I have worn a suunto vector for over a decade. I chose it because I wanted an ABC watch, that was a step above the Casio Pathfinders I had been using, and a decade ago it was the best ABC watch on the market. ABC stands for Altimeter, Barometer, Compass, and for me, as paddler I won't hit the water without a barometer.
Here is why. Barometric pressure is the pressure that the air is exerting on you, in a column from above, and it is what makes weather move. When you have an area of low pressure, bad weather - ie. stormy weather with rain - is drawn into it. Think of a Hurricane with an eye in the center drawing bad weather into that very low area of low pressure. As the air is drawn to a location with lower air pressure, it rushes to get there, creating wind. I don't mind paddling in the rain, but wind will really ruin your day. A lot of times, you will feel the wind, before the bad weather hits you, and it is usually a different temperature (cooler), so it is easily noticeable.
High pressure pushes that bad weather away from you, giving you clear, cool skies. Think crisp fall mornings with a blue sky and just a bit of a chill in the air. That is high pressure doing its work.
So that is why I wear a Vector, which has been replaced by the upgraded suunto core. I rarely use the compass, and only use the altimeter (which is really just a barometer with a differently calibrated scale) when I am hiking.
But watches are changing. The first and biggest change is that most people aren't wearing them. I see this when I teach Wilderness First aid. Most people use their phones to tell time. But in the last couple of years we have seen some new watches hit the shelves in our favorite outdoor stores.
In particular I am thinking about the Garmin Fenix and Fenix 2, and the Suunto Ambit and Ambit 2. These watches add so many features it is dizzying. They are of course ABC watches, but they add GPS technology. Giving you the ability to not only track your location, and plot it on a map, but to know your exact speed and distance and direction to a known point. I was skeptical of the Fenix at first, while it is waterproof I figured it didn't have any features to really make it usable by a paddler. Then I saw that you could switch your units of measure to Nautical. I was delighted, but refused to give up the $400 required to get into the Fenix game. There is now of course a Fenix (and ambit) 2 offering even more features.
There is also the Garmin Quatix - dubbed "the mariners watch" by garmin, this does a lot of what the Fenix does, but they tout the ability to sight a distant point - and creating a waypoint and paddle towards it. It also has a number of sailing specific watches, it will interact wirelessly with garmin chart plotters, and it will feed NMEA data as well. It has a barometer and programmed tide tables as well - I am not sure if I trust watch based tide information, if you have used it let me know. I would like to try this watch but it is still $400!
I could buy the new Apple watch for less than that. And speaking of... No mention of waterproof, or battery life, but if it runs apps - which it does - then there could be kayaking specific apps running while you paddle. We will have to see how this looks for real, not just in demo in a keynote.
What watch are you wearing?