Communication Headsets

NOTE from Carolyn: Communication headsets are a wonderful tool on a boat. When we bought our first boat, it came with a set of “toy” headphones that were great the few times they worked. (The toy headsets are totally unsuitable for a boat — they fall off, batteries don’t last, wind noise can be atrocious, and they corrode in no time in salty air; don’t waste your money.)

Cruising Mexico at the time, we couldn’t get real ones — and there weren’t many available even in the US. Since then, the technology has advanced considerably and headsets are sophisticated devices that can make life aboard much less stressful.

But good headsets aren’t cheap, starting at about $275 for a 2-person system, and you want to be sure to get a set that will do what you need them to. I’m not an expert and, despite getting many questions on the topic, never felt comfortable discussing the pros and cons of different models. So when Steve Charlebois, owner of Sea Dog Boating Solutions (a TBG sponsor), offered to write up a comparison of the ones he sells, I said “please do!”. This is his guest post.

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Have you ever wished there was a better way to communicate with each other or with multiple people while on your boat?

Having a good hands-free way to communicate while docking, anchoring or doing your mooring approach can make boating much less stressful. Imagine no more yelling over the wind/engine noise or trying to see hand signals to communicate on your boat. A full-duplex system is where each person can speak simultaneously and everyone can speak and hear each other at the same time. For a two-way system, it is like talking on the telephone. Each person can speak and hear the other person at the same time.

There exist communication systems that are designed specifically for the boating environment with great features like a headset that wraps around the back of your head/neck so when you lean over to work with a line, the headset doesn’t fall off into the water or crash onto the deck. There are noise cancelling headsets for power boats or other noisy boating environments. It really depends on what your needs are and a system can be designed to accommodate your specific requirements.

I’ve put together a table that describes different communication systems that I believe make boating more enjoyable and less stressful – Sea Dog Boating Solutions Headset Table (click link to view PDF or right click to download and save).

These communication systems  provide a solution for the following situations and environments:

  • Foredeck to Helm
  • Deck to Mast Head
  • Navigation Station to Helm
  • Helm to Bow
  • Anchoring
  • Mooring or Docking
  • Traveling through locks
  • Trailering – loading, unloading and parking
  • Fueling your boat

Now for the details on the individual systems.

Eartec Simultalk 24G 2-Way system

The Eartec Simultalk 2-Way is my most popular system. This is a cost-effective system that allows boaters to communicate easily in a full-duplex environment. This allows both people to speak and hear the other person at the same time.

There are no buttons to push once you have the radios set up which is really easy to do. There is a Master Radio and a Remote Radio.

The nice thing about the Eartec Simultalk 24G system is that there are many different options for headsets if you want to customize your system. The system comes with the Cyber Headset which is a very lightweight headset (less than 1.25 ounces) that wraps around the back of your head/neck and is very comfortable. You don’t even realize the headset is on your head.

The Cyber Headset design is great for boating because the band goes around the back of your head/neck so it is not going to fall off as you are bending over, tending to lines or other items. The Cyber Headset has only one speaker which is on the left side. If someone wears a hearing aid in their left ear, this may not be a good headset choice. There are many other Eartec headsets that are available which can be used with the Eartec Simultalk 24G radios and can be chosen instead of the Cyber headset.

The cons to this system is that there is a separate radio/belt pack (Master and Remote) which the headset plugs into. There is a wire running from the headset down to the radio. The radio/belt pack can be clipped to your waistband or you can stow it in a pocket. Some folks don’t like the wire because it can get caught on stays or lifelines or other items on your boat. This really is a personal preference.

The Eartec Simultalk 24G also offers a 3-Way and a 4-Way system but once you go beyond a 2-Way system, it is NO LONGER a full-duplex system. If you are looking for a full-duplex system for 3 or 4 people, check out the My Team Talks Headset System.

The Simultalk 24G 3-Way or 4-Way system does have applications where this setup still works well. In each of these systems, there is a Master Radio and either two Remote or three Remote radios depending on whether the system is set up as a 3-way or a 4-way system. So for a 3-Way system, there is now a Master and two Remote radios (lets call them Remote1 and Remote2).

Both Remote radios (Remote1 and Remote2) can hear the Master radio speak but the two Remote radios cannot hear each other since they are using the same frequency. So both Remote radios could hear what the Master is saying but only the Master radio will be able to hear what each Remote radio is saying. Only one Remote radio can speak to the Master radio at a time. So if Remote1 comes out of the Standby Mode into Transmit mode, the Master radio will be able to hear Remote1 speak. The Remote2 radio will not be able to hear what Remote1 said, but Remote2 will be able to hear what the Master says to Remote1. When Remote1 is done speaking, they should go into the Standby Mode so that if Remote2 needs to speak to the Master, Remote2 can go into Transmit mode and speak with the Master radio.

My Team Talks

My Team Talks is a system that can be used with 2-4 people in a full-duplex environment. Each headset is sold individually and comes with the headset, boom microphone, mini microphone, a USB power and data cable, a stereo audio cable and a set of rubber earpads. A minimum of two headsets are required to make a system.

The headset uses Bluetooth 3.0 technology for the intercom mode which allows you to communicate between headsets. The headset weights about 4.25 ounces and all the electronics are built into the headset. These headsets sit comfortably on your ears and have a headband that wraps around the back of your head/neck.

The controls are located on the left earpiece. There is a speaker for both the left and right ear. There is a volume control that allows you to adjust the volume so you can hear in whatever environment that you are in. The boom microphone can be adjusted so the others can hear you speak clearly. These headsets do not need any other equipment to communicate with each other.

You can also use these headsets to listen to music and you can even pair up the headset with the Bluetooth on your cell phone and answer your cell phone calls while it is safely stored below deck.

This system does NOT use any belt pack and there are no wires to get caught on stays or other boat equipment. These headsets can be configured to work with up to four headsets so you can have four individuals communicating in a full-duplex environment without having any buttons to push. All four people can speak and hear each other at the same time.

Eartec Comstar

The Eartec Comstar system is a more sophisticated system that can to allow up to eight people to communicate simultaneously without any buttons to push.

There is a Com-Center base-station that is the center of communication and the headsets will work up to 400 yards away from the base station in either direction so you can communicate and be up to 800 yards from each other.

There are two types of headset setups that can be used with this system. There is the All-In-One headsets, with a choice of three different headset options, which have all of the electronics built right into the headset. The other option is to use the Comstar Compak belt pack which then has one of many different headset options that plugs into the belt pack. The Comstar All-In-One headsets and the Comstar Compak headsets can be used together as part of up to eight systems that can communicate together.

This system is ideal where you know that you will need more than four people communicating in a full duplex environment. It allows you to add additional headsets/users to the system at any time in the future. The base station comes with an AC power cord or can be operated with Ni-MH batteries. This system is very flexible and allows you to meet each individual’s headset preference.

Of course, in addition to boating, all of these communication systems can also be used for:

  • Parking Campers/RVs
  • Equestrian Training
  • Theater/Dance Performances
  • Videographers/Weddings
  • Blind Skiers
  • Construction/Bridge Inspections
  • Heavy Equipment Operation
  • Plant Tour Communications
  • Sports Officiating/Referees
  • Rowing
  • Bicycling/Mountain Biking

Author bio: Steve Charlebois is the owner of Sea Dog Boating Solutions, LLC which was founded in 2007.  Steve started this business based upon his passion for boating and problem solving. He enjoys meeting people, understanding unique and challenging problems and developing creative solutions to these problems.  He would love to help you solve your boating problems. He will provide personalized service and supports the products he sells.

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26 Comments
  • Frances Liz Fernandez
    Posted at 02 September 2015 Reply

    We’ve almost perfected our yelling skills and hand signals! Might be a definite consideration if/when we get a bigger boat.

  • Annette Cleckner Baker
    Posted at 02 September 2015 Reply

    Thanks for the info. We used the Eartec Simultalk on our 44′ sailboat. They were fine, but we found that they wore or were a bit lightweight at the connections and we would get static or drop out after about 2 years. Nice and reasonably priced. We got reasonable use (full time cruising) for price. Then we bit the bullet and bought Senas and really like those. So far so good one year in. The headsets in addition to hand signals as needed have just about eliminated yelling!

  • Lynn Kaak
    Posted at 02 September 2015 Reply

    Hand signals don’t need batteries. Or replacement.

  • Ted Broom
    Posted at 02 September 2015 Reply

    We have used headsets since we found a Radio Shack set on board our first boat. We currently have a pair of Motorola vox walkie talkies (FRS/GMRS) with headsets that work great at a lot less cost. In any case, they save a lot of stress on board. No yelling back and forth, no misread hand signals and when hidden under a hat, make you look real good at what you are doing…Ted..

  • Catherine Whisenhunt Yox
    Posted at 02 September 2015 Reply

    Best item we have bought for boat!!! No more screaming.

  • Danielle Gagne
    Posted at 02 September 2015 Reply

    We use the simultalk 24G listed above . I agree with Annette the first poster . The connections wear out after awhile resulting in too much static. ( by then warranty is up & units are useless.) Also, the wire from unit to headset gets caught on things and the main unit falls out of pocket. Overall, not happy with the system and am in the process of looking for a new system. This article could not have come at a better time! Thanks!

  • Tere Vidal
    Posted at 03 September 2015 Reply

    Thank you so much for researching this and giving us an expert’s view. We have, like others, perfected the hand signal method, however, as crew you are not always in an eye to eye line with the Captain! I have worried many times when I walk back to the bridge, because of the blind spot. Not to mention when we are docking and I am in the swim platform, getting ready to jump. Those few seconds we are not in view of each other, or able to communicate. I looked into walkie-talkies, but they are awkward when you have to tend the lines and push buttons. We will be investing in one of these models, based on the article and the comments!

  • Bejay Grackin
    Posted at 03 September 2015 Reply

    We have used the Eartec 24G for about 6 years and love them.

  • Liz
    Posted at 06 September 2015 Reply

    We have a pair of the Sena/My Team Talks. My husband was familiar with that brand from their motorcycle headsets. I really like them, and my husband refuses to go up the mast unless we’re wearing them now. Even when it’s windy, it’s easy to hear each other and they’ve never felt like they would fall off. Sadly, the part of the frame that loops over the ear on his pair broke, but we’ve managed to continue using them by splinting the broken part with a sawed-off chopstick held in place by rescue tape.
    I suspect this may be a weakness in many brands of headsets because they want to make them light enough to avoid being cumbersome.

    • Liz
      Posted at 21 January 2016 Reply

      Update: Sena replaced our headset with the broken earpiece for free.

  • Misty Smith
    Posted at 08 September 2015 Reply

    Used our Eartec units for the first time this weekend. Love them! We have a 44′ steel Power Scow. Communicating from the wheelhouse to the deck was pretty much impossible with hand signals, lip reading & shouting. Now we’re able to have a calm conversation from the wheelhouse to the deck. Thank you!!

  • Steve Charlebois
    Posted at 22 November 2016 Reply

    HEADSET COMMUNICATION SYSTEM UPDATE – Eartec has come out with a new system called the Eartec UltraLITE system (2016). Steve at Sea Dog Boating Solutions (that’s me) has updated the comparison document which can be found at: http://www.seadogboatingsolutions.com/boating-communication-systems-comparison.html

    Check out the updated article and contact Steve at Steve@seadogboatingsolutions.com if you have any questions.

  • Katrina Schiro
    Posted at 28 June 2017 Reply

    We have talked about getting wireless headsets. Like the idea of hands free!

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 29 June 2017 Reply

      We love the Sena “My Team Talks” bluetooth ones. No interference, no falling off. And Amazon has them a little cheaper right now (thanks to another reader who let me know): http://amzn.to/2tsE2gf

  • Michael Guelker-Cone
    Posted at 28 June 2017 Reply

    We just purchased a pair of Sena SPH10 headsets after trying Wilkie talkies with and without headsets and trying hand signals. The delay in the wallow talkies caused so much frustration and miscommunication. Out they went. Hand signals are okay in line of sight situations. But in many cases I can’t see my wife at critical moments. Friends with the same Sena model introduced us to theirs and we were instantly smitten. We ordered them from Amazon for $318 for the pair with free delivery. We tried them out for the first time the other day for both anchoring and docking and they changed our lives instantly. We speak calmly and share important info instantly. The Sena headsets work great! Check them out: http://amzn.to/2tsE2gf

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 29 June 2017 Reply

      Those are the same ones that are discussed as “My Team Talks” — we have them and they are great.

      • Wayne
        Posted at 29 June 2017 Reply

        No matter what unit you get you will have a battery pack. The advantage to a unit that is self contained is that you do not have a wire running from your head to your waist or wherever you put the remote unit. The unit I referenced has a short wire and the unit could be installed right on the head muffs. No wire to catch on anything so less of a chance to catching it on something or getting in your way.

        As far as the muffs falling off, I am not following your logic. These muffs do not fit loosely on your head, they are nice and snug.so I am missing why this wouldn’t work

        • Carolyn Shearlock
          Posted at 29 June 2017 Reply

          My experience — from ones we previously had — is that heavier ones with a larger battery pack incorporated into the headset and which do not go around the back of the neck tend to fall off if you really bend over to look at something with the anchor. That problem is why we “stopped” using our old set — one headset went to the bottom of the anchorage and salt water isn’t kind to electronics. The Sena ones with the tiny battery back and design of going around the neck mean that we haven’t lost one even when untangling an oops.

  • Julie Strickland
    Posted at 28 June 2017 Reply

    We bought the Eartec wireless headsets for this season – game changer when docking and tying lines!

  • Winston
    Posted at 28 June 2017 Reply

    We use our cellphones with earbuds. Works well as long as we have service.

  • Wayne
    Posted at 28 June 2017 Reply

    I found a much much cheaper alternative. Using motorcycle intercom systems mounted in cheap homedepot ear protection muffs ($7) http://www.homedepot.com/p/ERB-239-Folding-Earmuff-NRR-23dB-Purple-14243/301851064
    and
    http://amzn.to/2umIDgx for ($90)

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 29 June 2017 Reply

      Yes, definitely cheaper, but the still have the battery pack that has to be worn and the cord, which the Sena (aka My Team Talks) system doesn’t. I’d also be a little more worried about those ear muffs falling off . . . and into the water as I was looking down at the anchor.

  • Sara Burns
    Posted at 24 July 2017 Reply

    Since every boat we’ve chartered, and our relatively short stature compared to boat designers’ ideal sailor height, means that my SO can’t see or hear each other during mooring/anchoring maneuvers, we just ordered a pair of My Team Talks based on your recommendation. He was especially impressed with the intelligent behind-the-head-so-it-doesn’t-fall-in-the-water design. Thanks for your research and links.

  • Karen Bowen
    Posted at 03 August 2017 Reply

    Has anyone come across a brand compatible which is compatible with two hearing aids? Either adaptable to work directly with his hearing aids or comfortable to wear without feedback with his hearing aids. My husband wears two hearing aids which are blue tooth enabled. He can use his cell phone to play music, answer cell phone calls, and adjust the volumes through a clip which holds a mic. The clip is too easy to knock off and is not waterproof. Thanks.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 03 August 2017 Reply

      Two companies that I work with a lot sell several types of good headphones and provide EXCELLENT customer service. I’d recommend that you call either one (or both) and see what the owners have to say.

      Sea Dog Boating Solutions — Steve: (802) 734-3389
      Cruising Solutions –Maeve and Bradd: 800-460-7451

      • Karen Bowen
        Posted at 03 August 2017 Reply

        Thank you for pointing me in their direction.

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