Each and every spring, there’s a hot new crop of cool tools and other stuff that we boaters can use to make our lives on the water better. Of course, most of it costs big bucks. So what does 2015 have in store for the spendthrifts among us?
After perusing the winter boat shows, checking all the catalogs, and Googling until our fingers bled, we found a slew of handy but inexpensive gadgets and gear. Then we begged, bartered, and borrowed, in order to test all of it and make sure inexpensive didn’t mean “cheap.” After putting everything through the ringer, we boiled it down to a list of top 10 things we think you’ll want to know about.
1. Cuda Titanium Bonded Pliers
At $50, these things are a serious bargain. They sit comfortably in your hand, slide smoothly open and shut, and have separate tungsten carbide line and wire cutters. These are the first pliers I’ve had actually work with braid fishing lines, and that includes trying some pairs that cost literally three times as much. The hinge is sealed to prevent water intrusion, so these should last a bit longer than most regular pliers, too. Check them out at Cuda.
2. Johnny Morris Signature Series Spinning Reel
Fishing reel prices vary wildly, but $99.99 isn’t very expensive for an 11 ball-bearing spinner that holds 110 yards of six-pound mono, or 105 yards of nine-pound braid. The gear ratio is 5.6:1, and it can put out a surprisingly potent 19.5 pounds of drag. There are a million new spinning reel models introduced every year, so why did we pick this one to include? Most of those that cost under $100 are, to put it bluntly, pretty junky. But we found the JMS10 to be exceptionally smooth, well-built (though the handle does flex a bit more than we’d like), and having a much more powerful drag than most competitors in this price range. For more info, visit Bass Pro Shops.
3. Lowrance Elite 3x
Want a color fishfinder for under a hundred bucks? No problem—the Lowrance Elite 3X MSRP’s for a mere $99.99. Sure, it’s a small unit with a 320 x 240 pixel, 3.5” display. No, it doesn’t have much power with a rating of 180 watts, RMS. So what? If you have a small boat or even a dinghy you like to fish from, it gets you color, 800 feet of depth range, 83 or 200 kHz frequencies, and it comes in an IPX7 waterproof-rated housing. Considering the cost, that’s pretty dang sweet; to learn more, go to Lowrance.
4. Navisafe TriColor Scotty
For about $60, you can get a single portable light that takes care of all your needs for running at night (in a small powerboat). The TriColor Scotty has green on one side, red on the other, and white showing astern. The LEDs get power from three AAA batteries, and the light mounts with the Scotty deck, rail, pole, and suction-mounting systems. The best part? Unlike most battery-operated lights used for small boats, the Navisafe is well-built, waterproof, and air-tight. Find out more from Navisafe.
5. Navionics SonarCharts Live
If you have a WiFi-enabled boat and the Navionics app on your phone or tablet, the cost is a big, fat zero. (If you need to add the app, it’ll cost $10. If you need to add WiFi to your boat, well, that’ll thoroughly bust our price cap.) And this isn’t really a gizmo or a thing, so much as a new ability: you can put your chartplotter screen right up on your phone or tablet, and watch as the pings and positions coming from your fishfinder and chartplotter update the bathometry in real-time. Yes, in real-time—that, my friends, is uber-cool. Find out more at Navionics.
6. Nyne Aqua
$129.99 pushes up towards our price cap, but we’re talking about a waterproof, floating, rechargeable, Bluetooth-connected speaker. And while the Aqua didn’t get loud enough to annoy our neighbors (dang!), we loved the ability to drop it into the pool and let the cool tunes float around with us. It comes with a strap so you can tether the Aqua to your swim platform or a cleat, and it even has a built-in microphone—so if your relaxation gets rudely interrupted by a call, you can tell your boss you’re hard at work. Check it out at Nyne.
7. Plano Marine Trunks
We like boating gear that carries a low, low cost, and at $39.99, the 68 quart Plano Marine Trunk is definitely inexpensive. But it differs from cheap marine stowage boxes in that it’s strong. Really strong—I used one for a seat all day and then jumped up and down on it, to really put it to the test. It’s not hinged so you have to fumble with the top now and then, but it does have a deeply gasketed rim to keep out splishes and splashes. Plus there are recessed handles, sturdy latches, and tie-down brackets. The 68 quart model is their mid-sized offering; you can also get the Marine Trunk in 56 quart ($35.99) or 108 quart ($49.99) sizes. To find out more, visit Plano Molding.
8. Standard Horizon Eclipse GX1300
Here’s another one that just squeaks in under our price limit, at a cost of $149.99. Like the old Eclipse this is a pretty basic radio, but it does have a few nifty features like Noise Reduction (which cuts out background and engine noise) and automatic position polling. But what’s really good about the new Eclipse is that it’s watertight and has been re-engineered to meet IPX8 standards. That means it can take immersion beyond one meter, for up to 30 minutes, without water intrusion or damage. Plus, Standard-Horizon backs it up with a three year waterproof warranty. Find out more at Standard-Horizon.
9. Star brite Fiberglass Stain Remover
This spray bottle comes in for less than $20, and what’s really cool is the fact that this stain-dissolver comes in a spray bottle. In the past, the formulas you needed to get rid of blemishes like rust streaks, fishblood stains, and watermarks came in a jelly-filled jar. This stuff does exactly the same thing, but you can spray it on, instead of having to dip it out with a rag and then wipe it on. For long-distance stains like icky yellow waterlines, that’s a serious time-saver. Check it out at Star brite.
10. Weego Jump Starter
At $99.99, the standard 6000 MAh Weego Jump Starter battery limbos in under our price cap without a problem. Yet this potent little power-pack has the oomph to turn gasoline engines up to 4.6 liters. Considering it’s the size of an average cell phone, that’s pretty darned impressive. We proved it by using one to start a 90 HP Suzuki outboard, which it did without hesitation. Plus, the Weego has a flashlight, charges in just 1.5 hours, and weighs less than half a pound. This is a big, big improvement over those clunky old portable jump-starter packs. For more info, read Ed Sherman’s review of the Weego, or visit the company online.
Want to learn about some of the more pricey goodies the new boating season has to offer? Check out these news-makers:
Mercury Marine Reveals 350 Verado, Mercury Racing 400R
The Outboard Expert: News from Nissan, Yamaha, Mercury, SeaStar, and MotorGuide
Lowrance HDS Gen3: Quick Video Tour
Lowrance SmartSteer and Autopilot
Volvo Penta Forward Drive: Designed for Wake Surfing, Introduced at Miami
Seven Marine 627 Outboard Debuts
Lehr 25 Propane Outboard: Don't Buy Gas or Propane!