Jeff Seigel, founder of ActiveCaptain, writes…
For years, we've talked about the advantages of cruising couples using headsets for communications. There is no substitute. While hand signals may work in many conditions, we've found good communications is most needed when both hands are busy. And nothing compares to the ability to calmly and reliably talk between crew members while docking, anchoring, and during other maneuvers. In stressful situations, great communications removes much of the stress.
We bought our first headsets, the original toy models, in 2003. They became so important, we bought a second set in case there were problems.
They used the AM radio band and eventually started to pick up interference with the new electronics we were putting onboard.
About 5 years ago, a new generation appeared, characterized by the Eartec Simultalk 24G Multi-Station Wireless System. These used more professional audio equipment and radio bands to deliver a better solution. When we delivered Red Head from New York to Deltaville, those Eartec's were the first things we put in the pilothouse.
Five years in consumer electronics is many lifetimes. And today there is another, newer generation of headsets for boating. The two new models available are the Sena SPH10 and the Eartec UltraLITE. 3 months ago we were offered a set of each model for evaluation. We had one rule – if we evaluated them, everyone agreed we would release our honest findings in writing.
Both models use Bluetooth which means they can also connect to phones and other devices. We never used them for that – we only used them for docking, anchoring, and general communications (running wires, etc).
Bluetooth requires a pairing process to connect the devices together.
This provides a level of security so no one can overhear your communications. For both products, we found the pairing process to be annoying. The combination of pressing, holding, tapping, and standing by seems ridiculous. The instructions were not great for either product. We found the best way to get them to pair was to find YouTube videos and watch the procedure carefully.
Once they are paired, they remember their connection making real use much easier. Again, if you have procedural problems, look to YouTube for help.
So what did we find? We used both sets for all operations in different weather conditions. They are surprisingly similar and we can say that either model will do a great job. This new generation doesn't require a pack – everything is in the headset itself. That makes it a lot nicer than the previous generation. We do have our favorite and we'll explain it through a list of plusses and minuses for each product:
+ They are small and comfortable although comfort is a personal thing A
+ USB cable charges each headset They have longer talk time
– It is difficult to talk in heavy wind conditions
– They are more expensive (especially this week)
+ They work amazingly well in heavy wind
– They block more outside sound on one ear – don't get the two ear model
– Batteries have to be removed for charging
+ A single battery charger charges the batteries for both headsets
Either device will work well and both are excellent for docking and undocking situations. But the Eartec's were significantly better when deploying and retrieving the anchor in the wind. And for whatever reason, we seem to frequently anchor in windy conditions. To make the comparison fair, during the anchoring tests in the wind, we switched headsets back and forth. Perhaps the Sena's need a windscreen or some type of mic that is less sensitive to wind. But there is a difference and for us, we're sticking with the Eartec's.
If you're a couple in a cruising boat and still believe that hand signals are all you need, borrow a set of headsets from someone and give it a try. Once you do, you'll never want to give them up.