Chandlery October 2007 Issue

Can You Hear Me Now? Mariner 500 Communication Aid

Static-prone Mariner 500 an affordable communication aid.

One of the many challenging aspects of on-board life is exchanging information between the helmsperson and the crew at the other end of the boat. While anchoring or docking, for instance, wind and engine noise can present formidable hurdles. Thatís why many resort to hand signals to be more effective in these tasks. But an even more effective approach exists.

Voice communication aided by wireless headsets is not new technology, but itís a fitting solution to the problem. In the last Americaís Cup in Valencia, Spain, wireless headsets were du rigueur for bowmen, headsail trimmers, and tacticians. But Practical Sailor considers those high-tech gadgets cost-prohibitive (from $600 to $1,000 each), which is why we were pleased to discover Cruising Solutionsí Mariner 500 headset  ( ($60).

Though much bulkier than high-tech headsets (the earmuffs measure 1.85x2.6x3 inches), the Mariner 500 weighs just a half-pound, including the 9-volt battery. The battery is housed in the right earmuff, and the speaker is housed in the left earmuff, so you only get sound in the left ear.

Mariner 500 Communication Aid

The Chinese-built Mariner 500 operates on AM radio frequencies with high and low settings. According to the maker, these units have a range of 300 feet, but we found that distances of 60 feet or less produce the best performance. But we encountered static every time we used the headset.

Bradd Wilson of Cruising Solutions explained: "High-performance gasoline engine ignition systems, unshielded alternators, and some fluorescent lights could cause the static."

The adjustable headset is fitted with a pliable, 9.5-inch antenna and adjustable microphone thatís foam-covered to reduce wind interference. We like the antenna, but it is vulnerable to snags on rigging. The company advises tucking it into the headpiece, but our testers found that this diminished the reception. Also, these units are not water-resistant, so use in foul weather is not recommended.

Bulky, yes, and prone to static, the Mariner 500 isnít ideal. However, we were unable to find another product (save those built for kids) that can even come close to this price. If youíre tired of frustrating communication, this device could enhance your time on board for a nominal investment.


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