Traditional Boat Navigation 101

Traditional Boat Navigation 101

Traditional Boat Navigation: Everyone has a sense of direction, some notably better than others, to help ‘navigate’ through life. At sea, navigating opens up a whole new dimension, or level of complexity. Not good for the clueless. As there are no paved roads or designated paths, navigating at sea becomes a tricky business. Visibility on the horizon can be misleading as not only do you have to factor what’s above the water but also what is lurking below.

Before all the navigation gadgets, mariners had to depend on their number-one high tech weapon: their eyes! Nowadays, navigating is made easier and we can rely on GPS, chartplotters and more. However, for the ‘purist’, the basic, or essential navigation tools you’ll need to navigate are:

compassCompass – the age-old, lifesaving and essential compass. Reliantly, tells you what direction your boat is going by aligning to magnetic north. With 360 degrees on the compass, 0 degrees refers to North, East at 90 degrees, South at 180 degress and, yes, you guessed it 270 degrees is West. If you have trouble remebering the sequence, keep in mind ‘Never Eat Shredded Wheat’. Using visible landmarks will help you take take multiple bearings to improve your navigation.

Parallel rulers – essentially two rulers joined by a swiveling arm to help maintain the same angle on your chart.

Pencil and eraser – as trivial as this may sound, this tool plays an important role. Being able to modify and adjust your coordinates –location, bearings, angles – will help you reach your destination.

Fernão_Vaz_Dourado_1571-1Charts – luckily those mariners before us managed to produce nautical maps; essentially road maps on the water. It goes without saying that these charts are a crucial component in the whole navigating process.

Dividers – a two-pronged tool that you can ‘walk’ across your chart. By using the latitude (or vertical) scale on your chart, you can measure distance in nautical miles.

Wristwatch – wait for it…this will help you keep track of time. A basic requirement to help with deduced reckoning or ‘dead reckoning’. In layman terms, this is a way of calculating where you are or your current location by using a pre-determined position, and updating your present position based upon your speed, direction and time. Record your speed, compass course and time taken to travel, jot them down with your trusty pencil on your chart at every course change.

Remember these equations:

  • Distance/Time = Speed
  • Distance/Speed = Time
  • Speed x Time = Distance

Each component plays a pivotal role; so make sure you form a close bond with these tools. It’s a matter of being able to get home rather than lost at sea.

March 25, 2018