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Our top gadgets for boating

Marc Burrows / 10 September 2018

21st century technology has given us all sorts of gadgets and knick-knacks to make boating easier, safer and more fun.

A boat sails past a glorious sunset

Whether hitting the high seas in competition or messing about on the river, humans have set sail for both business and pleasure for millenia. Sailing, of all sorts, is one of the most exhilarating pastimes you can have and 21st century technology gives us all sorts of gadgets and knick-knacks to make life aboard-ship easier, safer and more fun.

A smartphone wind metre

The good thing about smartphones is they can be adapted to pretty much anything that collects or uses data. The folks at Varvuud have come up with an ingenious way of turning an iPhone or Android phone, among others, into an extremely useful anemometer.

Essentially it’s a set of spinning cups that hook up to your phone, feeding data into an app which then adds the results to crowdsourced information, a little like the sat-nav app Waze. It’s useful for checking out the weather to plan your daily activities, and the more people who use it, the more useful it becomes.

From £24.65 on Amazon

Inflatable solar lights

Day can turn to night quickly at sea, and deck lighting can be expensive. Mpowered’s inflatable lights are an elegant solution. A ring of bright LEDs shine up into a clear, inflatable “bulb”, distributing an even and clear light around the area. This is a lightweight, simple solution that’s a doddle to use.

They’re also waterproof, naturally, and best of all include solar recharge so you never have to buy batteries. Available as both completely transparent or a more muted, cosier “frost” versions.

From £29.99 on Amazon 

A satellite phone

They don’t come cheap, but satellite phones are a necessary expense for anyone considering travelling out of contact range, especially on the open seas where mobile signal is rarely a guarantee. A satellite phone means you can instantly contact emergency services, and the more high-tech ones can keep you in touch with people at home throughout your trip.

G-Comm offer a range of solutions, none of them cheap, but do also allow you to rent the equipment, which is a great solution. Their Iridium Go Marine package works with your existing smartphone, and even generates a wifi signal.

Various prices available for sale or rent 

A satellite communicator

A cheaper alternative to a sat phone that’s suitable for less risky adventures. The Garmin InReach allows you to send and receive texts and emails anywhere in the world; it also tracks your journey and gives you access to maps and GPS information. Can also sync with your smartphone.

£399.99 on

A fishfinder

Fishing is a large part of the appeal of sailing and boating for many. For some, the boat is just a way to get closer to the fish! Fishfinders transmit a sonar signal into water, letting you know how populated the area is, and how likely you are to make a catch and where to cast.

Try the Deeper Pro Plus, which users a cool-looking buoy that works with your smartphone to map out the water around you. The device generates its own wifi field, so it will work wherever you are regardless of the phone signal, it’s suitable in both salt and fresh water, and has modes for all sorts of fishing, including ice fishing. The module works like a float and sits in the water on the end of your line. It’s a neat solution with a range of 300ft, down to a depth of 280ft.

From £189.77 on Amazon

A solar charger

A cheaper and more environmentally sound solution to using a generator, helping to keep fuel costs low. There are various solar chargers and generators on the market, from pocket sized smart-phone chargers, up to huge solar sails.

RavPower offer an efficient and affordable unit, with solar cells that fold up smaller than a magazine and can charge three USB and USB-C devices simultaneously. It’s also largely waterproof, making it perfect for use on deck.

From £62.99 on Amazon

A sailing watch

A decent watch is fairly essential, especially if you’re doing competitive sailing, and you don’t want to take your Smart Watch or fancy timepiece out onto the water. The Optimum Time 2018 series are both shock and waterproof and have a clear, bright display so you can get the information you need at a glance, even in poor visibility.

It’s especially designed with competitive sailing and racing in mind, so has numerous features to allow you to keep an eye on your time, even if you miss the starter pistol or need to factor in a handicap. There’s also an extra strap included that allows you to wear the watch outside of your waterproof.

From £60 on Amazon  

A hand-operated outboard

Less cumbersome than oars, cheaper and quieter than a motor! This is one of those “why has no-one thought of this before?” ideas - a hand operated outboard!

Designed by Australian company Wet Works, this little gadget sits on the back of your inflatable or small dinghy, propelling you along like a motor - only it’s hand cranked. A doddle to use for a fun day on the water.

£125 on

Electronic hand warmers

Even in the summer it can be nippy out on the water at night, and in the winter if can be absolutely freezing. These HotRox electronic hand warmers are an ideal solution -  charge them up via USB or from the mains for 15 minutes and they’ll stay cosy and warm in your pocket for up to six hours.

£28.99 on

Meanwhile Zippo have introduced a version powered by the same fluid as their iconic lighters, which can keep your hands cosy for up to 12 hours. Keep them in the palm of your hands and enjoy a toasty glow, leaving stiff hands ready for action. 

Various prices and sizes from £7.99 on Amazon

Keep them in the palm of your hands and enjoy a toasty glow, leaving stiff hands ready for action. The latest model also comes with a power bank, meaning you can keep your hands warm even longer.

A floating keyring

Another one to add to our “the simple ideas are the best” file.

Anyone who's ever lost their keys on the water knows how absolutely maddening (and potentially disastrous) this can be. Fortunately there’s a cheap and absolutely no-nonsense solution - a cork keyring! Acting like a fishing float, this extremely handy toy means your keys bob in the water rather than sinking, meaning you just have to reach down and retrieve.

From £7 on Amazon 

Mouldable glue

British company Sugru may have invented one of the most useful products in the world. Their mouldable glue feels like Play-Doh when you pop it out of the packet; you then mould it into the shape you need and over-night in sets into a rubbery, silicon-like substance. It’s nearly as strong as super glue, heat resistant and completely waterproof. Aboard ship it’s handy for covering exposed wires or rusty spots, or even as a quick fix for a leak. It makes a useful fix for those irritating exposed areas on iphone cables, and can create a rubbery bumper for nearly anything.

£12.99 per pack of eight on

Marc Burrows’ book I Think I Can See Where You’re Going Wrong can be purchased at the Saga Bookshop – get your copy today!

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