High-quality marine binoculars are an essential piece of gear on any boat. Not only are they important for safety, helping you spot oncoming traffic, hazards, and navigational aids, but they also enhance your on-the-water experience, giving you a close-up of birds, whales, and a whole world you’d never be able to see with the naked eye.
It’s well worth doing your research because boating binoculars are an investment that can last you a lifetime. In this article, we’re going to cover our top four picks for boating binoculars, the best features to look for, and our reviews for each pair of binoculars on the list.
A quick note that this post contains affiliate links (so if you purchase through a link we’ll earn a small commission).
Table of contents
- 1 The best binoculars for boating in 2021 – a quick comparison
- 2 Key features
- 3 Reviews of the best marine binoculars for 2021
The best binoculars for boating in 2021 – a quick comparison
Before we jump into our reviews, let’s quickly touch on the features that make these picks the best binoculars for boating. Because there are a few key differences between marine binoculars and the ones you might use on land.
When binocular shopping, the first number to know is magnification. In general, you’ll want 7x magnification for marine use. Any more and you’ll find it hard to focus on objects while you’re standing on a moving object.
The exception to this is if you opt for a pair of binoculars with gyroscopic image stabilization. These tend to be pricey ($1,000+) but they offer very high magnification, anywhere from 8-18x.
Low light performance
The second number to know is the objective lens diameter which tells you how large the lenses are. A larger objective lens size is generally thought of as better because it lets in more light.
The downside is that larger lenses also weigh more. Most marine binoculars will range from 30 to 50. 7×50 marine binoculars are the most common. A 50 mm lens will let in lots of light, which is helpful at dusk and dawn.
Most binoculars designed for marine use are waterproof, though some are only water-resistant.
Anti-fog and corrosion
A high humidity environment and extreme temperature changes can lead to fogging and corrosion. Marine binoculars should be filled with an inner gas like nitrogen or argon to make them fog proof when they go through a temperature change.
Rubber armor not only makes binoculars more shock resistant it also makes them easier to grip when wet.
Some marine binoculars will float by themselves while others require a floating neck strap or lanyard to stay buoyant if they accidentally go overboard.
Optical coatings work to protect the lens, reduce reflection, and increase light transmission. If you’re interested in learning about the ins and outs of coated optics, this is a good overview.
Binocular lenses turn an image upside down and prisms are used to correct this, turning the image right-side-up. Porro prisms offer ideal optical performance but require a wide frame. Roof prisms invert the image with smaller prisms and allow for more compact binoculars.
Eye-relief measures how far the binoculars can be held from the eye and still work. Those who wear glasses, generally find an eye-relief of 17-18mm provides sufficient space.
Weight can become a factor when you have to use binoculars for a prolonged period or are using them one-handed (e.g., while steering).
There are three types of focus. Center focus binoculars, the most common and intuitive type, use a single wheel or knob to focus. Individual focus involves focusing each eye separately. Auto-focus binoculars, once initially adjusted for your eyes, will always keep images in sharp focus.
With the push of a button, image stabilization eliminates shake and vibration, delivering a clear and stable image. While expensive, this feature can more than double the magnification.
Reticle scales (a.k.a. range finders)
A reticle scale appears super-imposed over target objects, which is handy for calculating height and distance.
Many modern binoculars come with analog or digital compasses which are useful for getting a bearing. Often these compasses will only work in a single geographic zone (e.g., North America). So, if you plan on sailing far, you may want to invest in a pair of binoculars with a global compass.
Reviews of the best marine binoculars for 2021
Review of the Steiner Navigator Pro 7×50
The porro prism Steiner Navigator Pro 7x50 packs a serious “wow!” factor. With a larger exit pupil and optical lens, they offer excellent image clarity, sharp definition, and perform well in low-light conditions.
Not only that, but they’ll stand up to the harsh marine environment. It boasts one of the highest waterproof level ratings (IPX8 to 16 feet) and the body has been purged with Nitrogen to prevent fogging and internal corrosion. It comes with a standard neoprene strap but you can buy one of Steiner’s padded, floating straps separately.
One stand-out feature is the Sports-Auto Focus system which lets you focus each eye piece once and then keeps the images sharp from 20 yards to infinity. This makes it easy to stay focused on moving objects.
You can feel confident buying from this German brand who is known for producing some of the world’s highest quality optical lenses. Unlike many of the other binoculars on this list, which only offer limited lifetime warranties, Steiner backs up many of its products (including the Navigator Pro 7×50) with a transferrable lifetime warranty.
Quite literally, the only marine binoculars you’ll ever have to buy. Even at their mid-range price point, they offer exceptional value for optical performance, making them our overall top pick for 2021.
- Excellent optical performance
- Waterproof (IPX8)
- Nitrogen filled
- Lifetime warranty
- Model “C” comes with an illuminated compass
- Does not float or come with floating strap
Review of the Bushnell Marine 7×50
Floating, watertight, and rugged, Bushnell Marine Binoculars may be one of the most solid and affordable options on the market today. Its Bak-4 prisms produce a crisp, clear, bright image and its multi-coated lenses maximize light transmission and brightness (handy for low light conditions).
Its hermetically sealed construction not only makes it waterproof but also enables it to float if dropped overboard. Nitrogen purging also keeps it fog and corrosion-free.
The Bushnell Marine 7×50 binoculars feature an internal rangefinder (for sizing up objects) as well as a built-in compass.
The separate focusing is slower than some of the more sports-oriented models, making them less optimal for capturing anything that’s moving quickly. However, once focused they deliver a clear, sharp image.
Given their strong performance and the fact that Bushnell is one of the most recognized binocular brands, we were surprised to find that these marine binoculars cost less than half the price of the Steiner Navigator 7×50. Perfect if you’re looking for a reliable pair of binoculars in an affordable price range.
Objective Lens diameter: 50 mm
Field of view: 350 ft @ 1000 yd, 117 m @ 1000 m
Minimum focus distance: 35 ft,10.6 m
Focus type: individual focus
Eye relief: 18 mm
Weight: 37 oz, 1.1 kg
- Affordable price
- Floating body
- Built-in compass and scale
- Individual eyepiece focus is slower
Review of 7×50 Nikon OceanPro WP Global Compass
Nikon has a long history of producing high-quality lenses and their OceanPro 7×50 binoculars are no exception. They offer excellent brightness and resolution and are very reasonably priced.
Naturally, they’re waterproof and nitrogen purged, so they’ll stand up to boating life. The durable rubber armor offers some protection from shocks and helps you get a firm grip.
It also comes with a floating nylon strap, so you can easily retrieve your binoculars if they ever go in the drink.
These are one of the best binoculars for offshore sailing. If you’re planning on sailing around the world, you’ll appreciate the built-in illuminated global compass with automatic declination for the Northern or Southern hemisphere.
Many of the other binoculars on this list have compasses that only work in certain geographic zones. These binoculars also have an integral reticle scale to help you calculate the size and distance of an object.
Lastly, these binoculars offer a very generous eye relief, making them a good choice for anyone who wears corrective glasses.
Objective Lens diameter: 50 mm
Field of view: 377 ft @ 1000 yd, 126 m @ 1000 m
Minimum focus distance: 33 ft, 10.1 m
Focus type: central focus
Eye relief: 22.7 mm
Weight: 39.9 oz, 1.1 kg
- Built-in global compass and reticle scale
- Waterproof and fog proof
- Long eye relief for people who wear glasses
- Includes floating strap
- Central focus (no autofocus)
Review of Canon IS 15×50
The magnification on Canon’s line of image-stabilized binoculars blows everything listed so far out of the water. Boasting a 15x magnification, it’s twice what you could expect from the other 7x binoculars on this list. With a touch of a button, all shake and vibration disappear, giving you sharp and steady images.
You’ll need two AA batteries to use the image stabilization system, but it functions like a regular set of binoculars when it’s not powered.
These may be the best image-stabilized binoculars for boating. The BoatUS Foundation tested six IS binoculars and the Canon IS 15×50 came out as their top choice (if money wasn’t a factor).
Of course, higher magnification and cutting-edge performance come with a hefty price tag, but if you’re only going to own one pair of marine binoculars in your lifetime, why not buy the best.
These binoculars are built to last, housed in a rugged, water-resistant, and slip-free rubber body. Canon describes says they can be used on the “high seas” but it’s worth noting that these binoculars are only water-resistant, not waterproof.
If you want fully waterproof binoculars with image stabilization, check out Canon’s 10 x 42 L IS WP, which while less powerful, will be better protected if it goes in the drink.
- Mind-blowing 15x magnification
- Image stabilization
- Best-in-class optical quality
- Not waterproof (only water-resistant)
The Steiner Navigator Pro 7×50 is our top pick 2021. Its excellent optical quality, blazing-fast auto-focus, rugged and waterproof construction, and rock-solid warranty make it the ideal binocular for boating. To avoid that sinking feeling, we’d recommend spending the extra few bucks on a Steiner floating strap.
The Canon IS 15×50 came in at a close second. Its mind-blowing performance comes with a four-figure price tag and most boaters don’t need that much magnification.
Fiona McGlynn is an award-winning boating writer who created Waterborne as a place to learn about living aboard and traveling the world by sailboat. She has written for boating magazines including BoatUS, SAIL, Cruising World, and Good Old Boat. She’s also a contributing editor at Good Old Boat and BoatUS Magazine. In 2017, Fiona and her husband completed a 3-year, 13,000-mile voyage from Vancouver to Mexico to Australia on their 35-foot sailboat.