larger than what you would see with your eyes alone. Keep in mind that the more an image is magnified, the harder it will be to keep that image steady.

Many users find a magnification of 8 or 10 to be the highest that they can keep steady with their hands before a tripod or another type of platform is needed. A pair of binoculars with 20 times magnification would likely be difficult to keep steady and would benefit from a tripod.


7 Best marine binoculars


Steiner Marine Commander Series Binoculars

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From Steiner comes a pair that could easily be the best marine binoculars you can get your hands on. You’re paying for this quality, but it’s a price you won’t regret. Both ergonomic and providing a view, with which you don’t have to struggle, you will quickly and clearly find any buoy or harbor marking. They are always in focus and there’s no sign of barrel distortion you may experience with inferior units. With Steiner’s Commander series you get a clear, bright image from a marine binocular that separates itself from the pack.

The body of these guys is so rugged the lifetime warranty is maybe moot. The coating also keeps dust and water out of it. If you have the money to shell out, this is the best. Have a little more and the optional integrated compass makes navigation a little easier too. Not too bad for stargazing either.


Steiner Navigator Pro 7×50

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Steiner binoculars are manufactured with German quality. The navigator pro binocular has great autofocus for ease of use and quick target acquisition when looking for skittish marine life. Give an extra $60 or thereabouts for an integrated compass, which makes navigation easier.

A solidly built, rubberized housing can seem bulky, but it means they are quite stable and sit well in your hands. Though not specifically made for the military, what is clear with the Navigator Pro, is the view you get in a product that your grand-kids might inherent. These are great binoculars that you won’t regret buying.


Nikon Ocean Pro CF WP Marine Binoculars

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Nikon is one of the most trusted brands in all things optics. Sturdy and reliable, Nikon binoculars are neither ridiculously expensive nor do they promise the moon. The Ocean Pro is a marine unit that might not be the best in terms of bells and whistles, but the feel of these binoculars and ease of use promise a product that delivers what you need while sailing or boating. There is a cheaper Ocean Pro model, a cheaper alternative that doesn’t include a compass, which may be irrelevant for those using chartplotters.

Clean optics and passable night vision utility make this something you won’t regret buying. High contrast imaging is great on the water. Just remember the floating strap to keep these Nikon binoculars afloat should they bail into the water.


Bushnell 7×50 Marine Binoculars

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Bushnell is a well-known company with a pretty good reputation that’s well-deserved. These marine binoculars have been put through its paces by many a seaman. Unlike Steiner, they are both shock absorbent and waterproof: these binos will last decades, notwithstanding an exceptional blow.

When looking at the horizon from shore the image is clear with a good stable and bright view that speaks to the quality of the lenses. At dusk the optics allow enough light in to see well; at night, these Bushnells are great for looking at the moon, the stars. A good, reliable pair of binoculars for your nautical activities.


Hooway 7×50 Waterproof Fogproof Military Marine Binoculars

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Hard to imaging getting more for your buck. In a bucking and rolling longship, these binoculars work fine. Contrast is not as sharp as the Nikon or Steiner models and low-light optics less impressive, but identifying buoys and checking out playful convoys of porpoises along the way worked just fine.

These Hooways have a rangefinder and compass and can tolerate a shock and occasional awe in the rough and tumble seas. This matches the yellow æsthetics of the Hooway design. Not everybody’s cup of tea, but it makes them easy to find in the water at dusk.


Fujinon Mariner WPC-XL Binoculars

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These Fujinon Marine Binoculars, from the Fujifilm company, are lightweight and comfortable to hold up against the eyes for longer periods of time because of the gummi, peel-down eyecups. The view through these is sharp and bright and seemingly stable in rocky, daylight conditions. The optics are impressive and can compare to the more expensive Nikons on this list. 

A compass is included with a light when viewing in low-light conditions and individual focus knobs work sufficiently well. These are a great value and many mariners merrily use them as secondary binoculars, but most casual seamen will happily have them as their primary viewer.


Bushnell H2O 7×50 Marine Binoculars

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Another Bushnell product with the waterproof and fogproof requirements for marine binoculars, these are a budget pair that does its business more than satisfactorily. The lenses are good enough to provide clear, bright viewing during the day and decent enough viewing in low-light conditions.

As far as casual boating goes, these binoculars will serve the seaman just fine, providing increased awareness and security with reliability befitting moderate sailing. In particular, onboard a sailboat accustomed to rocky expeditions, a more robust model might be better. But the quality of sight and feel of these in your hands make for convincing middle-range marine binoculars.

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Buyer’s Guide: Features to look for before you buy

1. Magnification and objective lens diameter

When browsing binoculars, you’ll notice they come with a set of numbers, such as 12×60 or 10×25. The first number refers to the magnification, and the second number refers to the diameter of the objective lens.

  • Objective lens diameter

The second number is the diameter of each objective lens in millimeters. The larger the objective lens, the more light is let into the binoculars and the brighter and sharper the image will be.

The tradeoff: Bigger objective lenses equal binoculars that are heavier, bulkier, and more difficult to keep stable without a monopod or tripod.

  • Magnification

A pair of binoculars’ magnification is the number of times closer to the scene you’re viewing appears compared to observing with the naked eye. Binoculars with a magnification of 12x make objects appear 12 times closer than they would if you were looking at them without binoculars.

The right level of magnification depends on what you’ll be using your binoculars for. For instance, you need 3x to 5x for the theater, 7x for sporting events, 8x to 10x for birdwatching, and 10x to 30x for stargazing.

2. Exit pupil

The exit pupil is the amount of light that reaches the eye from the objective lens up to the eyepiece. The diameter of the exit pupil should ideally be larger than the size of your pupil, otherwise, you’ll end up with a reduced field of view.

When thinking about the exit pupil, bear in mind the diameter of your pupil can range from roughly 1.5mm in very bright light to about 8mm in pitch-dark conditions. To calculate the exit pupil of a pair of binoculars, divide the objective lens diameter by the magnification.

3. Lens coating

The purpose of a lens coating is four-fold: to reduce glare and reflections, to make colors appear more vivid, to increase light transmission, and to improve contrast.

Lenses may be uncoated, coated (meaning they have one layer of coating), multi-coated (they have several layers of coating), or fully multi-coated (all lens surfaces inside and out have multiple layers of coating).

4. Prism type

You’ll find one of three types of prisms in most binoculars: BaK-4, SK-15, or BK-7. The properties to look for in a good prism are a high refractive index and a low critical angle — this means a prism can transmit with less light lost as a result of internal reflection.

BaK-4 prisms are considered the highest quality, followed by SK-15 and BK-7 prisms. That said, all are made from special optical glass, so even binoculars with BK-7 prisms provide a decent image quality.

5. The angle of view and field of view

Both the angle of view and the field of view express how much scenery you can see when looking through your binoculars. Some manufacturers list both of these specs, whereas others list just one.

The angle of view is measured in degrees; the field of view is measured in feet. So, for most people, the field of view is more meaningful than the angle of view.


Types of Binoculars

There are two main types of binoculars on the market: roof prism and Porro prism.

1. Roof prism binoculars

Roof prism binoculars are more streamlined, with the eyepieces in line with the objective lenses at the front. While they’re less bulky and easier to hold, they cost more to make, so they tend to be pricier than Porro prism binoculars.

2. Porro prism binoculars

Because Porro prisms are offset from one another, Porro prism binoculars are bulky, with the objective lenses positioned farther apart than the eyepieces. However, they’re much more affordable than their roof prism counterparts, meaning you’ll get a better image quality for your money.


Prices:

The price range for binoculars is wide. You can spend as little as $30 on a pair and up to well over $3,000. Here are a few guidelines.

  • Inexpensive – If you simply want a basic pair of binoculars for watching sports or occasional stargazing or birdwatching, you can find good budget models for $40 to $60.
  • Mid-range – Those who want a bit more from their binoculars in terms of durability and image quality should spend $80 to $150 on a pair.
  • Expensive – If you really want to go all out on waterproof, fogproof binoculars with exceptional image quality, expect to pay $300 to $500. Unless you need professional-quality binoculars, it’s unnecessary to spend any more.


FAQs

Q. Are binoculars water-resistant?

A. Not all binoculars are waterproof, but those that are have different levels of water resistance. Those with no rating aren’t suitable for taking out on the water or in the mist or rain. Those rated weather-resistant can stand up to mist or light rain. Those rated waterproof are fine to use in the rain and are even submersible to a certain depth, which varies between makes and models.

Q. What’s the best chassis material for a pair of binoculars?

A. There’s no single best chassis material, all have their pros and cons. Aluminum is a popular choice as it’s inexpensive and fairly light. It’s not as light as magnesium, but binoculars with a magnesium chassis will cost more. Polycarbonate is another great chassis choice as it’s corrosion-proof, strong, and weather-resistant.

Q. Do I need to use a tripod or monopod with my binoculars?

A. It can be harder to get a clear image from binoculars with a higher magnification without the use of a tripod, monopod, or other steadying devices. You’ll definitely need a steadying device for any binoculars over 20x magnification. However, some users find they need a tripod for binoculars over 12x, especially when using them for long periods of time.


Final thoughts:

We hope you enjoyed this article featuring the best marine binoculars. When at sea, the use of marine binoculars is essential for enhancing the safety of the boat. It is important that all watercraft are equipped with the best marine binoculars. As a mariner, it is important to know about the binocular and its features you are using at sea to ensure you are having the correct one and in case there is a need for an upgrade. Moreover, we hope you found a great gift that your loved one is sure to treasure for years to come.


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