Review of the Marathon GSAR

Dive Hands on Watch Reviews Marathon Military Tritium

Marathon GSAR

The Marathon Watch Company is a supplier of watches to the Canadian military, but their products are also available for use by the U.S. military, law enforcement, and other government agencies. Luckily, they are also available to the general public. The
Marathon GSAR (meaning “Government-issued, Search And Rescue”), is a stainless steel dive watch water-resistant to 300 meters, or 1,000 feet. This is a special edition watch that uses the ETA 2824 Swiss automatic movement.

Let’s start with the specifications:

There are two versions of the GSAR: the standard, meaning that the phrase “U.S. Government” is printed under the Marathon logo (which is what I have), and the “Sterile Version” without “U.S. Government” on the dial (as requested by some government departments).
The bad news here is that obtaining one of these is a hit or miss experience. They frequently sell out, so you will have to be patient enough to wait for stock to be replenished. The GSAR “Sterile Version” has been out of stock ever since I bought my standard version.

The hands and dial markers are accented with Tritium capsules — an illumination technology that is self-powered and glows for up to 25 years without batteries or external light sources for charging. Tritium tubes are tiny sealed glass vials that contain gas Tritium which is an isotope of Hydrogen. The inside surface of the capsules is coated with a phosphor that glows as the Tritium gas decays. Several different colors can be generated depending on the type of phosphor used. (For more information, see Tritium Illumination on Wikipedia.)

How often do you find a watch as unique as the Marathon GSAR? Here is an industrial, machine-tooled case with a gear-like bezel twice as thick as most others bezels. Inside the near bomb-proof case is the renowned ETA 2824 Swiss automatic movement providing timekeeping on par with many very high-end COSC certified Swiss watches.


I have several watches with the swiss ETA 2824 movement, and it is quite superb in accuracy and reliability. It is a mechanical automatic (self-winding) movement featuring a sweeping second hand due to the escapement frequency of 28,800 cycles per hour, or 4 hertz. (This is same frequency as the Rolex 3135 movement.) The effect of the second hand is very elegant as it smoothly sweeps around the dial. Automatic watches have a winding rotor that winds the mainspring with the movement of the wearer’s wrist. That means if the watch is worn every day, it will remain wound and will not require manual
winding. It can therefore run pretty much indefinitely.

Now there is no mistaking the Marathon GSAR for anything but a tool watch. It is large, heavy, and very chunky looking. In other words, this is one serious piece of equipment. The thick, chunky shape of the GSAR tends to make it snag and catch on things as the wearer moves around. Mine already has a few battle scars and is usually too
large to fit under the cuff of dress shirts. But no matter — while it sits out in the open, it begs to be stared at.

This watch comes with a standard rubber strap, which is perfectly adequate, but if you have the cash, you just gotta get the stainless steel bracelet. Besides looking fabulous, it is a very nice piece of workmanship. Bracelets are available with either a Canadian Maple Leaf, or a U.S. Great Seal insignia embossed into the clasp. NICE! It is solid stainless steel with a dive extension, and the links held together with a unique system of two-piece floating screws that act as strong pivot bars — unlike the more common system of threaded screws that fit into links with matching tapped holes. The addition of such a solidly-built bracelet certainly maximizes the equipment. I find the elegant but subdued look of the GSAR makes it a great daily wearer.

If you do order the steel bracelet, it should be installed and adjusted by an experienced watchmaker with appropriate tools. This bracelet is precision made, and fits very precisely to the watch, so it would be very easy to damage if not done properly. (Many retailers will install and adjust the bracelet for you free of charge if purchased together.)

The Marathon GSAR generally goes for $700, and the optional bracelet, for $170.

By Jason Morningstar


  1. This is cool! And so interested! Are u have more posts like this? Please tell me, thanks

  2. Great! Thank for information, I’m looking for it for a long time,

  3. Had mine for over five years now, never missed a beat. My GSAR has not been babied and the only sign of any wear is on the black bezel ring insert. Even then it’s minimal. Great watch for the money, highly under rated and a definite winner for the guy who wants the most bang for the buck. Looks way better in real life than any photo or video I’ve ever seen. Check out “TSAR vs fire truck” on youtube, the GSAR’s little brother, to see just how tough these watches really are.

  4. I have a number of high end watches and the GSAR, fitted with the steel bracelet, is by far my favorite.

  5.  Wish I could say the same as the posters below. I had the watch for three years until the movement had to be replaced. The repairs only lasted for another year.

  6. Hi, I just received a “sterile” version today, 28 July 2015. It is a very nice watch, and although taller than other watches I have, it is not overly large on the wrist. Perfect for me.
    I contend that you do not need an experienced watch maker to replace the rubber strap with the steel bracelet. It is done in 4 steps:
    1. Remove the strap by pushing on one of the pins through the hole in the lug. If you slightly twist the strap while doing this, you can get the pin released from the lug on one side. Repeat on the other side and remove that half of the strap. Repeat on the other half of the strap. About 2 minutes to complete the job and no danger or harming the watch or strap. I used a stiff hat-pin with the point polished down so as not to be sharp to do this job. Pull the pins out of the strap and set them aside in a small container.
    2. Use two small eyeglass screwdrivers to take out a screw that holding the link to the clasp. You need to clamp the band somehow so it doesn’t move around and insert the drivers into both side of the screw assembly, which is slotted on both sides. A small screw will come out, and you can push the internally threaded rod out with the same hat-pin used in step 1.
    3. Now that the band is opened, insert the pin through the band and the lug piece and with the watch face down on a flat, soft surface, press the pin against the lug lightly, then use a small, thin piece of metal (a knife blade worked for me) to push the pin in. While pressing gently, the pin will go in far enough that it will slip down into the lug a short ways. Repeat on the other side, and you will be able to snap the pins into the lug holes. (Make sure you put it so that when you look at the back of the watch, when the strap is reassembled and the clasp closed, the MARATHON lettering will be right-side up.) Repeat on the other side of the strap.
    4. Before reassembly, remove enough links so the watch will fit properly. Remove the links so that they clasp is centered on the inside of your wrist when closed. I had to do a little trial and error before I got it right. Then screw the screw/threaded rods back into place.
    It took about 20 minutes, including the time it took me to redo a couple of links to get them just right.

  7. Does’nt mean US government issue is the best. They are cost conscious .so it may be a cheap watch issue to the mass army. Why don’t they issue a branded watch? if the Marathon is good ,why did’nt it go in to space
    mission? why should an Omega enter the space mission? I suspect so .what do you think? merely accept what others say?

    • The reason the Marathon GSAR wasn’t considered to go to space is because, quite simply, it has an automatic movement which doesn’t work in micro gravity.

      The Omega moon watch on the other hand is manually wound and works perfectly in such an environment. These days electronic (battery operated) watches are used , or in the alternative, solar charged watches which can be charged from an artificial light source.

  8. The watch is not issued to the masses. It does have a NSN number but is not an issue item. Don’t believe everything you read James.

  9. How close is the size of the submariner compared to the GSAR? I am thinking of buying a GSAR and I have a submariner and it fits in the middle of my wrist, even though I only have 7 inch wrists.

  10. The GSAR has essentially the same footprint as a Rolex Sub. The case is taller because of the thicker bezel. We’ve been supplying Marathon watches since 1996 and the GSAR model since 2006 when it was initially introduced. It has proven to be an extremely popular and reliable dive watch.

    — Chris

  11. I have to say may marathon medium diver is the most accurate watch I own. It is tested using the tool watch app and is running well within chronometer spec. I have been wearing it for two years and don’t baby it at all. In fact I often forget to remove it when shooting competively with handguns. Amazing watch.


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