What Instruments Do You Need On A Sailboat? 10 Items!

Sailing on a sailboat needs various instruments to reach the destination and handle certain issues on the way. Seamanship is also about extensive preparation in terms of infrastructure and concrete knowledge about the boat. If you are setting up your sailboat with the necessary equipment, you need to know the primary set of instruments. 

The essential list of instruments you need on a sailboat includes a depth gauge, speed log, wind instrument, VHF radio, multifunction displays, chart plotter, GPS, AIS, and radar. You can also add display and musical instruments for clarity and entertainment, respectively. 

In this article, let’s look at the significance of instruments on a sailboat and the possible types of instruments you can use on a sailboat. 

Why Use Instruments For Sailing

Imagine sailing across water currents without instruments and halting suddenly because you either feel lost or experience environmental troubles. Isn’t your sailing experience getting complicated?

Well, this is the exact reason to use instruments; to simplify and enhance the sailing experience. 

Aren’t convinced yet? Here are some more reasons for highlighting the importance of instruments for sailing:

  1. Sailing instruments give a detailed picture of the environmental condition while traveling to your destination.
  2. Sailing instruments alert you during an emergency situation, such as weather or other boats in the area.
  3. Sailing instruments allow you to know your sailing pattern better. Further, it’s possible to note the vessel’s position as you continue sailing. (Waypoints)
  4. Most importantly, sailing instruments offer better decision-making opportunities to sailors whenever a crisis situation is anticipated. 
  5. Aligning and managing your vessel based on weather conditions is feasible only with sailing instruments in place. 

Sailing instruments act as helping hands to sailors and their crew in navigating and adding ease to the sailing experience.

Instruments To Have On A Sailboat 

Some of the basic instruments that every sailboat should contain include a depth gauge, speed log, radar, anemometer, wind instruments, engine monitors, multifunction displays, GPS, and chart plotter. 

Irrelevant to what your budget is, it’s vital to equip your sailboat with these instruments. Otherwise, your experience may become more difficult.

Let’s look at the purpose of each instrument. 

1. Depth gauge 

The purpose of a depth gauge is to inform the depth of water beneath the keel. It allows you to navigate better and also align anchor with relevant scope. Additionally, you can link this device to other display instruments. 

2. Speed log

Are you sailing at the right speed? Sometimes, we enjoy sailing to the extent that we navigate and sail too fast or too slow. To avoid possible issues that can arise due to speed, you need a speed log. 

The log informs the presence of current and estimated arrival time. Some global positioning systems (GPS) include speed logs. Invest in the right instrument, and you won’t regret it! 

3. GPS

Do you sail across multiple water currents? GPS is undeniably the first instrument to purchase for your sailboat. The purpose of a GPS is to know your present position on the water and then make a decision about the direction you want to go. 

Thanks to technological advancements, there are integrated GPS instruments that are cross-compatible and also include other functionalities needed for a sailboat. 

4. Radar

Radar is widely assumed as an expensive instrument for a sailboat, but it’s quintessential if you handle night sails or long routes. Radar gives a clear picture of boats and other elements on your route to the destination. 

If you skip this instrument, you may be vulnerable to sea traffic or get lost during night sails. Imagine this instrument as a safety guide for your boat. 

5. AIS

You may need an AIS or automatic information system, it’s affordable and includes a transceiver and a receiver. It works similarly to radar in identifying vessels around the location. However, most AIS instruments are easy to connect to your existing display unit. To find out more about AIS and radios, check out my other article below:


6. Chartplotter

Do you have a sailboat? Then you SHOULD have a chart plotter. We can’t stress the valuable nature of this instrument enough. 

Most basic sailboat instrument packages come with a chart plotter in them. Some chart plotters also include other functionalities like a depth gauge, AIS, GPS, and speed log. 

If you have a mobile phone or a tablet installed on your sailboat, you can download the corresponding app and start using the instrument. 

Note: Ensure that the device is waterproof and has at least 4GB RAM to gather consistent information on navigation. 

7. Multifunctional displays (MFDs)

The central instrument of your boat is a multifunctional display. Although you have several instruments loaded on your sailboat, you can integrate them into this one display instrument and then access the data. Above all, this display instrument has a touchscreen making the process more interactive. 

Irrespective of the size of your boat, it takes only a few minutes to understand the interface of MFDs. 

Can you believe that you can also control all switches, doors, and windows through this MFD?

Tip: Choose a fully networked instrument that is multipurpose and displays bright numbers, so you get a clear guide. 

You can also choose an MFD based on the size of the boat. If you’re running short on budget, you can begin with a monochrome display but be informed that it isn’t multipurpose and has limited functionalities. 

8. Wind instrument

Wind instrument tops the list of vital instruments. Perhaps, you have an instrument to track the boats around you and keep you updated on weather conditions. In reality, the weather is unpredictable, and you can’t rely on old news. 

The advantage of a wind instrument is the opportunity to determine wind angle in the cockpit. Based on the angle, you can regulate the sailing speed. This is a game changer if you’re sailing on a gusty water current. 

Tip: Choose a wind instrument that also includes a digital compass, and you’ll thank us later. 

Pair it up with a repeater, so it mimics information regularly and also offers detailed insights on weather status, wind speed, appropriate wind angle, and the recommended boat speed. 

9. Engine monitors 

Engine monitors are generally integrated into MFDs to obtain a complete understanding of the engine’s condition. Similar to cars and other vehicles where you have engine monitors, a sailboat also needs one, and this includes information about fuel, speed, and engine temperature. 

Whenever your sailboat is stuck for some reason, you can always look into the engine’s health before developing a plan of action. 

10. VHF radio

VHF radio lays the foundation of instruments appropriate for a sailboat. The advantage of VHF radios, lies in their connectivity, even in inaccessible locations. As you steer a sailboat, it’s essential to ensure consistent communication with respective authorities. This allows you to interact with them whenever you’re lost or in an emergency. 

Although you all have cell phones to communicate with others, these don’t work when network signals are lost. As a result, a VHF radio is critical in terms of safety for everyone onboard.

Now that we’ve looked at the basic sailboat package, you should look into your budget to purchase other secondary instruments if you’re left with some money. These instruments can save you time and effort. These include autopilot systems and advanced marine radar systems. 

In most cases, sailboats already arrive with these basic instruments to ease your sailing experience. You can also purchase them as packages from reliable vendors and maybe strike a good deal. 

If you are looking for a radio for your boat check out the article below for some great recommendations!

Do You Need Musical Instruments On A Sailboat

Sailing is a positive and interesting experience that can be made even more exciting with the addition of musical instruments on a sailboat. However, guitars and ukuleles are common musical instruments carried by passengers on the boat. 

If you’re on vacation, you may carry a barbecue set, lights, and instruments. However, a rule of thumb is to ensure that the electrical system on the sailboat is good enough to let you play the electrical instruments better. 

While there’s no limit to the number of musical instruments that you can use on a sailboat, adhere to the following precautions:

  • If you’re a sailor, remember to carry a pair of headphones to divert your concentration toward the instruction from MFDs. 
  • Keep a protocol handy to protect your instruments from extreme temperatures. 
  • Check the power system associated with the boat before you carry various musical instruments. 
  • Always take consent from the crew before permitting the use of electronic instruments. Sometimes, crew members can find these instruments annoying when played during the journey. 
  • Keep an eye on the number of instruments permitted. Otherwise, electrical outlets can be over-occupied, affecting your sailing experience. 

As you adhere to these precautions, you can balance between entertainment and professional sailing. It also safeguards passengers on the sailboat. 

Final Thoughts

Choosing an instrument for your sailboat is entirely based on the purpose, budget, and usability. If you’re a beginner, you may have a limited budget, and it’s relevant to go with a basic list of instruments. Alternatively, if you’re a professional sailor, it’s important to think of the purchase of these instruments as a one-time investment. 

Go for advanced systems that are multipurpose, integrated, and cross-compatible. Such systems may need you to undergo proper training to understand usability and troubleshooting issues. So, check your sailboat today and head on over to a boat instrument portal to make your purchase! 


Boatlifehq owner and author/editor of this article.

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