Timepieces have played an essential role in sailing since the Longitude Act of 1714. John Harrison developed a clock that was accurate to within three seconds a day, which finally made it possible for ships to make precise observations of their position at sea.

These days, GPS does that job, and smartwatches are now able to receive satellite signals to plot your exact position on a digital chart. In effect, we’ve gone full circle, with clocks now the servants of more modern technology. But accurate timekeeping is still important for sailors.

Tides wait for no one, so sailors need the time to figure out the state of tide and calculate how deep they need to anchor to stay safe, or whether they can squeeze over the harbour sill. Racing sailors will also want an accurate clock to time their starts well and analyse performance afterwards.

At its most basic, a sailing watch is simply a beautiful timepiece that stands up to the salt spray and occasional dousing of a day on the water. After that, you can find all manner of additional functions, from diving to plotting a chart, listening to music and even contactless payments.

Here is our pick of the 12 best sailing watches.


Garmin Quatix 7, from £499.99

There is no more capable smartwatch out there, and this one is designed specifically for sailors and water sports enthusiasts.

Its 1.3-inch touchscreen gives you access to an extraordinary range of functions, besides the obvious time and date. It will display maps and charts from across the world and allows you to create waypoints and routes. It also acts as a GPS logbook, recording your track and speed for consultation later. Of course, there’s a full race-timer suite, giving countdowns and course times.

The watch really comes into its own when you have Garmin instruments aboard. Correctly set-up, it will stream instrument data such as course, speed or wind, and can display Garmin’s SailSteer function, showing laylines and wind trends. You can adjust your autopilot heading via the watch or select a new course altogether.

Fitness and sleep monitoring is built in, and there is a specific mode for most sports, from running to kayaking. Finally, it will connect to your phone, displaying messages, emails and calls, as well as controlling music playback. You can use contactless Garmin Pay, raise the alarm and download a host of apps to broaden functionality or change the look and feel of the display.

The standard model measures 47mm and comes with a silicon strap. Trade up to a premium Amoled display or a range-extending solar-powered titanium variant.


Casio W-S210H-1AVEG, £39.20

Synonymous with angular digital watches from the last century, Casio’s functionality has taken a step up, even if its looks haven’t changed much. For sailors, the tide graph variant is the best, with a handy curve obtained after you plug in your local data.

It might not quite match the Admiralty predictions, but it gives a handy overview. There’s also a moon-phase indicator, giving you a sense of neaps or springs, and the whole thing is recharged with invisible solar cells.

There’s a countdown and timer function, alarms and a snooze feature, as well as the esoteric ability to display times in 29 different time zones. Made of resin with an acrylic lens, you’ll need to be careful not to scratch it, but at least it’s cheap and waterproof to 100m.


Omega Speedmaster X-33 Regatta, £5,500

Straying into the realms of luxury here, this limited-edition model of the Omega Speedmaster was developed out of the watches worn by the Kiwi team in the 35th America’s Cup.

It has a robust 45mm titanium case with a scratch-resistant crystal sapphire which should stand up to any knocks aboard. The quartz movement is Swiss-made and temperature compensating – again, useful in the marine environment. Water resistance is a middle-of-the-road 30m, but the strap is a comfortable mix of quick-dry canvas and rubber.

As well as showing the day, month and year, another digital display can be used to display a different time zone (UTC, for example – handy when calculating tides). There is also a countdown feature, which allows you to synchronise the watch with the five-minute warning. It automatically switches over to race timer when it reaches zero. A logbook function allows you to record two races with up to 10 buoy markers each.


Elliot Brown Beachmaster, from £695

Named in honour of the Royal Marines, where the Beachmaster is the officer charged with disembarkation during an amphibious assault, this is a watch that is designed to stand up to life on and in the water. It is waterproof to an astonishing 300m depth—more than enough to deal with a torrent of green water breaking over you.

Besides telling the time, which it does very nicely thanks to a Swiss quartz movement and tonal luminous graphics, it has one particular feature. This is the H-Hour feature, which you can set to count down to mission start up to 12 hours away. A separately-set GMT hand will then count back up to a previously set time—the end of the race, perhaps, or closing time at Salty’s.

There’s a scratch-resistant domed sapphire crystal and a rubber divers strap that will suit most sailors well. Straps are simple to swap.


Spinnaker Ocean Blue, £425

If all you really need is something to tell the time on board, then look no further than this grown-up watch from Spinnaker, with its reliable Japanese movement. Stainless steel case, anti-glare sapphire lens and a turning bezel make it a robust performer. That and a 150m water-resistance rating. A nice touch sees 12 per cent of the net sales value going to the Dolphin Project, which aims to safeguard dolphins throughout the world’s oceans.


Pininfarina Senso, £399

Design doesn’t come much more famous than Pininfarina, the Italian studio that has signed everything from Ferraris to bikes. Its beautiful Senso is a hybrid between classic timepiece and smartwatch, combining a quartz movement and a small digital display. 316L stainless steel for the case and a sapphire crystal glass make it a capable performer. State of the art sensors make it possible to keep track of your heart rate, ECG, sleep and movements via a small digital Oled screen and a smartphone app. Decent battery life of up to a month is reported. It comes with a fine Italian leather strap, which you might want to swap for a waterproof rubber number for £50 extra.


Suunto Race All Black, from £389

This is something an allrounders smartwatch, with the focus on sports and fitness. There are dozens of different sport modes to choose from, and you can set up your own, but all the sailing basics are here: timers and countdowns, GPS and mapping, and water resistance to 100m.

It has a big, clear colour Amoled touchscreen, with a sensible lock function when you’re in a wet environment. The 49mm diameter is on the large side, but it is made from optimal stainless steel with a robust sapphire crystal. And battery life is excellent—on a par with the Garmin at nearly one month. The watch can run a select number of partner apps from the likes of Strava, Komoot and Rise Sailing. It will also control your music via a smartphone.


Optimum Time OS Series 3, £79.95

Specifically designed for sailing and water sports, the Optimum Time has a big display and big buttons for ease of use with cold fingers. Racers will love it, because it is all about the countdown and race timer. Choose between the 5, 4, 1, 0 ISAF signal sequence or 5-, 3- or 1-minute countdowns—whatever your event uses. And if you miss a signal or mistime your countdown, the ‘sync’ button allows you to correct. For handicap races, you can also count up rather than down. The watch has a tough 65mm shock-resistant ABS case with a digital display, and can be wrist, deck, bulkhead or mast mounted to suit. It is water resistant to 50m.


Ronstan ClearStart, £95.26

Another race-oriented sailing watch, Ronstan’s ClearStart comes with a big 50mm bezel, or in a 40mm option for smaller wrists. Again, there is the choice of countdown sequence, with the official ISAF routine programmed first, and a ‘sync’ function if you need to correct it. Digits are a little smaller than the Optimum Time above, but still big at 13mm. This watch features electro-luminescent backlighting, which is handy for nightwatches or offshore racing. It is built sturdily in stainless steel and reinforced resin with a sapphire-coated mineral crystal lens. Available in red, black or blue, and in a large mast-mounting 65mm variant.


Tag Heuer Aquaracer Pro 300GMT, from £3,200

Not so very technical, this one, but a divine watch all the same. The Aquaracer is built to be extremely rugged, with a stainless-steel case, ceramic blue-and-white bezel and water resistance to 300m. A dedicated GMT hand makes one revolution a day, and allows you to set a second time zone on the watch. Classic elegance for your wrist!


Gill Stealth Racer, £110

Gill’s watch is aimed at racers and offshore cruising sailors both, with countdown and timer modes, as well as a built-in compass and alarm. It is built from carbon-reinforced ABS plastic, with a stainless-steel back, which gives it water resistance to 50m and great shock-proofing. It features a handy backlight, and you can also lock the keys to prevent accidental reset. Audible alerts and alarms can be switched on or off, and the digital compass mode gives you useful heading information. We particularly liked the big red start/stop timer button. Comes in a low-profile black or a jazzy orange.


Rolex Yachtmaster II, from £16,000

Rolex is synonymous with the world of big boat racing and high spending. Its Yachtmaster II watch was released in 2007 and is still the pinnacle of maxi-racing elegance. No digital displays here—the countdown function is purely mechanical and can be set from 1 to 10 minutes. You can manually sync it when you hear the warning signal from the committee boat. The rotatable bezel allows you read off race times and there is photoluminescent marking for night passages. Rolex lets you configure your watch, choosing between robust stainless steel or gold for the strap and body. The lens is naturally sapphire crystal, and the watch is water resistant down to 100m.


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