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Old 11-12-2002
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Bruce Caldwell is on a distinguished road
Gifts for the Sailor


Santa's view on final approach.  Few would argue that sailing brings ample opportunity for gift giving.
Sailors are either blessed or cursed when it comes to the gift-giving season. On the one hand, friends and relatives are happy to see a name on their list that they can quickly check off with a notation to get "something nautical." On the other hand, that broad-but vague description doesn't exactly pin-point the perfect gift.

How many shipís models with sails that catch nothing but dust can anyone really want? Alternatively, having given their sailing friend or relative a shipís model last year, this year they might plan the surprise of a calendar, a set of coasters, a lamp, belt, shirt, or some jewelry or other trinket with a nautical theme.

It hasnít been scientifically verified, but, as unlikely as it seems, there are probably at least a few sailors who have other interests in addition to sailing. And it is a near certainty that most sailors would much prefer to be out sailing rather than contemplating images of a nautical nature cluttering the walls, shelves, desks, fireplace mantles, and other surfaces at home.

Non-sailing gift-givers may be clueless, but sailors donít have to display artificial smiles and murmur feigned gratitude on Christmas morning. Start planting hints now and you might recapture the same glee you had as a child when there were more packages with intriguing rattling sounds, or hard edges and heft than there were flat, soft boxes that clearly contained sweaters and socks.

Hinting can pay off. Last year, after dropping some remarks about having more lighthouse calendars and shipís models than I could really use, my in-laws exercised their ingenuity and presented me with a caverís lightóa flashlight mounted on stretch bands that fit around the head, leaving the hands free. This proved great for reading in the bunk at night and for docking and anchoring in the dark.


Here's a hint, I want something that will sail over 18 knots in a non-displacing mode under the tree this year.
The main thing to bear in mind when considering what gift to get for a sailor is: Will it help sail the boat? To that end, there are some things that no sailor can get enough of:
  • Docking line    A spool of docking line will make a fine, big, puzzling package, and almost certainly get the sailor down to the dock the next day to replace chafed lines.
  • Charts    Whether itís a chart of local waters or a distant place that can only be dreamed about, a sailor can never have too many charts. While the tubular shape of a rolled up chart may make the contents easy to guess, exactly which chart is inside will be a mystery until the package is opened.
  • Books    This may require some snooping to determine what the sailorís bookcase already contains, but there are plenty of classic works available that are frequently updated, such as the Annapolis Book of Seamanship, as well as annual updates of cruising guides and tide tables. Sailing reminiscences, cruising adventures, and how-to books are churned out regularly, and there may be gaps in the collection of one of the fictional nautical series by Patrick OíBrian, Alexander Kent, or C.S. Forester. Even a blank book, such as a captainís log, or handsome binder with sleeves for keeping documents dry, can be sure to get a lot of use.

    "Aside from a bigger boat, the gift most sailors really want is time, time for them to go sailing, and the time for their friends and loved ones to come along."

  • Gadgets and stuff    Even if the sailor already has a particular item, a second one can always come in handy when the first one falls overboard, or it can be tucked away in a ditch bag. Such items can make great stocking stuffers, like wind gauges, pocket knives, fids, sail twine, varnish brushes, hand-held compasses and depth-finders, flashlights, pocket mirrors, whistles, air horns, dividers, waterproof tip sheets for everything from navigation to bird identification, sailing lessons, and games and charts on software and CD-ROMs, and on and on.

Significant others who want to go to a little more trouble can delight their sailing partners in a number of ways, not all of them expensive:

  • Photos    Make a clandestine arrangement with a friend to snap photos of the boat under sail. This is one nautical image that canít fail to please.
  • GPS     This may fall under the stocking-stuffer category for some, but the triple-digit price range for most GPS devices makes this a serious purchase for many. Even if the sailor already has one, remember the redundancy rule. An extra GPS can go in the ditch bag, replace one lost overboard, or serve as a backup when the main GPS loses battery power.
  • Radios    There are several kinds of portable radios to consider: weather station radios, VHF radios, and AM/FM radios. Cell phones and pagers might be welcomed by those who canít cut their lines of communication with the shore.
  • Weather stations     For home or boat, there are sleek digital or brass analog weather stations that measure temperature, wind speed, relative humidity, and atmospheric pressure.
  • Time pieces    A brass shipís chronometer, or a good wristwatch. There are also clocks and wristwatches that track the tides and phases of the moon.
  • Binoculars    The price range for binoculars may be greater than for any other single piece of equipment on board. A pair of small, folding binoculars that can fit in a pocket can cost just $20, and may be good enough for most day sailors, or serve as a backup or find a place in a ditch bag. At the top end there are binoculars with specially coated lenses for better light-gathering ability in low-light conditions, and built-in compasses to take bearings on distant objects. These can cost upwards of $700. Binoculars with 7x50 power are considered the most powerful suitable for boating.
  • AM/FM Radios and flashlights powered by solar energy or a hand crank are always useful on board.


A wide range of gifts and a corresponding wide range of prices can be found in our online store.
Finally, after exhausting the possibilities for gifts that will make for satisfyingly hard or heavy or strangely shaped packages, there are some soft goods that will please sailors.
  • Bags    Tool bags, sail bags, gear bags, shopping bags, ditch bags, even laundry bags. Whether made of leather, old sailcloth, canvas, or nylon, lots of bags are needed for stowing things on board and for carrying things on and off the boat.
  • Cushions    Floatation cushions or just comfy cushions with covers that can be wiped clean or thrown in the wash.
  • Warm and Dry Stuff. Fleece vests and jackets, waterproof gloves, knit caps, heavy-weather jackets and trousers, sea boots, and yes, even wool sweaters and socks.

What to get the sailor that has two of everything? Aside from a bigger boat, the gift that most sailors really want is time, time for them to go sailing, and the time for their friends and loved ones to come along. Thatís not something that fits beneath a tree. It belongs out on the open water under the sun or the moon with a fresh breeze.

Suggested Reading List

  1. Tips for the Gift Giving Season by Joy Smith
  2. Performance Products - SailNet
  3. Ten Lessons of Fitting Out by Micca Hutchins
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