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Editors’ choice: gear

Looking for gear that has stood the test of time?

Soundings editors and writers let you know what has worked for them

Looking for gear that has stood the test of time?

Soundings editors and writers let you know what has worked for them

Pelican cases

If you spend any time on the water, Pelican cases are almost a requirement. They are watertight, airtight, corrosion-proof, rugged, and available in almost any size and configuration — from cell phone carriers to airline baggage. I use the 1400 series case ($99.50) on board for ship’s papers and personal effects — wallet, keys, cell phone, eyeglasses — as well as a manual air horn, a few flares, glow sticks, water packets, a hand-held VHF radio, and hand bearing compass. I know whatever is in the box will remain dry and secure. The case remains at the helm station, goes into the inflatable with me, and travels on other boats when I do.


I keep a 1500 series case ($124) with such items as spare fuel filters, spark plugs and tools aboard my center console. The case remains on board all season, and the items remain off-the-shelf fresh. Pelican Products, (310) 326-4700.

— Frank Kehr

“101 Answers to Your Toughest Boating Questions”

If you’re looking for concise, solid advice on a variety of boating topics, then “101 Answers to Your Toughest Boating Questions” is the right book for you.

The 72-page digest contains 12 chapters covering everything from seamanship, boat handling and electronics to safety, emergencies, fuel systems, navigation, general maintenance and more.


The short Q&A format makes it easy and fast to find the answers you’re looking for. The book was written and edited by more than a dozen experts who collectively have hundreds of years of experience on the water. The digest size makes it easy to carry and stow aboard your boat. And the spiral binding enables you to open it easily and lay the pages flat. The digest was produced by Soundings as part of its new Master’s Series.

“101 Answers” costs $7.95 (plus shipping and handling), and can be ordered by calling (860) 767-3200, Ext. 266, or online at .

— William Sisson

Nantucket Sounder lead line

In this age of electronic devices, the Nantucket Sounder lead line makes an unusual gift. It is used to establish water depth and bottom composition in traditional style — that is, without the use of electronics or moving parts.

The Nantucket Sounder’s 3-pound weight is a 7-inch solid bronze hexagonal casting, with an eye for line in the top and a cavity in the base. The eye accepts the supplied 60-foot line, marked in fathoms, and the cavity in the base allows you to bring up a sample of the bottom, which can help when selecting the proper anchor for an area.


I have used the Nantucket Sounder from a RIB when exploring new anchorages, off the bow on my trawler to confirm actual depth for anchoring, and when crossing shallows — without being concerned with calibration errors. It also makes a great conversation piece when left out on the nav table.

Landfall Navigation — (800) 941-2219, — lists the Nantucket Sounder, with Sunbrella pouch and instructions, for $69.95.

— Frank Kehr


For years one of my fishing partners and I used to exchange a copy of Eldridge’s for a holiday gift. My friend doesn’t fish as much as he used to, but I still make


sure I give myself a copy of this venerable tide and pilot book with its distinctive mustard-colored cover, complete with the hole in the upper left-hand corner.
Published in Boston by Robert Eldridge White Jr. and Linda Foster White, Eldridge’s contains tides and currents for the East Coast, from Nova Scotia to Key West. I use it primarily for the current tables. In addition, it contains articles on navigation, first aid, weather, hurricanes, tides and current, tips for using the charts and more. You’ll find everything from the Beaufort Scale to the time of the moonrise and moonset.

I’ve enjoyed thumbing through Eldridge’s waiting out a bit of weather or during a winter’s evening, when I’m home dreaming of the season to come. The “2006 Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book” (132nd edition) costs $12.95 and will be available starting in November at most marine stores. You also can order directly at (800) 992-3045, (617) 482-8460 in eastern Massachusetts.

— William Sisson

Davis sextant

I have been fascinated by celestial navigation since I first used my granddad’s sextant as a boy. No more than an instrument for measuring angles, it is the fundamental tool for determining position using the sun and stars. If you can add and subtract with a calculator, then learning the basics of using a sextant is fairly straightforward.

The plastic Davis sextant might look like a toy, but it is more than adequate to learn celestial navigation. I bought one after my $1,000 sextant was stolen. The absence of a magnifying telescope means that the Davis sextant has limited nighttime use. However, it does have sun shades, and I was able to get a noon position to within a couple of miles on the open ocean when compared against my GPS.


The Davis sextant includes an instruction manual on taking a sight. It sells for $45.

Davis Instruments, (510) 732-9229.

— Mark Corke

SealLine Zip Duffle 75

Dry bags are a good, inexpensive solution for small open boats with limited storage. For the last two seasons I’ve been using a SealLine Zip Duffle 75 bag from Cascade Designs aboard my classic 1968 Boston Whaler Nauset, with very good results. The waterproof vinyl bag lives on the starboard deck next to the transom, where it catches a fair amount of spray when I’m running into a head sea with the wind blowing. The bag has been tough, durable and dry.


 On any so-called dry bag, I’d expect the zipper to be a potential weak spot. I’ve had no trouble with this one either leaking or fetching up. The company says the zipper is the same type used on drysuits, and it’s covered with a vinyl flap.

A big plus for this bag over the traditional dry bags I’ve owned is the access. The Zip Duffle opens diagonally along its side, making it easy to stow and retrieve items without having to pull everything out, as you sometimes do with a bag that opens from the top.

The duffle measures 10 by 17 by 29 inches and holds a ton of gear, including my GPS/plotter, spotlight, binoculars, two flashlights, hand-held VHF radio, hand-held GPS, paper chart, knife, roll of shop towels, and a pouch that contains everything from the outboard manual to the boat’s registration.

Suggested retail price is $119.95.

— William Sisson


In some ways Maglites seem to be the antithesis of what you would want in an on-board flashlight, for these babies are heavy and will definitely sink. However, they don’t corrode, and the powerful, focusable beam is handy for spotting navigational marks and lobster pots as you make your way into an unfamiliar anchorage.

Mag offers six models, from the key chain-size Solitaire, powered by a single AAA cell, to a rechargeable light. I’m sure I’m not the only sailor who has clenched the Solitaire between the teeth to peer at a chart. The largest Maglite I own is the six-D-cell model.


Maglites are made of machined aluminum and sealed with rubber O-rings for moisture protection. Parts and service are available from the manufacturer, and with care these lights should last a lifetime. Just don’t drop them over the side; the lifetime warranty doesn’t cover that. Prices range from around $8 to $90 for a rechargeable model.

Mag Instrument, (909) 947-1006.

— Mark Corke

Leatherman multitools

I was on the water with a friend this fall when he started swearing. The pliers on his so-called multitool had frozen while he was trying to work the hook out of a fish. And it wasn’t the first complaint I’d heard him lodge against the charlatan.

“Do yourself a favor,” I said, “and get rid of that piece of junk.”

“But it was a gift,” he answered.


“It’s still junk,” I said.
It was dark, but the next thing I heard was the distinctive “plop” of a cheap, poorly engineered piece of metal headed for the bottom. We both laughed.
There are too many good multitools on the market to settle for one of the second-tier offerings. It’s the same old story: You get what you pay for. I’ve been a satisfied customer of Leatherman multitools for years. I’ve owned a Super Tool (lost it over the side), and now have both the Wave model and a later one, the Charge Ti.

What I’m looking for in this type of tool are locking blades, sharp knives (serrated and a straight blade), a good pair of scissors, pliers with wire cutters, Phillips head and straight screwdrivers, and a comfortable handle. And they have to be strong and durable. The Charge Ti incorporates several changes over previous models, including removable tool bits.

One piece of advice: Don’t buy a multitool without handling it first. Make sure you’re comfortable with the way the exterior and interior blades open, with the locking mechanisms, with the “feel” of the tool. Suggested retail price for the Charge Ti is $124, but you should be able to find one for about $90.

— William Sisson

Sea Spanner

I have lost count of the tools I’ve brought aboard my boat only to have them dissolve into a mountain of rusting metal in a matter of months. So when I was given a Sea Spanner adjustable wrench 10 years ago I wasn’t at all hopeful it would fare any better. But it has.

After a decade of duty my Sea Spanner still looks as good as new, as you can see from the photograph. Made of high-tensile stainless steel, the manufacturer says it won’t rust, break or seize. The 7-inch-long handle also incorporates a shackle key, fuel cap opener and bottle opener. All parts are perfectly made, and the jaws stay where you adjust them. There’s also an adjustable wrist lanyard to keep it from going in the drink.


Sea Spanner sells for $88 and is available through most good chandleries.

— Mark Corke

Throw rope bag

Throw rope bags are deceptively simple, and allow you to throw a line 50 to 70 feet accurately and quickly. I first came across them while attending a diver rescue course 20 years ago.


I have used throw rope bags to assist in small-boat retrieval, sending dock lines ashore (it isn’t necessary to deploy the entire line), retrieving swimmers from my boat, and as a messenger line to another boat. Once you work with a throw rope bag, I’m sure you’ll find a number of uses for them, as well.

I keep three aboard my 36-foot trawler: one on the foredeck, one aft, and one on the bridge. My RIB tender also gets its own bag. In fact, I have tossed the bag from my tender, over the rail on the trawler, and pulled the RIB back to the swim platform when the outboard failed.

Throw rope bags start at around $50 from most retailers selling safety gear.

— Frank Kehr

“Reed’s Nautical Almanac”

As part of the essential inventory aboard any boat, power or sail, “Reed’s Nautical Almanac” is a must-have. It contains a wealth of information from tidal chartlets, moon phases and sight tables to harbor plans and GPS waypoints.

It is available in three versions: East Coast, West Coast and the Caribbean. These books are thick; the East Coast volume, for example, covers thousands of miles of coastline from the Bay of Fundy to the Gulf Coast of Texas. I have used them for the past 25 years, and have yet to find a better general purpose publication to keep next to my chart table. Tidal predictions for every major port are included, as well as corrections for secondary harbors.


The almanac is updated every year, and I like to keep the previous year’s copy at home as a handy reference guide for passage planning. Price is $31.

Reed’s Nautical Almanac, (800) 995-4995.

— Mark Corke

LED flashlight 

I spend many hours on the water each season fishing at night. For years I carried Mini Maglites aboard my boats. For the last two seasons, however, I’ve been using one of the first generation LED Attitude lights from Princeton Tec, and have been pleased with its performance.


For one thing, I haven’t had to change the LEDs. I would have gone through several of those Mini Maglite bulbs in the same amount of time, and they always seemed to fail at the worst moment. Another plus is the fact that the LEDs are stingy on the four AAA alkaline batteries (150-plus hours of burn time). And I like the amount of light the three LEDs throw for unhooking a fish or tying a knot.

The Attitude is waterproof to 100 meters, lightweight (2.5 ounces with batteries) and the body is plastic, which makes it easy to hold between my teeth, allowing me to work with both hands. The light has been durable enough, surviving several drops on the deck.

The Mini Maglite is a good light, and I still carry one. But my primary small light for close, bright work will continue to be the Attitude. Princeton Tec now makes a second-generation Attitude that it says differs from mine only in the shape of the plastic body. Suggested retail price is $19.95. Princeton Tec lights are available at most outdoor stores and dive shops.

— William Sisson


If you want a good, permanent place to record waypoints, routes, emergency numbers and the like, consider the WetNotes waterproof notebook from Ritchie. I’ve used one for years, and it travels with me from boat to boat.

I’ve got old Loran numbers written in mine, along with current GPS waypoints, routes and tracks. When I purchased a new plotter a couple seasons ago, I wrote down several command functions that I use occasionally, but not often enough to memorize. I find that it’s a lot easier to locate them in my notebook than wading through the product manual.
The notebook holds up well in a soggy environment.


The paper is waterproof — Ritchie says it’s for use under water — and durable. I write on mine with a regular soft lead pencil. I use the 4-1/2-by-7-1/4-inch notebook, but the company also markets a 3-by-5-inch pocket version. The vinyl cover is bright yellow, and the notebook opens flat for easy use.

WetNotes are available from most marine outfitters for about $12.99.

— William Sisson

Gerber Mulititool

I’ve tried many multitools, and the one on my hip as I write this is the Gerber Pro Scout. I probably pull it out an average of a dozen times a day. There are different models and various blade/tool configurations. The Pro Scout has a serrated knife, one Phillips head and two straight screwdrivers, a file, can opener, crimper and Fiskars scissors. The pliers taper into a needle nose and include a wire cutter.


You can flip them out with a flick of the wrist, and there’s a stop to keep the handles from pinching you. The automatic lock that holds the other tools in place is easily disengaged when you’re through using them. You may be happier with other configurations, but I think you will be satisfied with any from the Pro Scout family. Expect to pay around $55 to $99. Gerber Legendary Blades, Portland, Ore., (503) 639-6161. — Tom Neale


In my opinion, owning a copy of Chapman’s should be a prerequisite to owning a boat. I’ve owned dozens of boats over the past 50 years and traveled many thousands of miles on them. I keep Chapman’s on my desk on board, and check something in it at least once a week.

This bible of seamanship covers many experience levels, from very basic subjects such as “What is a boat?” to much more advanced and complex material, like Rules of the Road, piloting and detailed discussions of spring lines, waves and docking techniques. Many feel it covers more subjects on seamanship and boat handling than any other single reference. Regardless of your experience level, it will be immensely helpful time after time again.


Now in its 64th edition, the book’s formal title is “Chapman Piloting and Seamanship.” Its author, Elbert S. Maloney, is a widely recognized expert in the field. (It began under Charles F. Chapman many years ago.) It is widely available and retails for $49.95, though lower prices can be found online.

— Tom Neale

ACR Firefly3 Waterbug 

If you really want to tell a friend that you care, give him or her a personal strobe light. On our Gulfstar 53 motorsailer, Chez Nous, we use the ACR Firefly3 Waterbug. It’s SOLAS approved and uses AA batteries. (Only lithium AAs meet SOLAS requirements, but it will operate with alkaline, though not as long.)


After you arm its switch, it will turn on when you go into the water. We keep these attached to our life jackets. The cost is around $125. I cannot write about this subject without also mentioning personal locator beacons. When properly used and functioning, they vastly improve your chances of being found and rescued quickly — whether you’re at sea or on inland lakes, rivers and creeks. You can even register your trip details online at www.beaconregistration. each time you go out.

ACR’s AquaFix 406 GPS I with GPS interface capability sells for around $549, and its AquaFix 406 GPS I/O with internal GPS and interface capability sells for around $649.

ACR Electronics, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., (954) 981-3333.

— Tom Neale

Raytek ST20

Coming up on Hell’s Gate in New York’s East River, I smelled trouble in the engine room. The alternator was overheating. If it got bad enough it would seize, and I’d have to shut down my diesel because the belt turning the freshwater recirculating pump also was connected to the alternator.

I pointed a Raytek ST20 infrared heat-sensing gun at the alternator and monitored it for a few minutes. I determined that its temperature wasn’t rapidly increasing, and made the decision to continue on until I got to a safe anchorage at the other end of the Gate.
This tool sells for around $127, has paid for itself many times over, and added safety. It’s an older model without the laser aim feature, which I’d prefer because it allows much more precision. There are also smaller models, such as the MiniTemp for around $79. You can check them out and find a list of dealers at — Tom Neale 


Xantrex Micro 175 Inverter

With the Xantrex Micro 175 Inverter, I can have the convenience of AC power in my 20-foot Mako or even my tender. I can also use it in the car. It weighs 0.38 pounds and plugs into a cigarette lighter receptacle. The inverter’s output capacity is 140 watts continuous, and 175 watts for 5 minutes. (Battery drain is light and varies with load, but always monitor battery status.) It sells for around $40.


I also use the Xantrex Xpower Pocket Inverter 100. It fits in a shirt pocket and has a USB port for direct connection to an iPod, Blackberry, Palm and other devices. It’ll plug into a 12-volt cigarette lighter receptacle, as well as various airplane courtesy plugs. Prices are $49.99 and $69.99 for the 100- and 175-watt models, respectively. You also can buy this with a little battery pack to give you AC when you’ve got no DC available. Xantrex Technology, (888) 800-1010. — Tom Neale


For a useful gift for a dirty friend, get a bottle of GoJo hand cleaner. It’s even sweet-smelling, though not like the Chanel or Polo you might give your significant other. It smells like oranges, and if you don’t think you want to smell like citrus, try smelling yourself the next time you’ve worked on a diesel.

GoJo cleans the worst grease and grime quickly. For your really dirty friends, get it with pumice. Some containers even come with a fingernail brush. (If you don’t want to splurge on the brush, I’ve found that black oily engine grime under my nails comes out when I wash my hair enough times, but I digress.) I get the 14-ounce bottle, which sells for around $4 with the nail brush. It fits well at the sink in my motorsailer’s head. And there are larger sizes for bigger, dirtier friends. Get them at Wal-Mart, auto parts stores, most anywhere … except the Bath Boutique. — Tom Neale


They call it a 200-pound magnet, but I call it my “asset recovery tool.” Usually when I drop my dinghy outboard over the side, the dinghy is waiting underneath. This is good news and bad news. The good news is that I can jump in and retrieve the motor before it goes under. The bad news is that the dinghy usually does just that because of the newly acquired hole in its bottom.


But on those rare occasions that I miss the dinghy when I drop the outboard, I’ve found this magnet to be far superior in retrieving the engine from the drink than the more traditional method of using a damaging grappling hook, or diving in with the end of a rope that you hope to attach to the outboard, assuming you can find it in the muck. It’s also handy for retrieving metal objects from the bilge.

The 200-pound magnet is sold by West Marine for $29.99.

— Tom Neale