Practical Holiday Gift Ideas for Sailors


ACR RapidDitch Express

Looking for gift ideas for the sailors on your holiday gift list (or to add to your wishlist)? Here are some that will please a variety of budgets and sailors.

Because nothing says happy holidays like safety gear-right?-the ACR RapidDitch Express abandon-ship bag, the smaller of ACRs buoyant ditch bags, would be a good choice for daysailors and coastal cruisers. In our tests, it easily floated the maximum 15 pounds. Note that it isn’t watertight, so as it fills with water, it rides lower and lower in the water; all contents should be protected in small drybags or Ziplocks. The Express features four external pockets: two mesh, one waterproof, and another for an EPIRB. Inside, gear can be stored in small pockets, hung on loops, and attached to clipped tethers. The bright-yellow bag has several wide stripes of reflective material, and the shoulder-carrying strap converts to two tethers that can keep a few crew and the bag together. Testers liked the bags tough, water-resistant fabric and corrosion-resistant zippers, as well as the organization and quick-grab portability it offers for safety gear. ACRs larger RapidDitch model can float 25 pounds, making it a better choice for voyagers and offshore cruisers. ($60,

Travel mugs

Travel mugs always make good stocking stuffers, but the Mighty Mug puts a new twist on this galley necessity. Like most lidded travel cups, the Mighty Mug is designed to keep hot drinks hot (six hours) and cold drinks cold (12 hours), but it impressively resists accidental spills thanks to a midline joint and a suction cup on the mugs bottom. We tested the 16-ounce Mighty Mug Go on oiled wood, fiberglass, Corian, and glass surfaces, and found that it really stayed put, even when testers tried to knock it over. When placed on a fiberglass cockpit table, the Mighty Mug didn't budge under sail or power. Be sure to wipe any sand or grit off the cup bottom before setting it down; the suction doesn’t work well dirty or on very textured surfaces. The BPA-free plastic mug kept our tea warm for about six hours in a 76-degree room. It is dishwasher safe, cupholder-friendly, and also comes in a stainless, vacuum-insulated model. This is a useful gift for any sailor or spill-prone landlubber; its budget friendly and comes with a limited lifetime warranty. ($20,

Spinlock's new Rig-Sense

Shopping for a serious racing sailor? Check out Spinlocks new Rig-Sense rig-tuning tool. Getting your rig tuned right is key to optimizing boat performance. The Rig-Sense tool measures rigging loads on 2- to 5-millimeter wire or fiber, and works in conjunction with a free mobile app (iOS or Android). With the tool and app, users can dial in the right settings for various conditions, then record and manage the stored settings to ensure consistent and repeatable rig tuning. The lightweight, compact, and easy to use tool uses a composite leaf spring that is calibrated to output repeatable tensile load readings to a direct linear scale in kilograms, rather than having to check and calculate loads yourself. Users can even create custom templates in the app so they can compile data for multiple boats or classes. The Rig-Sense would be a much appreciated gift for the small keelboat sailor or those who race larger dinghies (like the J/24 or Melges 20). ($139,

Sea to Summit X-Set 32

Most sailors we know are multi-sport hobbyists and outdoor enthusiasts, spending their time sailing, kayaking, SUPing, fishing, camping, etc. Two products well suited for this crowd are the floating IceMule drybag cooler and the Sea to Summit X-Set 32 nesting cook system. Made of a heavy-duty, waterproof material, the insulated IceMule has a roll-down top that is secured with clips, and an air valve on its exterior used to fill/drain the buoyancy chamber. Deflated, the bag stows easily and takes up little space. Testers liked that it can be used as a drybag or a cooler, and the fact it floats is a bonus. In our tests, it held ice longer than a standard drybag and about the same as a soft-sided cooler, nearing the makers 24-hour ice retention claim in 80- to 92-degree weather. We tested the smaller, 10-liter Classic model (holds six to eight cans plus ice), which features an adjustable shoulder strap. This is a good size for daysails (and SUP or kayak trips), but the companys Pro model (20 to 40 liters) has backpack straps and would be a better choice for multi-day sails or camping. The versatile, floating drybag-cooler could even serve as a ditchbag for a small boat. It comes with a 90-day, money-back guarantee. ($50,

The newly released Sea to Summit X-Set 32 cookware kit includes three collapsible, silicone and anodized-aluminum galley must-haves: a frying pan (8 inch), a kettle (44 ounces), and a cookpot (95 ounces). Designed for backpacking, the nested X-Set 32 takes up very little cabinet space (1.5 inches high by 8 inches diameter) and weighs less than 2 pounds. Both the kettle and pot have clear, BPA-free plastic lids, and the cookpot lid has an integral strainer. The kit is meant to be used on propane and butane camp stoves, but it also can be used on most marine propane or alcohol cooktops, so long as the direct flame is smaller than the aluminum base of the cookware. The kit is pricey, but it would be a good investment for the outdoor enthusiast who would get a lot of use out of it at sea and ashore, and for small-boat sailors who use only a camp stove onboard. ($135,

Keen Uneek shoe

Tired of your crews stinky shoes? Consider getting them a new pair from Keen Footwear for the holidays. One of the water-shoe makers latest designs is the Keen Uneek shoe. The Uneeks outer-made mostly of non-stretch, water-repellent polyester cord-blends the popular 1970s trends of Mexican huaraches and macram. Uneek designer Rory Fuerst explained that the innovative design was intended to offer a better fit than the flat-webbing Keens weve previously tested (see PS July 2010 online). The Uneeks outsole is non-marking rubber with serrated siping under the ball of the foot to augment grip. The footbed provides good arch support and cradles the foot. PS found that the mens Uneeks were surprisingly comfortable, and in tests, their grip was acceptable for sailing. (The grip test protocol mirrored that of the 2010 shoe test.) Keens reputation as quality water shoes makes the Uneeks hefty $100 price tag reasonable. ($100,

If you have a woman who sails on your gift list, you can be sure shed appreciate a new pair of sailing shorts or capris from 12 West, a small clothing company owned and operated by sailor Julie Hylton. The company offers a range of attractive, functional womens sailing apparel that is designed and made in New York City. We checked out the Newport Crop capris ($110) and the knee-length Oyster Bay shorts ($95). Testers found the water-resistant, stretchy Dintex fabric soft and easy to move in. The durable fabric, touted for its light weight and breathability, sheds water and keeps its shape during wear. Both the capris and the shorts feature pockets with zip closures, a metal D-ring for attaching a knife or gloves, and SPF 50 sun protection. The shorts also have a cargo pocket, and the capris have articulated knees. Testers-made cynical by years of wearing boxy, mens sailing shorts before the advent of women-specific gear-liked the 12 West clothings tailored fit, comfort, and construction quality. Sailing women will appreciate the attractive design and free range of movement the clothes offer. Gift-givers will like that each purchase comes pre-wrapped in a reusable cotton-canvas tote bag. ($95-$110,

Pelican 65-quart ProGear Elite Cooler

Our last gift idea this month, falls into the splurge category-or perhaps, the practical splurge group. This bulletproof cooler impressed testers with its features and rugged design. PStests have found that typical cooler weaknesses are wimpy latches, hinges, untethered drain plugs, and handles that barely last a season, but the Pelican ProGear Elite excels in these areas. It has wide, positive-locking latches; heavy-duty hinges; both molded and hinged handles; a tethered, screw-on drain plug; and stainless hardware. Bonus features that make it a good candidate for life aboard a sailboat include nonskid, nonmarking feet that really grip; a stainless lock plate; molded-in tiedowns; and an interior lip for hanging dry-storage baskets. The American-made cooler also has an integrated fish scale on the lid. Measuring 37 inches long by 20 inches wide and nearly 20 inches deep, the ProGear Elite has a sizeable footprint-especially given the 2.3-cubic-foot interior-but it can double as a cockpit seat (a really comfy one if you add the optional cushion topper). Pelican claims the Elite can hold ice for 10 days, using the companys online tips for ice retention. Rather than trying to confirm Pelicans claims, we carried out the same meltwater test weve used in past cooler evaluations, and did a mini head-to-head test with the 2008 Budget Buy, the Coleman Xtreme 70 quart. Thanks to a freezer-grade gasket and 2 inches of polyurethane insulation, the Elite outperformed the Coleman in this test. Its sloped drain and multiple interior drain channels enabled it to drain faster and more completely than the Coleman, too. The only two drawbacks we found after testing the ProGear Elite were its weight (48 pounds empty) and price, but there are wheeled models available (look for our upcoming test of these), Pelican guarantees the Elite for life, and its durable construction means owners won't have to buy another cooler for a very long time. ($310,

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.


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