A sport as old as sailing, which went unaltered for decades, is currently seeing a technological renaissance thanks to innovation in the sport.
So when it comes to the best sailing watches, it’ll depend on if you are a purist (mechanical) or a modernist (digital/smart sailing watches).
In my 10-year career working in the yachting industry, I have personally used multiple Garmin marine smartwatches, but they aren’t your only option.
This article will take you through the best mechanical sailing watches and digital sailing watches on the market today.
Now, let’s get into it!
🏆 Best Sailing Watch Overall: Garmin quatix® 7 Standard Edition
Key Specs 🗝️
🗝️ Corning® Gorilla® Glass lens
🗝️ Silicone strap
🗝️ Total weight of 79g
🗝️ Battery life of up to 18 days (smartwatch mode)
If you are unfamiliar with Garmin watches, then here is your introduction to their quatix® marine series. In the world of smart marine watches, these are the holy grail regarding functionality. There is simply no equal to what Garmin produces.
The watch is made to integrate with your Garmin system on board your boat seamlessly. Everything from the chart plotter to the Fusion sound system can be controlled from your quatix® smartwatch.
In terms of design, you get five tactile buttons that each perform various functions and dull color touchscreen capability. And the AMOLED display means you can still read the watch face even in the brightest sunlight conditions.
The watch face/touchscreen is bulky at 1.3 inches, which I’m not a fan of in watches. However, it makes sense in this case because you need to view the outputs. The screen is made with a sapphire scratch-resistant lens.
While the standard edition of the quatix® 7 is a few hundred dollars cheaper, the Solar Edition can harness the power of the sun to increase the battery life up to 37 days (in smartwatch mode). So charging the quatix® 7 Solar is one less thing to remember if you are doing ocean crossings.
A nice feature of the quatix® 7 is the built-in flashlight with four brightness levels. And this doubles as a distress strobe light which is excellent for sailing use cases.
The quatix® 7 will give you alarms like anchor drag and tidal changes. These alarms are relayed from your navigation system. You can also use the quatix® 7 as a remote to manipulate your fixed Garmin boat systems.
Safety & tracking features come standard in the quatix® 7. If an incident is detected, the watch will automatically trigger a notification with your location to your preset emergency contacts. And lastly, the quatix® 7 will even tell the time!
- Alarms for anchor drag and tidal changes
- Integrates with your Garmin system on board
- Good battery life
- Difficult for some users to navigate
🏁 Best Sailing Race Watch/Regatta Timer: Optimum Time Series 3
🗝️ Large 90o rotating display
🗝️ Adjustable elasticated strap
🗝️ Hard install capability
🗝️ Countdown timer (5;3; and multiples of 1 minute)
There are two schools of thought when it comes to sailing race watches. Some purists will champion a Rolex Yachtmaster. And there are practicalists (is that a word?) that want a stopwatch on their wrist, nothing more.
The Optimum Time Series 3 is just that. It’s large enough to read without glasses and known affectionately around the sailing fraternity as the Big Yellow Watch, among other names.
The Optimum is a firm industry favorite from sailing clubs to Olympic competitors. It’s large enough to be strapped to the boom, so the entire crew knows the start timing.
The elastic strap has enough room to fit a boom, so there is plenty of space for your wrist. The plastic clasp buckle locks the strap securely in place. The watch face will rotate to face the right way if you strap it to your mast.
As for features, you have the bare essentials for regatta sailing. It tells the time (shocker). And there is a countdown start timer in the 5;4;1 sequence. World Sailing standard. Added to that standard, you can set the watch to various countdown increment combinations.
- Designed specifically for use in sailing
- Simple and intuitive interface
- Durable choice for sailors
- Lacks more advanced features
📍 Best GPS Watch For Sailing: Garmin Instinct® 2 Solar
🗝️Power Glass™ lens
🗝️Monochrome sunlight-visible display
🗝️Smartwatch mode: Up to 28 days/Unlimited with solar*
The Garmin Instinct® 2 Solar is the best GPS sailing watch on this list and is supported by the GLONASS and Galileo satellite constellations.
But before we get deep into the watch’s technical features, it’s worth pointing out some of the styling options available.
The standard and the camo are the same in every way except for the coloring. The tactical and surf editions are different colors and have additional features. All four models come in 40mm or 45mm diameters, which I like.
The Solar is ideal for boating and features plenty of bells and whistles to aid your time on the water. With a built-in compass to help you navigate as a backup system. Or make it even easier with the trackback function or point-to-point navigation from your wrist.
This digital breadcrumb trail that gets laid down in real-time is an incredibly useful tool for M.O.B. situations when you need to locate a casualty.
The Garmin Instinct® is a multi-disciplinary watch that will track a whole host of other activities you do outside of your time on the water. For the days when you are on the boat, be sure to use the safety & tracking features that come standard.
If an incident is detected, the watch will automatically trigger a notification with your location to your preset emergency contacts.
Lastly, let’s talk about the battery life, which is fantastic on this model. At the lower end (the 40mm), you can expect a minimum of 22hrs when the GPS is engaged and an amazing 21 days in smartwatch mode.
- Different face size options
- Trackback feature
- Multi-disciplinary smartwatch
- Wide range of functions = complexity
Best Entry-Level Sailing Watch: Gill Stealth Racer Watch
🗝️ 3.5oz (100grams)
🗝️ Black or orange
🗝️ Buckle/Mount: Nylon
🗝️ Battery Door: PC & 10% GFB
Gill makes some top-quality sailing apparel, and they have introduced their latest watch to the market. It’s a hit for entry-level buyers or beginner sailors needing something capable on the water and sleek enough on the street.
The Gill Stealth Racer watch is made with paddlesports, sailing, and dinghy sailing in mind and will suit anyone participating in those fields.
It’s made with carbon-reinforced ABS plastic front and a stainless steel case back. It is water resistant up to 50m and is shock/impact proof. The primary features include; four countdown modes (such as vibrate mode for a ‘silent countdown’), an audible alarm and alerts, and a backlight.
You can clearly distinguish the functions and modes on the face, and I’m a fan of the larger red button to start/stop the race countdown timer. Additionally, you have a key lock feature to prevent any bumps or knocks from muddling up the race start timer.
The sync timer is a glaring feature that is hard to find on this sailing watch. So if you miss any of the countdown guns, you’ll not be able to sync at the touch of a button.
This would be a deal breaker for serious racers. However, the Gill Stealth Timer does have the sync feature on the face.
Lastly, let’s talk about the modes. And in the Regatta mode is where you will find the SYNC options.
Although you need to press the lap and reset buttons together to match the official countdown. A dedicated button would have been better. You also have a compass mode to aid in navigation.
- The price is attractive
- Can clearly distinguish functions and modes
- No dedicated sync button
- Hard to read in sunlight
🧠 Best Sailing Smartwatch: Garmin quatix® 6 Marine Edition
🗝️ 47mm and 51mm sizes
🗝️ Corning® Gorilla® Glass DX lens
🗝️ 2.9oz (83 grams)
🗝️ Battery life of up to 14 days (smartwatch mode)
🗝️ 10ATM water-resistant rating
While there is a newer quatix® series on the market (which we spoke about earlier), the 6 is still the leading digital smartwatch for sailing.
The quatix® 6 will give you the exact location of the start line so that you can time your start to perfection every time. Additionally, you have real-time boat data to ensure that you are sailing efficiently from the start line.
The Marine Edition is jam-packed with dedicated features for boaters with unparalleled boat connectivity. It’s compatible with Garmin chart plotters and other devices and will show you data such as current barometric pressure and hourly history.
You can also fully manage the vessel with the auto-pilot control to hold your heading while not helming physically.
The quatix® 6 will enable you to stream a plethora of data on its sizeable colorful display—everything from tidal information to wind speed and much more.
And for racers, there is the option to use the Garmin SailAssist capabilities, which use real-time data to suggest adjustments to your racing strategy on the fly.
Also compatible with Bluechart G3 Coastal Charts and Lakevu G3 Inland Maps, you can set Chartplotter location points with remote waypoint marking.
There is a considerable learning curve attached to this smartwatch when it comes to using all the functions. And it’s easier to use if you have other Garmin products in their ecosystem already on board.
However, it’s worth the effort to learn how to operate the functions, which are definitely helpful and not gimmicky.
- The exact location of the start line
- Compatible with Garmin chart plotters
- Auto-pilot control
- Considerable learning curve
⚙️ Best Mechanical Sailing Watch: TNG Classic Tornado
🗝️ 42-hour power reserve
🗝️ Dedicated race countdown timer
🗝️ 4.7oz (134 grams)
🗝️ Stainless steel case 44mm Ø
TNG (Tack & Gybe) are Swiss-made mechanical watches made with discerning regatta sailors in mind. There is a considerable price jump when you move into the world of mechanical watches.
You won’t get close to the functionality of what the latest Garmin smartwatch will do. But you will get a superior build quality chronograph in every way.
Tack & Gybe have only been around since 1998, which is nothing in the lineage of Swiss watchmakers, but they have been making quality mechanical watches for sailors since inception.
The face features five dots representing one 1-minute by default and can be adjusted to a 10-minute countdown timer. It makes for a beautiful design suitable for serious racing and meeting sponsors/clients when required.
The Classic Tornado has a power reserve of 42 hours and a water rating of 10ATM
🤑 Best Luxury Sailing Watch: Rolex Yacht-Master II
🗝️ Oyster Steel case 44mm Ø
🗝️ Rolex 4161 movement with 72-hour power reserve
🗝️ Count down timer 10-minutes
🗝️ 4.7oz (262 grams)
To round out the list, I’ve gone for one of the world’s most celebrated watches (at least amongst watch connoisseurs) ever produced. It’s an all-time classic Rolex in the same breath as the Daytona.
Granted, most of us will never have a spare $18k (give or take) to buy one of these, but it’s still fun to include this magnificent timepiece as the best luxury sailing watch. Although you wouldn’t expect to see this on the wrist of the professional at the America’s Cup, you might see one on the owner of Team USA 17 (Larry Ellison, Oracle).
The Yachtmaster II features a perpetual winding movement known for precision accuracy. In addition, it boasts a 10-minute timer for any regatta race captains to monitor.
A timepiece of this nature is a once-off lifetime purchase, so it’s made to be ultra-durable thanks to its oyster steel construction.
The RYM2 has a power reserve of 72 hours, a 10 ATM water rating, and scratch-proof sapphire crystal glass covering the dial.
Prices begin at around $18,000 and can rapidly increase. Use the button below to try different configurations and see how high you can inflate that price bracket.
🎖️ Our recommendation process
Between the editorial team at Sailing Savvy, we have nearly 20 years’ worth of experience within the yachting industry. We have used gadgets and watches while on the water.
The recommendations we share are 100% impartial and bias-free. We only offer genuine advice on what we have come to know as the best and most reliable sailing watches. And we also strongly advocate that Garmin makes the best watches for sailing and boating.
🧾 Sailors Buyer’s Guide To Sailing Watches
When shopping for a sailing watch or regatta timer, you should take into consideration a few vital elements:
It’s important to choose a watch or timer that is water-resistant. So look for a sailing watch or timer with a high water resistance rating, such as 100 meters or more. This will help ensure that the watch or timer remains functional.
Sailing and boating, in general, can be rough on your gear and apparel, so it’s important to choose a watch or timer that can withstand the rigors of being on the water. Look for a watch or timer with robust construction and good reviews on its durability.
Do you need a watch with a built-in chart plotter or a timer with multiple start/stop functions? Make sure to choose a watch or timer with the features you need, not those you don’t.
The market is saturated with overly gimmicky products claiming to make your sailing experience as smooth and efficient as possible.
What Watch Do Sailors Use?
Sailors can use various watches depending on their specific needs and preferences. Some sailors may prefer a mechanical sailing watch, a type specifically designed for use in sailing regattas.
Other sailors may prefer a more general-purpose watch, such as a sports watch or dive watch, which can also be suitable for use on the water. Digital watches have other features, such as a built-in GPS, weather information, and even chart plotters, which can be helpful for sailors navigating.
Ultimately, the best watch for a sailor will depend on their individual needs and preferences and may vary based on the type of sailing they do and the specific features they require.
Is The Apple Watch Good For Sailing?
The Apple Watch can be a good option for sailors who are looking for a smartwatch with a range of useful features. It has a built-in GPS and compass, which can be helpful for navigation and tracking your location on the water. The Apple Watch also has a water resistance rating of up to 50 meters, making it suitable for use in wet conditions.
What Do Nautical Watches Do?
Nautical watches, also known as sailing watches, are specialized watches designed for water use. They typically have features such as a built-in GPS, tide information, and other marine information fed in to help sailors navigate.
They may also have water resistance, countdown timers, and anchor alarms. Nautical watches provide sailors with the information and tools they need to navigate safely and stay on course while sailing.
🗣️ Final Words On Sailing Watches
Ultimately your buying choice will depend on what functionality you need. If you are regularly racing in regattas, then you can’t go wrong with the Optimum Time Series 3, a classic racing timekeeper.
But if you are more of a general cruiser and you already have Garmin systems, such as Fusion speakers, then the Garmin quatix® 7 Standard Edition is what I would recommend.