The problem with detecting small vessels around your own ship, is the fact that they appear late on your radar screen, most of the time too late to classify the vessel and take appropriate action should this be needed. The only real way to spot small vessels in an early stage is by visual detection.
During the day normal good binoculars will do just fine, but at night, this can be a bit troublesome, especially if the small vessel doesn’t want to be detected and shows no lights, like for instance with modern day pirates.
In order to ensure detection of small vessels at night, night vision binoculars are the ones to use. You can have the normal binoculars with night vision mode and you can have the stabilized version, which will keep the image steady even when your own ship rocks on the waves.
The standard night vision binoculars are excellent for detection. The stabilized once are needed for classification in an early stage and are much better equipped to do so, instead of the unstabilized version.
The ideal bridge management setup to detect small vessels is by using two lookouts. One on port side and one on starboard side. They need to check their sectors continuously. In general a sector runs from -10˚ to 190˚ as seen on the image below.
Ideally each lookout uses night vision binoculars, and ensures he has got spare batteries at hand, should his battery pack fail. A third set of night vision binoculars should be available for the officer of the watch in order to assist a lookout should he spot a contact. Never should the other lookout leave his station to assist the other, because you will leave one side unprotected. The third set of binoculars can also act as spares should one of the two fail.
This means that in order to execute a good and thorough lookout process, for the detection of small vessels, which is to be maintained 100% of the time, you will need a total of three night vision capable binoculars and three spare battery packs.
Preferably you will use a set of night vision binoculars with a large zoom for early detection, most of the time these are unstabilized, and a set of stabilized binoculars for the classification.