Phil Sampson and Roger Hughes take a look at 12 of the best sailing watches available with functions for racing and cruising sailors
Just as tablets and even smartphones have revolutionised how sailors use multifunction displays and instruments, so the latest smart watch technology has now firmly filtered into sailing. While we’re now familiar with using our watches to give us directions, make calls and send messages, and act as a repeater screen on our wrists ashore, so the latest sailing watches also make navigation, data and comms technology wearable afloat.
However, the cleverest watch is not always the best watch for sailing. For racing an extremely simple and speedy to operate model may suit better.
Price is not always an indicator of functionality either; even some of the least expensive sailing watches, like the Casio we showcase below, can be packed with features.
At the other end of the scale, luxury horology brands – including Rolex, Panerai, and Omega among others – have long been closely associated with sailing, seeing it as the perfect sport to demonstrate their style, waterproof and ruggedised qualities, and accuracy.
In making our selection of the best sailing watches, we’ve chosen those with features specifically suitable for wearing aboard. That doesn’t mean, however, that they float, so be sure to do the clasp up securely and be wary of pulling off jacket sleeves in a hurry and losing your prized timepiece overboard!
Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn’t affect our editorial independence.
Best multi-function sailing watches
Garmin MARQ Captain
Our top priced pick comes from wearable techno-specialists, Garmin. The MARQ Captain sailing watch comes packed with marine-relevant features.
Functions include weather and tidal data for your home port, a regatta timer to pinpoint starting times, a ‘tack assist’ function to determine whether you’re on lift or a header, a man overboard button and GPS.
The full extent of its capabilities is governed by the onboard technology to which it is connected, but possibilities include streaming boat data direct to your wrist wherever you are on the boat and controlling products from the Garmin-owned Fusion range of audio systems.
RRP: £1,699.99 / $1,850
Casio Tide Watch Orange
There’s no question that when it comes to affordable innovation, Casio is right up there.
Despite being one of the lowest priced watches in our selection, the Casio Tide Watch Orange is a highly functional piece of kit which, in addition to all the usual time, day and auto date functions also features a tide graph and lunar phase display.
More conventional sailing watch functions include a timer, stopwatch and LED might. It is water resistant to 100m and promises a 10-year battery life, all packed into a 43mm diameter case.
RRP: $82.99 / £62
Garmin Quatix 6 sailing watch
See MBY‘s Garmin Quatix 6 review.
This watch we tried out at length – it is a very comprehensive design, with functions for every type of pastime on the water, including diving. It is a beautifully crafted and 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 to allow you to change heading or follow a GPS route – provided it is also connected through the chartplotter.
The Quatix 6 also offers more typical smart watch functions including the ability to receive email and texts, can be used to control music on board, and monitors the user’s heart-rate.
It’s simple to switch between ‘boat display’ and ‘stylish watch’ modes, as hundreds of different watch faces that can be downloaded to customise it to the wearer’s preference, including an antique style face and even a copy of Big Ben. The Quatix 6 can also be switched between analogue and digital.
It’s overall diameter is 51mm (2” in) with a 36mm (1 5/8” in) viewable face, and it is 17mm (11/16”) thick. The Quatix 6’s weight is 83g (3oz) with the plastic strap or 156g (5.5oz) with the stainless band, which is quite a bit heavier than a conventional watch.
It is waterproof to 100 metres, sunlight readable and has a night light mode. The watch has a soft synthetic wristband, available in various colours.
A single charge will last 14 days with normal use, or there is also a solar-powered version for continuous self-charging (available at twice the price). But whatever you do, do not drop this sailing watch overboard, as it does not float!
RRP: £629 / $699
Garmin Instinct outdoors watch
Read our Garmin Instinct review
Garmin also sent this watch for us to wear. The Instinct is Garmin’s all-round watch, which they call their outdoors watch. Features that are particularly relevant to sailors include GPS positioning on charts; barometric pressure and a compass.
It has smartphone connectivity, receives emails and texts, and can control music via a phone. This watch also has an inbuilt thermometer and heart rate monitor.
The Garmin Instinct is available in no fewer than 20 different styles and colours. It’s 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 racing sailors it also has multiple start sequence options.
The Garmin Instinct watch is a good alternative for anyone seeking a more moderately priced alternative to the Quatix 6.
Best sailing watches for racing
Ronstan ClearStart Race Timer
With wrist, hull, mast or boom mount options, the Swiss-made Ronstan ClearStart Race Timer is aimed squarely at racing sailors.
Made by renowned rigging and hardware company Ronstan, it’s a robust design with a secure elastic strap and substantial ‘bumper’ around the digital display.
The ClearStart Race Timer’s features include extra large, easy-press silicon buttons, a highlighted start/stop button, oversized 16 mm digits set in a 65mm rotating face and a double line display simultaneously showing the race countdown and time.
In addition, the ClearStart Race Timer offers ‘5-4-1-0’ and Match Racing start sequence programmes, making it a great choice for competitive sailors. Ruggedly constructed and built to last, this sailing watch weighs in at 92 grammes and is water resistant to 50 metres.
RRP: $119.95 / £85
Optimum Time Series 14 Rechargeable sailing watch
Optimum Time’s bold coloured watches are popular among racing sailors from dinghies upwards, and the new rechargeable design makes it more sustainable for anyone who uses theirs frequently.
Featuring a 36mm diameter LCD display mounted within a bright red and black 68mm ABS case, Optimum Time’s Series 14 watch is a substantial device that is equally suited to being mounted on a mast or boom as your wrist, while the digits are large enough to allow crew to see the same timer as the skipper.
Waterproof to 5 ATM (i.e. capable of withstanding a pressure of 5 bar), the sailing watch is packed with useful features and comes complete with a bespoke USB charger clamp for convenient charging.
RRP: £85 / $111
Timex Intelligent Quartz Yacht Racer watch
This is a very striking analogue watch, designed to appeal specifically to racing sailors who don’t want a digital display. It features a racing countdown timers (from 5 mins, 3 mins or 1 minute), then after the start the chronometer automatically starts a race timer for up to one hour.
This is a larger than average design, at 46 mm (1.81” in) diameter and 14mm (0.55” in) thick.
However, this watch is complex to set up, as some functions require three buttons to be pressed in sequence. There is also no ‘reset’ button for anyone who misses their start sequence timer.
Optimum Time Series 3 sailing watch
The popular ‘big yellow’ Optimum Time Series 3 is a lower priced, yet highly functional racing watch. And it truly is big – far too large for my wrist at a gigantic 65mm (2.56” in) diameter and 16mm (0.62” in) thick. It’s also available in colours other than yellow – including white, blue and pink.
An advantage for racing is that this watch is easy to read at a distance thanks to its huge 16mm digits. A bracket is supplied to fix it to a mast. It also has a sync button if you miss the start gun, and can then run a repeat sequence or race timer for handicap competitions.
Robust, and water resistant to 5 ATM, with a wide elasticated strap.
Ronstan Clearstart RF4055 sailing watch
This sailing watch is another specialist racing design. Race mode features include multiple start sequence options, match racing timer and the ability to sync for an early or late start.
The Clearstart RF4055 is unusual in that it has a fibreglass case, which is available in striking yellow and red as well as the more subtle black. 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), though the buttons have a lower profile than some other race watches making it neater to wear on shore.
Optimum Time Series 12 sailing watch
Another race timer with countdown time and pre-programmed start and audible warnings. Despite its more smart watch-style appearance, 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.
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.
Gill Race Watch Timer
This striking red and black Race Watch Timer is a sailing-specific watch developed exclusively for watersports apparel company Gill. It’s water resistant to an impressive 30 metres, with the timepiece unit encased in a reinforced carbon ABS plastic housing with a stainless steel back.
As well as telling the time, the sailing watch’s functions include countdown with synchro, day, date and alarm. There’s a keyboard lock feature to you don’t accidentally change the settings and an electro-luminescent backlight allows the wearer to check the data day or night.
A neat sleep feature preserves and prolongs battery life in a ruggedly constructed unit designed for durability and years of trouble-free service.
RRP: $110 / £75
Limit ProXR Countdown sailing watch
Limit has been producing watches for more than 110 years and specialises in offering a wide variety of styles at great value prices.
For a budget-friendly sailing watch option the Limit ProXR Countdown comes with a large, clear and easily readable display and is backed by a two year guarantee.
It also has a dual time display and stopwatch, countdown and pacer functionality. No fewer than five alarms can be set and there’s a night time illumination facility.
Available in a choice of orange/black or blue/black, the looks of this chunky 50 mm case diameter sailing watch certainly belie its low price tag.
What makes a good sailing watch?
The ability to read the time, countdown or data in a hurry or at an angle is key, so look out for digital readouts with large numbers – some sailing watches have the ability to switch from digital to analogue readouts – and screens that can be viewed in different qualities of daylight. Backlit functions are essential for anyone heading offshore, whether racing or cruising.
A well-fitting wristband or strap with a secure clasp is vital to keep the watch on your arm. Most sailing watches have soft rubber or synthetic wristbands, which are more durable in a marine environment, and safer than steel. Rubber straps are also lighter and easier to adjust.
If you plan to use your watch for race start timing, look for programmable start sequence options, a sync button, countdowns that switch to seconds in the final stages. A loud, clear alarm or ‘beep’ function that tells you time to the gun is particularly useful, so you can keep watching your course, trim and other boats around you during the final approach to the line rather than having to glance at your wrist.
You can read more about other types of GPS enabled and waterproof fitness trackers and smart watches at YBW.com
Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Head to Amazon’s dedicated boating page for more marine products.