A boatie’s ultimate watch
A wristwatch like no other, Garmin’s Descent Mk 1 is a great-looking unit with multiple uses.
As an avid boatie and gadget junkie, I’ve long searched for the perfect watch with features that satisfy my boating, fishing and diving needs. I am also a runner, backpacker and hunter, and want features for those activities as well.
Sadly, these are conflicting requirements and, until recently, I could not find a singular device that provided all the required capabilities, while still being stylish enough to wear to the office every day. I acquired an Apple Watch to give me smart apps, GPS, and to track my running routes. A great device, but it has limited waterproofing, which really means it’s only ‘showerproof’. The flat glass screen is also prone to damage and not robust enough for wearing while working in the workshop or on the boat.
Then I bought a Citizen Promaster dive watch. That served me well as both my robust activity watch and also a simple dive computer, being a true dive watch with built-in depth gauge and dive-logging functions. Unfortunately, with my ageing eyesight I couldn’t read the tiny digital display. I needed a bigger, brighter screen.
Next, a Mares wrist dive computer. It has a big, back-lit display and the dive functions I need, but it lacks basic watch functions and has a non-rechargable battery. So – three different wrist devices – none ideal. Enter Garmin. Most boaties will know the brand for its extensive chartplotter and fishfinder technology. And its etrex range pretty much defined the market for handheld satellite navigation devices for trampers and hunters. Equally strong in the fitness wearables market, Garmin launched one of the first Gps-enabled running watches a decade and a half ago.
But a gap existed in the range – a true dive watch. While many of its fitness devices were waterproof to 100m, none provided the sorts of features that divers (both scuba and free divers) required.
Says Adam Howarth, Garmin Australasia general manager: “We wanted to build a dive computer that looked
so good and had so many features packed into it you’d never want to take it off.” The Descent Mk1 is the result. Introduced late last year, the watch has received rave reviews. It comes in two versions: a stainless case with rubber wrist strap; and the pricier titanium model with titanium strap. Both versions are fashion statements and are certainly suitable for everyday business and leisure wear.
The Descent packs an astonishing number of features into a single device. It combines the technology of a watch, dive computer, altimeter, heart rate monitor and GPS navigation into a package with a bright daylight-readable colour screen, plus Bluetooth and Wifi connectivity.
It’s the combination of GPS tracking with the dive capability that makes this watch unique. It provides for complete tracking of your dives. Of course, GPS does not work under water since it requires line-of-sight of the satellites, but when in Dive-mode the watch engages tracking to note your point of descent and where you surface again.
With its wireless connectivity providing automatic uploading of dive information to your smartphone or computer, you immediately have a log of your entire dive profile. And unlike many other dive computers, you can view graphs of depth, water temperature and heart rate immediately after the dive.
It’s also a very good dive computer. The bright colour screen, with backlight for deeper dives, is easily readable even for my eyes. The three-axis compass works no matter what your orientation in the water, and the depth and temperature sensors plus heart rate monitor all keep track of your critical parameters.
The software handles multiple gas options, with freediving, scuba and various technical dive profiles available. Alarms and safety information such as no-decompression times and surface intervals are calculated and displayed as required, and the displays are configurable to suit your preference. FOR NON-DIVERS
Not all boaties are divers, so the boating features are perhaps of more interest to readers. The Descent is a typical Smartwatch, able to download apps and widgets that provide activity-specific features. Since it’s built on the same software platform as the Garmin Fenix 5X Smartwatch, many of the apps designed for those devices also work with the Descent.
Although there are far fewer apps than for the Apple Watch, more than 1500 different apps and widgets (simplified apps) are currently available.
Navigation is of course critical for boaties, and the on-screen map is bright and easy to read. You can zoom in or out and scroll around the map, and different map options are available, including the default world map or Google or Open Street maps.
A default nautical chart is also available, with third-party charts available for purchase and download. With Garmin’s acquisition of Navionics last year, we can expect to see these as an option shortly, although they are not yet available.
Features of the app include course navigation, plotting your track, showing points of interest and a hotkey combination for instantly dropping a man-overboard pin on the map.
This full navigation capability is of particular interest to ocean swimmers, paddleboarders and other water sports where there is no option for a fixed-mounted screen or a handheld mobile phone. The chart can show you visually where you are, while tracking how far you have swum or paddled and how far you still to go.
Swimmers know how difficult it is to judge distances when your eyes are down at water level and being able to log exactly how far you have swum as well as your speed and heartrate can be invaluable for training.
For the golf-mad, downloadable maps of the world’s golf courses are available so you can see the entire course, pin locations, distances and hazards. Of course, it also allows you to keep score and measure the distances between shots, telling you precisely how long (or short!) your drives and shots were.
Another app I found very useful was Tides, which uses GPS to pinpoint your location and then display the appropriate tidal information. Boat Data is also useful. It will sync with compatible Garmin marine products on your boat and display up to four screens of data such as water depth and temperature. Also available are navigational info, engine monitoring like RPM and coolant temperature and up to 10 user-configurable fields.
Several sailing apps provides the sort of parameters that competitive sailors require, including start sequence countdowns, and calculations of speed, course, distance and velocity made good (VMG). There are apps to support just about any imaginable outdoor activity, such as running, tramping, skiing, hunting, golf, triathlon, rowing and walking.
And, unlike some other smart watches, the battery lasts up to 12 days between charges, depending on which features are being used. A handy cradle both charges the watch and syncs data to your computer if you don’t have Wifi available.
It has to be said the watch is not quite perfect, however. The Descent does not have a proper touch screen, although some apps like Dive mode respond to taps on the screen. To maximise battery life, it also does not support music playback directly to a Bluetooth speaker or headset.
Both of these are likely to be addressed as technology evolves. Also, the user interface of both the watch and the matching Garmin Connect software is less intuitive than most smartphone users have come to expect. Installing apps is easy enough, but organising and navigating through those apps on the device takes a bit of getting used to.
So, is the Garmin Descent Mk1 the ultimate present for the active boatie, fisherman, diver, swimmer, sailor or spearfisherman? Absolutely! Luckily for me Christmas came early, and anything else I may get will pale by comparison.
Although not cheap, this is a product that will produce smiles for a long time. The Descent Mk 1 is available from Hunting and Fishing Stores, most dive stores and selected marine retailers. BNZ
We wanted to build a dive computer that looked so good and had so many features packed into it you’d never want to take it off.
TOP The Descent Mk 1 packs multiple applications into a single wrist unit.
LEFT Useful as navigation tool when you’re in an unknown area.
RIGHT Yes, it will also give you the time of day.
BELOW It offers multiple functions for divers.BOTTOM LEFT It will show your heart racing when you slip the watch onto your wrist.
RIGHT Handy for exploring a new anchorage.