Note: I/we are not sponsored by any companies mentioned in this article. We cruise full time on our test bed, SV Confianza, and we enjoy sharing our tests and opinions to give back to the community.
We've amassed a bunch of useful gadgets and toys on Connie that actually make our boat life better and more enjoyable. Given that it's the festive season, and considering the number of times I've been asked, "what makes a good gift for a sailor/cruiser/liveaboard?" I thought it might be useful to compile a list of giftable gadgets that we actually use onboard on a regular basis.
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Warning: many of these gadgets have lithium ion batteries in them. I strongly advise not leaving them charging while the boat is unattended. This chemistry is totally different than the LFP batteries we use for our house bank, and they can have thermal runaway reactions that can start difficult to put out fires. I just read a post yesterday of a tragedy that involved a fire started by a lithium ion device that was charging in the companionway. So, please be careful.
Blendjet Rechargeable Blender - $50
Let's start with a toy that we got as a gift ourselves, and I, wrongly, almost wrote off as useless. My first instinct was that a rechargeable gadget blender would not have enough power to be useful. I was wrong!
This little guy makes great smoothies and even better rum drinks. It's very capable of blending ice into a beverage. And it's big enough to make 2 drinks at a time.
We also use it in the kitchen for hummus/dips, sauces, etc. But, it really shines in entertaining. Instead of being squirreled away in the kitchen, we can bring this thing outside with our stash of juices, coconut, fruits, etc, and let everyone experiment making their own vacation drink.
If we're making the drinks, we can be part of the group socializing. It's always a conversation starter.
It does take a bit of time to charge, so we tend to try to remember to charge it after each use.
Sodastream Soda Maker - $60-100
While we're talking about drinks, I can't leave out the sodastream. We like mixing things up by adding some fiz and flavors to our water.
It's nice to be able to offer a guest a proper vodka/gin and soda, a tom collins, a wine spritzer, etc.
We recently swapped the Sodastream brand with a Philips brand soda maker, because it takes up less space on the counter. Also, sodastream now switched to a silly poprietary quick connector for most of their models to protect their margins. The Philips still uses the standard screw on attachment.
We have amassed 6 of the CO2 bottles so that we can go quite a long time without having to get them refilled. The easiest way we've found to get them refilled is to use the sodastream swap process. When you have the luxury of a shipping address, get the refills sent, and you package up the emptys for return. They make it easy with a reusable box and return label.
These soda makers also do not need any power, which is a plus.
Zakarian Wine Opener - $26
Is it saying something that my top three gadgets involve alcohol? Let's set aside that self-reflection for a second.
Yes, this is a gadget that can easily be replaced by a regular old wine opener. It's definitely not a must have gadget. But, hey, we like it.
This wine opener is much compact than most (1.9" x 7.2"), so it fits nicely on a boat. And it opens a surprising amount corks on one charge.
Almost every time we break it out for guests, someone says something like, "Oh, you're fancy on this boat, huh."
Poly Voyager 5200 Headset - $150
I've searched far and wide for a headset/headphones that really work well on a boat. The biggest problem is all of the background noises—boats going by, rigging clanking, crew chatter, airplanes overhead, and wind!
This thing really does a great job. I have done a number a number of tests in various conditions. The adaptive microphones on the Voyager 5200 distinguish between your voice and background noise. The background noise, even if it's a random outburst or not steady, is often completely filtered out.
It has a slight delay, which is characteristic of all bluetooth devices that don't have some sort of fancy low latency capabilities (most don't).
You'll still have some noticeable issues If the microphone is facing into the wind. To reduce the wind noise even further, I got a set of these: Saidbuds 10 Pack Soft Mic Foam Covers Windscreens for David Clark M-4/M-7 Lightspeed Aviation Headsets from Amazon. They don't fit perfectly, but they do reduce the wind noise to pretty much zero in most normal conditions.
Overall, I'm so much more confident taking a call or a meeting from the boat in almost all weather, and I would label this as a must have for boaters.
Last pieces of advice: I have bad luck with refurbished ones. I wouldn't buy another refurbished. Also, keep the headset in the case to keep dust from getting in the adaptive microphones, or it will go haywire.
Hurkins Orbit Headlamp - $60
Ok, I know. I've already done an entire long form article on this headlamp. But I couldn't have a "gadgets we use" writeup without bringing up the Hurkins Orbit. Check out the Favorite Headlamp for Boat Projects article when you get a chance for a comparison against other popular headlamps.
We use this thing almost daily. It's a great gadget to have on a boat and it makes a fantastic gift.
Pelican 7600 Flashlight - $120
Since we're on the topic of lights, this little guy is also a must have. I've never had a flashlight that I would recommend to anyone, let alone boaters. It's got all of the features that you need, and no silly nonsense you don't:
Rechargeable (with a replaceable battery) and lasts long on a charge
We use it above water scouting for unlit channel markers and fish traps. We also use it for under water boat jobs and even to attract fish at night!
We have left it in the water for over a week, it's flown off tables in rough inlets, and it's survived a good amount of electrolysis from a boat neighbor. It's still going strong.
Bright and Great Beam Width
For a small package, this thing is quite bright. The beam is not too wide and not too narrow. So it makes a perfect light for scoping out unlit channel markers.
AeroPress - $35
We got this one as a gift as well, and it has been recommended by a number of other cruisers. It's essentially a single cup french press that's designed to make coffee faster.
You add a tiny circle filter, pour in some coffee grounds, stir, and press. I do find that it makes better coffee if you let it sit for a couple extra seconds with the top stopper slotted in before you do the press, but overall, it makes great coffee.
The AeroPress does seem to use more coffee per serving, so be aware that your reserve coffee stash needs to be a bit heftier.
Panasonic Eneloop Rechargeable Ni-MH Batteries - $25-60
At first glance, rechargeable batteries wouldn't seem to make a list like this, or even a good gift, but there's more to the story. This battery chemistry has way more charging cycle's than your grandad's rechargeables.
We used to have a cluttered mess of batteries floating in and around the chart table. That's all consolidated into a neat little zipper bag now.
As advertised, the Eneloops last a whopping 2100 charging cycles and retain 70% capacity on the shelf for 5 years. In our experience, they don't leak or corrode like many other rechargeables we've tried through the years.
I prefer the regular Eneloop (regular) over the Eneloop Pro. The former has a lower capacity, but a longer shelf life.
We also have a set of the EBL batteries with the same chemistry. They are quite a bit cheaper than the Panasonics, and seem to work just as well. I have not done a rigorous test between the two, though.
WARNING: these batteries CAN NOT be put in anything that is water resistant or water proof (e.g. dinghy lights, some handheld radios, underwater flashlights, etc). They offgas hydrogen, which, if trapped inside a chamber, can make a nice little kaboom with a spark.
Elecshion Borescope Inspection Camera - $30
There are way better and higher quality borescopes on the market, but I can attest that this one has worked well for a good number of projects.
The resolution and focus is actually pretty impressive for a camera at this price point. This makes it especially useful to track down a leak in a tight space. You can see water (or other liquid) droplets and reflections.
I also use it to see into and behind walls to make sure that I'm not drilling into something that I shouldn't, like wires or hoses.
If I had to have a gripe—the LED lights on it are pretty weak. I often try to use a small flashlight in conjuction.
We are constantly in a state of trying to declutter and remove things we don't use. Many gadgets end up falling in that category and get given away. But the ones on the list have stood the test of time.
If we didn't have our lithium battery set up, we would probably not be able to splurge the power on many of these devices. Please see our post on our setup here: Connie's Lithium Powered Electrical System to WFB (Work from Boat)
Please drop a comment if you've got a must have gadget that we all should try!