The holidays are sneaking up on us and now is the time to think about what to give your seafaring friends and significant others. With so many sources and choices, it can be mind-boggling to decide which gift will bring on the smile. Every sailor has different means of letting us know what he or she wants. Some folks have everything. Others are harder to please. The year we planned our first offshore trip, my captain provided his gift list on an Excel spreadsheet including buying information and prices. The sailors on your gift list may not be this forthcoming, so here's a primer on giving nautical gifts.
What to buy your favorite boater There will always be something a boater wants or needs for the sport. This makes it easy in some ways, yet complex. Much of what they lust for is high-tech and expensive, or large and unwieldy (and sometimes expensive)—count GPSs (Global Positioning Systems), radar systems, onboard computer gear, dinghies, anchors, and dock boxes in these categories. Your saving grace is that most sailors don’t expect extravagance and will be pleased with almost any gift that’s useful or fun. Getting started
If you are unfamiliar with marine gear, acquaint yourself with the kinds of items available and their general costs. Take a "walk" through a marine store, either physically or virtually by using sailing websites and marine catalogs—or visit nearby boat shows. Decide how much you can spend, and then narrow your search to items within range. If you are set on buying that fancy item—perhaps a set of night binoculars for that lucky boater—bear in mind that he or she will probably be particular about the brand and features. Keep your eyes and ears open whenever the subject arises and/or seek expert advice before committing to a purchase. Space and storage are always concerns, so be sure any item to be used aboard will fit and have some practical use.
The Gift of Learning The gift of learning lasts forever and takes no space. Sailing lessons are a confidence-building gift for any child or adult new to the sport, while the seasoned sailor may enjoy a course on racing, navigation, or other advanced boat-handling skills. Classes are offered inexpensively in many communities by the United States Power Squadron and Coast Guard Auxiliary. They are also available through professional sailing schools or individuals. A wealth of instructional videos, books, and computer programs are also available help improve on-the-water skills.
Functional treasures In sailing, the weather and safety are always concerns. Consider giving barometers, life preservers, safety harnesses, sailing gloves, boating shoes and boots, and foul weather gear. Don’t overlook up-to-date charts, chart books, and cruising guides for planned travel areas, canvas totes, and insulated cooler bags. Brass items—a ship’s clock, bell, or oil lamp—look spiffy on board and are useful. In cool-weather areas, warm blankets, jackets, and hats that wick moisture, such as those of Polartec, are always welcome.
Personalized items Specialty items like captain’s rings, business cards and stationary, half-hull carvings, portraits of the boat, personalized galleyware, linens, clothing, and other boating gear need to be ordered well in advance, and keep in mind that most are not returnable. With these, it’s important to have your facts straight: the correct spelling of the boat name, its make and model, and possibly even the colors of its hull, canvas fittings, its interior wood, and decor. Know your sailor’s tastes before saddling him or her with a large or costly piece of marine art. You’ll need sizes and style preferences for personal items, like jewelry and clothing, so that monogrammed polo shirt or custom-made ring will fit and you won’t err by giving pierced "sailboat" earrings to a recipient requiring clip-ons.
Seaworthy favors If you don’t wish to get personal, stick to generic items. Boaters always enjoy sea-going reading material—books, magazine subscriptions, movies, games, nautical music on CD or cassette, and screen savers. For children, select gifts that are entertaining, can be used in a confined area, and won’t cause injury or damage if flung about: quiet games, age-level books, movies, and soft toys. Food and drink is near to every boater’s heart. You usually can’t go wrong by giving nautical galley and bar accessories—nonslip dinnerware, thermal carafes, barbecue tools, 12-volt blenders, and cookbooks. Gift boxes of sealed snacks, interesting sauces, and liquor (especially rum) are always appreciated. Or you can look for sailboat or lighthouse-shaped chocolates and cookies.
During boating season and on sailing vacations, peruse shoreline shops for locally produced trinkets to stash away for special occasions throughout the year—cranberry products from Cape Cod; blueberry jam and handmade candles from Maine; and spices and condiments from the Caribbean. "Nautical" stocking-stuffers are fun to buy and give—coasters, cocktail napkins, note paper, games, calendars, and clever doodads. Many boaters collect sailing ornaments to trim a nautical tree, or to hang throughout their home or boat to affirm their love for sailing. Often, a significant specialty shop will have a catalog or website from which you can order during the off-season.
Where to find it Once you know the type of gift you wish to give, all you have to do is locate it, buy it, and get it home. Be flexible. In your search you may stumble over a more thoughtful gift idea. Especially on costly items, you will want to compare prices among various sources in order to get the best deal. Nail down the average price for the item by checking with marine stores, sorting through catalogs, or web shopping. Web Shopping The Internet is quickly overtaking shopping via mail-order catalogs for convenience when it comes to shippable goods. Eliminating the paper allows us to float from one boating site to the next. To entice purchasing, many websites offer benefits such as special discounts, free shipping, postage-free return or exchange, gift registries, and expert advisor services. In most cases, there will be no state tax on items ordered through a website or a mail-order catalog, which may help offset shipping costs.
Since you are reading this article, web shopping is already at your fingertips. Clicking on the words "Store" or "Shopping" anywhere on SailNet’s pages will bring up the current specials, as well as an alphabetically arranged buying guide for product categories such as anchors, books, flags, and gifts. Each department lists products available, their part numbers and costs, and allows you to click to the photo and ordering screen for each item.