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Soundings’ Annual Gift Guide

27 must-have items for the holidays

Not just any piece of gear will pass muster with this group of been-there, broke-that boating veterans. Every item in this year’s gift guide had to prove itself out on the water — and in one case survive a good game of floor hockey. Here are 27 items that managed to impress our editors enough to become this year’s must-haves.

Read the other story in this package: StockingStuffers 


EGO iPod Waterproof Sound Case

If you have kids with an iPod — or use one yourself — you might want to consider the EGO iPod waterproof sound case. The clear, shatterproof polycarbonate body incorporates waterproof controls for iPod functions using a sealed click wheel membrane, allowing the portable player to be used on board, at the beach, even in the shower, without worrying about water damage. A 3-watt amplifier drives the waterproof speakers, providing good sound quality for the MP3 player.

The case operates on 4 AA batteries, which the manufacturer says should provide more than 30 hours of play time at medium to high volume. It measures about 10 by 6.5 by 2 inches, including the shock-absorbing rubber bumper guards at each corner. The iPod quickly mounts in its own shock-absorbing compartment within the EGO case, which is certainly a well-thought-out and manufactured accessory. The EGO iPod case retails for $149.99 and is available from the manufacturer.

— Frank Kehr


Polarized Performance Readers

The most practical item I tested this year also was the simplest: polarized sunglasses with built-in readers. Life on the water quickly became a lot less frustrating when I didn’t have to stack my nose with both reading glasses and sunglasses every time I wanted to view something up close. The ability to tie fishing knots, view my plotter, study a paper chart, scroll through my cell phone, or unhook a fish without having to switch glasses was a simple, welcome pleasure.

Polarized Performance Reader sunglasses from Ono’s Trading Company also provide both 100 percent UVA/UVB protection. The bifocal sunglasses come in nine frame styles and three lens colors: amber, grey or blue mirror. The reader strength ranges from 1.50 to 2.50.

Prices run from around $60 to $170, including a hard case, retainer and cleaning cloth. The sunglasses are available directly from Ono’s (and various other Web sites), at retail stores and in catalogs. The company also is producing a line of polarized reader glasses for L.L. Bean. For more information, visit .

— William Sisson


Steiner Commander XP binoculars

This gift could greatly contribute to the safety of a loved one, not to mention give years of enjoyment. The new Steiner Commander XP 7x50 binoculars use high-definition optics that the company says “yield the highest light transmission, optic resolution and color fidelity available in any hand-held marine binocular used in night or daylight operations.” I haven’t tested all the binoculars out there, but I use the Commander XP regularly and have compared it to several others. I’m impressed. For example, I notice greatly improved night vision even if there is only a small amount of ambient light. They also have a “Sports-Auto-Focus” system. Once properly focused for the user’s eyes, objects remain in focus from distances of about 20 yards to infinity. This is immensely helpful at sea.

Outer lens surfaces are coated with a “nano-protection” that repels water and moisture. In the past when I’ve gotten salt spray on my binocular lenses I’ve had to take them below, flush them and then carefully dry them with a soft cloth to avoid scratches. This took precious time away from lookout duty. With the Commander XP, I can just flush the lenses, shake them dry, and start using them again. My pair includes the optional internal, illuminated waterproof bearing compass, which we’ve found greatly increases our ability to correlate between targets and the boat’s heading.

Steiner says the binoculars are submersible to 33 feet of pressure depth, are purged and pressurized with nitrogen to 6 to 7 psi, and exceed military shock- and waterproof standards. They come with three pairs of eyecups to accommodate prescription glasses or other user preferences, such as sidelight protection. A special tool makes them easy to change. The strap can be quickly connected and disconnected and there is a yellow flotation strap available. Suggested retail price is $1,049 with compass and $849 without, but shop around.

— Tom Neale


Gill Regatta Master

It had been at least two years since I’d worn a watch when, earlier this summer, I strapped a Gill Regatta Master to my wrist. My first reaction: That’s a big watch. My second impression: It’s a featherweight. After that, I mostly forgot it was on my wrist until I wanted to check the time or date.

I’ve always been hard on watches. My previous ones typically have lasted a couple of years and then have either fogged-up or failed in some other way. And I’m not taking it easy on this one, either. I put it on several months ago and haven’t taken it off yet. It’s still ticking.

I like the watch. It’s light, waterproof (to 100 feet), tough (so far), and the numerals are large and easy to read. The Regatta Master also has some nifty features: a digital magnetic compass, a countdown feature for race starts, a count-up timer, a lap timer, alarm, calendar and more. Push the “light” button, and the electroluminescent backlight makes it very easy to read once the sun has gone down.

To me, the rubber strap is more comfortable than leather or metal. And the battery is easy to change, which I can’t say about my last watch. Suggested retail price is $140. It comes with a two-year warranty. For more information, visit .

— William Sisson


Piranha Offshore Pliers

If you like to fish and you want to treat yourself to a nice, quality tool, consider a pair of Piranha Offshore Pliers from Accurate Fishing Products. Santa brought me a pair last year, and they’ve been at my side whenever the rods have been on the boat. This light, strong pliers/ cutters combo is made from aircraft-grade aluminum and comes in three sizes: 6, 7 and 8 inches. I recommend the largest, which still weighs in at a svelte 5.6 ounces. The cutters on the 8-inch model will handle monofilament, all single and multistrand wire, and the range of braided lines.

I wore the pliers this season in a Cordura sheath attached to my belt by a self-coiling lanyard. When I needed to unhook a fish or nip a piece of braid, they were waiting right where they should be, on my hip, within easy reach of my right hand.

Both the stainless steel jaws and cutters are replaceable. The 8-inch Offshore Pliers cost about $150. The sheath and lanyard are optional. For more information visit .

— William Sisson


Lewmar OneTouch winch handle

This gift looks good, feels good in your hand, and makes it easier to lock in a winch handle while you’re holding on for dear life as your boat is tossed around. Instead of the typical locking mechanism at the end, this 10-inch handle has a raised bar — the OneTouch button — that runs its length. Squeezing it allows the handle’s locking pins to engage or disengage in the winch, which gives you one-handed operation — not merely a convenience but a safety issue when you need one hand for yourself.

I chose the Double Grip so I can crank with both hands when it’s safe to do so. There’s also a Single Grip version and a Power Grip model with a knob on the top for rapid cranking. The handles are made of corrosion-resistant lightweight alloy, and ball bearings decrease resistance as you turn. The Single Grip retails for around $83, the Power Grip for $86 and the Double Grip for $116. They are available at West Marine and other marine retailers.

— Tom Neale


SeaLife Ecoshot

For the price, the SeaLife Ecoshot is one tough little waterproof digital camera. I carried one on my boat all summer and fall, and snapped image after image under conditions that would make most digital cameras quickly cry “uncle” and then give up the ghost. I took thousands of photos — in the water, under the water, around the water — and never had to baby the camera. We were impressed by the quality of the images, too.

In short, I found this 6-megapixel camera ideal for the tough, wet, salty world we play in. Pick it up with wet hands and shoot your buddy fighting a fish. Push off the swim ladder in 6 feet of water and click the shutter as your kids cannonball off the bow. Grab a mask and snorkel, and fire away beneath the surface. Dunk it, thump it or toss it in your boat bag. The camera will take it.

The SeaLife Ecoshot is small enough to fit in a pocket, weighs 10.4 ounces, and is rubber-armored. It is waterproof to 75 feet and shock-proof to 6 feet. The camera allows you to set a mode for taking underwater images, or choose from six modes for land-based shots. It also has a self-timer and a video mode. The Ecoshot comes with 14 MB of built-in memory, and an SD card slot lets you to expand memory to 1 GB. Suggested list price is $279.95. For more information, visit .

— William Sisson


Crazy Creek chair

I have no comfortable, built-in seat/backrest in the cockpit of my Sailmaster 22, so I make do with two portable seats. A cushy-foam folding chair is the seat of choice when covering long, straight distances solo under power, but it isn’t suitable for moving from one side to the other while under sail because it is large and clunky. The best chair by far is Crazy Creek’s SOT (Sit-on-Top) Kayak Chair III.

It has an adjustable back and can be rigged in a firm, upright seated position. This is important when tossing the 34-ounce chair from side to side while changing positions, because the seat remains upright, ready to accept you back into its folds and without flopping closed. The back is ergonomically contoured for a snug, secure fit, and the tighter the straps are adjusted the snugger it gets.

The seat measures 16 by 14 inches and is made of 1.5-inch closed-cell foam. (It also floats.) The back is 18 inches high and includes a zipper pocket to hold drinking water. It is made of 600D coated polyester. The SOT Kayak Chair III retails for $72 and is available directly from the manufacturer.

Crazy Creek Products, Red Lodge, Mont., (800) 331-0304.

— Jack Sherwood


G’zOne cell phone

On a couple of afternoons this fall, we played a version of floor hockey with the G’zOne Type-S cell phone from Verizon Wireless. That’s right. We kicked it into metal file cabinets and set it spinning down the aisles, turning a few heads in the process.

Why not? The Type-S phone is made by Casio to military specs, which means in part that it had to pass a drop test — 26 drops from 4.9 feet on 2-inch-thick plywood, positioned over a steel plate, laid over concrete. Try that with your current cell phone. And it had to pass a water resistance test designed to simulate rainfall at a rate of 2 inches per hour in a 40-mph wind (along with humidity and dust tests, too).

The G’zOne passed some pretty rough handling on our part. We tossed it hard enough to knock the battery cover off a few times, but we never managed to kill the phone. I took it out on my boat, dunked it under water (handset open and closed), and called home — “Hey, what’s for dinner?” Then I carried it around in my wet, sandy bathing suit pocket for the rest of the afternoon. Still worked. I made calls from the shower and hosed it down with the pullout sink sprayer.

Bottom line: This tough phone in all likelihood has a much better chance of surviving life afloat than your current cell phone.

Other features include VZ Navigator; Mobile Web 2.0; text, picture and video messaging; a digital camera/camcorder; instant messaging; Bluetooth capability; countdown timer and stopwatch; and more. Price: $150 (after $50 rebate) with a two-year service contract. For more information visit .

— William Sisson


Mion Current Sandal

Mion makes footwear specifically designed for use by those involved with water sports or other water-related activities. Mel, my wife, recently tried out its Current Sandal. The removable footbed has a layer of Ergomorphic foam that forms to the shape of the wearer’s foot after around 12 hours of wear. Structural ribs wrap around the foot in what Mion calls critical areas to protect, support and cushion the foot. Unlike some open shoes, there’s a lot of protection for feet and toes when you must quickly move about on deck. Each sandal has a single very strong cord that spirals around the structural ribs. This cord, which Mion says probably will last for the life of the shoe, gives you the ability to customize a precise fit based upon your foot and your activity.

The sole is designed to not slip on wet surfaces because of a proprietary Quad-Cut siping configuration and Gripstick rubber compound, according to the company. Mion shoes come in several other configurations, as well, for women, men and children. Mel says she’s enjoyed wearing them on board. They don’t mark the deck, and the toes are so thick and well-protected there’s less chance of stubbing or other injury. They retail for $100, and there’s a dealer locator on the company Web site.

Mion Footwear, Stratham, N.H., (866) 784-6466.

— Tom Neale


Pelican Nemo submersible light

One of the most bewildering requirements for entering the Bermuda One-Two race earlier this year was having a battery-operated spotlight on board. I searched high and low but could find nothing that was battery-powered that remotely resembled those billion-candlepower lights you plug into a 12-volt receptacle. So I brought a Pelican Nemo submersible light to the race inspection in Newport, R.I. — the nearest item I could find — and we passed the test. The Nemo is a diving light that operates on four C batteries. Its 60,000-candlepower peak beam won’t burn the retinas of other boaters, but it does a great job of finding daymarkers on a moonless night. It’s lightweight, easy to hold, and waterproof to 500 feet. And it’s more convenient than the two plug-in spotlights we carry. Battery burn time is said to be 3.5 hours. The light retails for around $50 on the Pelican Web site ( ), though it can be purchased through other retailers. It comes with a spare bulb; two extra bulbs cost around $10.

— Doug Campbell


Coleman Transmit Vest

The Coleman Transmit Vest is a life jacket with a twist. Coleman has incorporated a two-way radio into the Coast Guard-approved PFD. The radio has a range of 1.8 miles, transmits and receives on 14 channels, is waterproof to 1 meter, and will float if dropped overboard, according to the company. You can purchase companion radios from Coleman or use your existing FRS radios to communicate with the person wearing the Transmit Vest.

The PFD’s beveled, segmented foam provides a flexible and comfortable fit, and the radio is contained in a compartment in the left chest area of the vest. The large PTT (push to talk) button, volume and channel selection functions are accessible without removing the radio from the vest, though it can be easily removed for use.

The Transmit Vest is available directly from Coleman at and retails for $124.99, with companion radios available for $26.99. Both are available from major sporting goods retailers at slightly discounted prices.

— Frank Kehr


Nite Ize Tail Light

WARNING: The following gift suggestion is not intended to comply with applicable Coast Guard requirements. But there may come a time when, all else having failed, you would be happy to have the LED Tail Light by Nite Ize on board. I bought two lights — a red and a green — for less than $12 to serve as running lights should my Westsail 32, Robin, lose all electrical power. The Tail Light is battery-operated (and comes with one battery installed), takes up little room, is simple to operate, and in a pinch will give other boats at some distance a clue concerning your course. The LED light is encased in a translucent plastic cartridge slightly bigger in diameter than a half-dollar. The light turns on by twisting the top and bottom of the cartridge in different directions. An adjustable clear plastic lanyard is incorporated. With a bit of duct tape, the light and lanyard could be attached to a stanchion or bow pulpit. It’s available directly from Nite Ize and at outdoor sports stores, including REI.

— Doug Campbell


Captain’s Bag

When you spend a good bit of your time on open boats, you come to appreciate dry storage — both the built-in variety and what you can carry on board in the form of dry bags. For the last four seasons I’ve used a big duffle-style SealLine waterproof bag from Cascade Designs, which has been absolutely bulletproof in terms of keeping out the water. The biggest problem was trying to find something in a hurry. With just one big compartment, everything I put in it wound up in a bit of jumble. Where the heck are my pliers or cell phone or Leatherman? The gear was dry; I was frustrated.

The solution arrived this year in the form of the Captain’s Bag from Old Harbor Outfitters, a new company that has designed a variety of boating and fishing gear. The new bag — part of its 100 Fathom Series — solves the organization problem with 10 pockets, several outside pouches and a removable internal divider that separates the main compartment. It holds everything the other bag did, only now I can find things quickly.

The company says the bag is made from waterproof PVC material with water-resistant zippers. The bag I tested sat on a cockpit sole that was often wet, either from spray or the vigorous shaking of two young kids, who throw off as much water as a couple of duck dogs. Everything remained dry.

It also holds a ton of gear. Here’s some of the stuff in mine at the moment: a Garmin 2006C plotter, belt-pack inflatable PFD, waterproof hand-held VHF, hand-held GPS, folding knife, fishing pliers, a pair of Leatherman multitools, an extra pair of eyeglasses, 12-volt adaptors for a spotlight and cell phone, boat registration, two notebooks with waypoints, the engine and electronics manuals, a paper chart, emergency whistle and signal mirror, AM/FM radio for baseball games and stick matches for the occasional cigar. When I’m on the boat I put my cell phone, wallet and car keys in the bag, as well. A place for everything and everything in its place. Suggested retail is $119.95. For more, visit .

— William Sisson


Atlantis Grand Prix Softshell jacket

By the end of September I prepare for a chill in the air when sailing Chesapeake Bay out of Annapolis, Md., which may have something to do with my refusal to adapt to the geezer life while continuing to ignore that fact of life. What I needed wasn’t another foul-weather jacket, because I no longer sail in the winter. So I searched for a comfortable jacket that would keep me dry and warm, and be acceptable indoors and useful outdoors.

I found such a cover in the Atlantis Grand Prix Softshell jacket. It has a microfleece-lined midheight collar that zips up to cover my chin and keeps the chill and spray off my neck. The fabric is a — hold your breath — “12.2-ounce breathable, windproof, waterproof membrane, horizontal-stretch woven ripstop polyester” with a “durable water repellant finish” scoring a 10,000 MM waterproof rating. That sounds OK to me. I also like the “Napoleon chest pocket,” a “sound pocket” where you can stow a cell phone and such and keep it dry, too. It comes in one color — red — and retails for $200.

Atlantis WeatherGear, Marblehead, Mass., (877) 333-7245.

— Jack Sherwood


Minox Windwatch Pro II

The Minox Windwatch Pro II is an ultracompact weather station, measuring a bit more than 4-1/2 by 2-1/4 by 3/4 inches and weighing only 2-1/2 ounces. It provides an impressive list of measurements, including wind speed, temperature, atmospheric pressure, altitude and humidity, plus an integrated watch, timer and time control functions, all displayed on its illuminated LCD, which I found to be clear and readable day or night.

The measurements can be displayed in almost any format you can imagine. For example, wind speed is measured every second and can be displayed in miles per hour, kilometers per hour, knots, meters per second, feet per second or Beaufort. The barometer function registers current atmospheric pressure, in addition to changes over the last three, six, 12 or 24 hours.

The directions for using the Windwatch Pro II took careful scrutiny on my part, mainly due to the numerous setting options, but they were logical and clear. I can’t imagine an outdoor enthusiast requiring any weather-related information that this unit doesn’t provide. It appears to be a very well-constructed, durable and accurate portable instrument. It’s available directly from Minox at and has a suggested retail price of $229.99.

— Frank Kehr


Last Call

The Last Call marine radio recorder should put an end that all too familiar phrase, “Please repeat last transmission.” By simply pressing the replay button, Last Call plays the last-received transmission through its amplified remote speaker. The unit can record up to 60 seconds of transmission.

Hook-up is simple: Just connect the VHF radio remote speaker output to the Last Call and connect the 12-volt DC power leads. The unit is protected by its own internal fuse. A switch on top allows changing between live and repeat transmissions, and there is a power/reset switch on the rear of the unit. Power consumption is minimal at 50 milliamps idle/120 milliamps max, depending on recorded level.

Last Call is a great idea that can help to maintain clear communication and uncluttered VHF frequencies. It was listed at an introductory price of $99.95 (regular price $149.95) and is available directly from manufacturer SH Systems.

— Frank Kehr



I used tool boxes all my life until someone gave me a tool bag a few years ago. I liked it. Now, for my huge everyday assortment of tools, I use a ToolPak (model 90650) by Paktek. It’s made from layers of waterproof 1,000-denier nylon and has six panels that can be individually closed with strong zippers to keep tools inside and not in the drink. Carry it on your back (unless you’re at risk of falling overboard) or with its handles.

Pockets in various configurations accommodate more than 100 tools. With the panels, you can arrange your tools by type, by the jobs you normally do, or whatever else works for you.

It’s fun to check out all the options the ToolPak offers and to configure your tool storage to best suit your needs. Features include a pocket with bottom cutouts for extra-long screwdrivers, a document space, Velcro-fastened flaps to keep tools in place, a quick-release trouble light loop, and two outside compartments for such items as drills or meters. The tools are up front and ready when you open the compartment, not lost under a jumble of other tools. I save space in my engine room by securing the ToolPak to the bulkhead by its handles. Retail price is $89.97. The company also offers many other types of storage containers for tools and equipment.

Paktek, Tacoma, Wash., (800) 258-8458.

— Tom Neale