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Finding The Right Binoculars For Your Boat

binocularsIf the last few years of incredible offshore fishing have taught us anything, it’s that having the right pair of binoculars can make all the difference in the world when it comes to finding schools of biting fish. What constitutes the “right” pair? Well that depends on the size of your boat and your style of fishing.

The biggest factor in choosing binoculars is knowing how far you’ll be looking.

This image shows the math involved with calculating at what distance the curvature of the earth allows us to see given our height above the water. Yeah, I don’t understand the math either but if your standing in your skiff the horizon is at 3 miles and if you’re sitting 30-feet up in a tower it moves out to about 6.7 miles.

The take away from this math is that unless you’re in the tower all day looking for sleeping marlin 5 miles away you don’t really need to drop six grand on a pair of Fujinon Stabiscope gyros because you won’t be looking far enough to need them. There are multiple options that range from less than $100 to $1,000 that are well suited to small boat fishing. To understand which is the right pair for you you’ll need to understand how to tell the different ones apart.

Binoculars are classified in this format: (Magnification) X (Objective Lens Diameter) and (Angle of View). The classification will usually look like this 10 X 42 6°. Let’s take a look at what each of these numbers mean.

8, 10, 12 and 14 are common magnifications for marine binoculars. As the magnification number goes up the field of view gets tighter. For example: the picture at the top represents the way your naked eye would see the birds at a distance of 100-feet. Looking through an 8X magnification you’d be able to see the birds in the top picture from 800-feet away and at 14X magnification they’d look the same from 1400-feet away.

Objective Lens Diameter is the next consideration. Lens diameter has no affect whatsoever on the distance you can view or the size of the image you’ll see. The diameter only affects the amount of light that the binocular’s lens is able to capture. As you can see the 40-mm lens has a brighter image than the 32-mm lens. This additional brightness makes for contrast and allows you to pick out subtle variations. This is big when looking for birds on overcast days or kelp paddies in low light. The good news is that a lot of binoculars with smaller lens diameters have coatings that increase contrast and brightness.

The final classification, angle of view, explains just how wide an area you are seeing when you’re looking through the binoculars. They use degrees to describe this because the actual width of the viewing area varies depending on the distance you’re looking. In a nutshell, each degree is equal to 52.5-feet at 1,000-yards. So a pair of binoculars classified as 10 x 42 6° would show you an image with a 315-foot diameter at 1000-yards. That means you’d be viewing an area about the size of a football field when looking at an area 1000-yards away. That would make finding a giant tuna foamer easy but finding a couple of terns almost impossible. If you had a pair classified as 14 x 40 4° the image would be down to 210-feet wide and 30% more manageable.

The farther you look the bigger a factor boat movement becomes in your ability or inability to effectively use your binoculars. If you’re glassing out to 1000-yards you’re going to need a few seconds to process all 210-feet of water that you’re seeing through your binoculars at any given time. To do that you’re going to need image stabilization. The picture above pretty much shows how that works. If I were to pick up my Fujinon 14 x 40 4° Techno Stabis and look at a boat that’s a dot on the horizon, I could probably make out its size, type and color but that’s about it. Once the image stabilization is turned on I could tell you that’s the “Pescador” and they’re fighting a marlin. They’ve got three guys in the cockpit and a guy in the bow. The difference is really that big.

binoculars fishingSo, which ones do you need? The bottom two binoculars in this photo are the Fujinon KF Series. On the left is the 8 x 25 6.7° and the right is the 10 x 42 6°. I keep the larger pair on the boat year round and they work great for most of my inshore fishing needs. These are the glasses I’ll use when looking ahead for birds or boils when fishing calicos in the kelp. They’re also well suited for run and gun yellowtail fishing when most of the stuff you’re looking for his going to be within several hundred yards of the boat.

Up top are my Techno Stabis. The ones on the left are an older 12 x 32 5° pair I’ve used the last couple years, which are now relegated to a back up roll, and on the right is my new 14 x 40 4° pair. The new ones run around $1,000 and the older ones are discontinued but can still be found online for $500-600. If you’re considering investing in a pair of image stabilized binoculars I highly recommend spending the extra money on the new ones as, when it comes to performance, they are head and shoulders above the previous model.

In fact, I’ve become so reliant on these binoculars when fishing offshore that I feel like I’m fishing blind without them.

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Erik Landesfeind is BD's Southern California Editor and has over 30 years of experience saltwater fishing for a range of species in both California and Mexican waters. Erik is also an active freelance writer and the author of the weekly column So Cal Scene, which BD publishes every Friday. In So Cal Scene, Erik keeps all of the BD readers up to date on what's biting in Southern California. Erik divides his fishing time on local boats, long-range trips and Mexico excursions. For the past eight years, Erik has been competing in the SWBA (Saltwater Bass Anglers) tournament series and has multiple tournament victories to his credit. His sponsors include Batson Enterprises / Rainshadow Rods, Robalo Boats, Tilly's Marine, Abu/Garcia, Penn Reels, Navionics, Raymarine, MC Swimbaits, Uni-Butter Fishing Scent and Bladerunner Tackle.