This fall as we made the rounds of the boat show circuit, we spoke with dozens of readers who were buying gear, sails and even new boats. The spirit of the shows was upbeat. It’s as though we’re ready to get back in the game and prepare for lots more sailing ahead—a winter charter somewhere warm, perhaps, or maybe some extended cruising on our own boats. The dream of sailing and cruising hasn’t seemed so alive since the recession hit.

A lot of the shopping at the shows involved new items that will make cruising safer, simpler and more fun. At BWS, we have our own favorite new products and are happy to bring you our annual Holiday Gift Guide on page 40. The following are some of the items that really caught my eye at the shows. All of them should nicely help you advance your sailing game.

First are sails. Almost all of the major sailmakers have developed new lines of advanced, laminated sails that are perfect for cruisers. Even the new Dacron sails are better than ever. Well-built sails that hold their shapes will make a huge difference in your boat’s performance. And the trend toward smaller headsails with the addition of roller furling downwind sails means sailing can be more efficient, faster and more fun.

If you want to sail well and fast, you need to reduce your boat’s drag. The easiest way to do so is to retrofit a folding or feathering propeller. A fixed prop will steal up to a knot of boat speed. There are several varieties on the market and all of them offer unique properties to suit your budget and needs.

Winches are your power aids when handling sheets, halyards and lines, so why not make the most of them? Adding an electric winch to handle halyards and many line control operations really eases the load on the crew. Self-tailing, electric or hydraulic sheet winches take you to the next level of sail trim. And the new reversing electrical winches are bringing reel-winch, maxi yacht technology to the rest of us. I like the callous on my thumb from button pushing—you’ll like yours, too.

We all anchor a lot when we are cruising and there is a certain amount of anxiety as we wonder how well we are hooked to the bottom. The new generation of smart anchors that set quickly, hook well, roll over and reset easily have changed that. For peace of mind, add a new advanced anchor to your boat—it will change your cruising life.

Ships are my worst nightmare at sea, so I have to put AIS at the top of my safety and electronics list. I suggest a commercial grade transceiver system that both receives and broadcasts so you know who is around you and they know you are there. AIS saves lives and makes night passages much safer.

Finally, personal locator beacons have advanced a lot in the last few years. Now, you—alone in the water, separated from the mothership—can send a signal that will be heard around the world via satellite and on every boat around you that has an AIS system. If you want to give a gift this holiday system that can make a huge difference to the sailors in your life, a PLB should be on your short list.

Happy sailing and happy holidays. Great Gifts for Cruisers

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