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Why learn to Navigate?

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Jan 10, 2009
590
PDQ 32 Deale, MD
I figure it's either a troll or a nutter...

1. My gps has failed several times, but both will not fail.
2. My GPS has shown me on dry land before. NOAA charting error. This was not a changable area.
3. Along the Delmarva coast stuff moves all the time. Some islands average 200 yards per year.

Coast piloting is more about eyeballs than charts or GPS around here... but don't get me wrong. Charts and a depth sounder are very close seconds!
 

Benny

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Sep 27, 2008
1,149
Hunter 320 Tampa, FL
Not necessarily Armagedon!

In some parts of the country the GPS signal is sporadically degraded or interrupted as part of military testing. But you are probably right as when sailing inland or coastal waters a cell phone call to your tow boat operator can probably get you safely ashore. A simple ocurrence like a lightning strike can simultaneously shut down various electronics at once. 2 or 3 GPS units, why not? The real reason why I carry paper charts is that I like to be comfortable. I like to plan a trip sitting at a table with a chart and cup of coffee looking at the whole picture. Trip planning on the cockpit looking at a screen and having to push buttons is not my cup of tea. Entering waypoints is uncomfortable enough. Would a professional ship captain go to sea with just one mean of navigation? The answer is no.
 

Rick D

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Jun 14, 2008
6,963
Hunter Legend 40.5 Shoreline Marina Long Beach CA
I'm more bummed about the darn USCG reports of vessels needing assistance that give the lat lon without saying: "That's five hundred yards south of Point Blount" too.
Oh, Stu, that is near the top of my annoyance list :cussing: It really irks me when the CG throws out coordinates, mushed together, without repeating, and no reference to some point of coast. Good grief, we all don't have radio operators taking shorthand nor recorders (and neither do many commercial operators). I've called them back and asked and they've always cooperated altho sometimes obviously puzzled by my request.
 

jrd22

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Jan 28, 2010
1
Brewer Three Seas 40 PH Blakely Island
I think you are asking the wrong question. It should be "Why NOT learn to navigate", and I can't think of a single reason not to. It's easy (anyone can learn the basics in less than an hour), it's fun (amaze your friends and family), it could save you, your family, and your boat someday when the electronic gods just decide to mess with you. Just my humble opinion.
 
May 11, 2005
3,431
Seidelman S37 Slidell, La.
There is just one more thing

Why learn to navigate the " old fashioned way "? Well as some have said, GPS does on rare occasion fail. I too have had my chartplotter show me on dry land when I was in the middle of a waterway. I would urge you to get at least a large scale chart of your sailing area and learn it. While I do almost all of my course planning and navigation by GPS or computer. When offshore I ALWAYS have at least a large scale chart handy, and do a position check and log at least every hour. If something does happen to the GPS, and I have two, I know pretty close where I am, and a course to a safe haven. I used to tell customers in a motorcycle shop who wanted a super cheap helmet, to place the same value on their helmet as they did on their head. The only time you may need a chart is if something happens to the GPS. And remember, Murphys law and amendment one to it. If something bad can happen, it will. And the amendment clearly states that it will happen at the worst possible time. Murphy absolutely loves boats. So, you life may one day depend on the availability of a real chart and your ability to use it. May never happen, but you could be betting your life, and the lives of any passengers on your boat that it will not happen. It's your choice. Are you a gambler ??
 
Oct 25, 2005
735
Catalina 30 Banderas Bay, Mexico
Charts? What Charts?

Just to put "old school" into perspective ...

How did they navigate before they had charts? Someone had the skill to get there with no chart and collect data points from which a chart could be made.

A chart is an aid to navigation, it is certainly possible to navigate without one.

When charts became available did sailors forget or stop using the methods they had before?

How did they manage before they had chronometers?

GPS systems and chartplotters are just an evolution. Just as charts and chronometers were.

How good is your navigation when you cannot fix your position for 2-3 days? don't you think it would be borderline negligent NOT to have a GPS unit?

I love paper charts too ... try to find one for Banderas Bay Mexico that is newer that WWII vintage. :cussing: I have west coast of Mexico from the 1600's ... I compare the display on the chartplotter with the radar returns, I trust what I can see and the radar more than any chart. The laptop I run as repeater can overlay raster charts, vector charts, and radar. I know how bad the best charts of this area are.

Basic Navigation tools start with the MkI human eyeball. Then add the best aids available. You shouldn't be lost without your chart and you shouldn't be lost without your GPS. What most people call "Navigation" I think is more accurately "Piloting" and those are skills every sailor should have. Hell I still keep a lead line on the boat. :)

Sailors in coastal US waters don't seem to understand that the quality of coastal charts they are used to just do not exist in many places.

Just my opinion ... your mileage may vary ...

Randy
 
Jan 22, 2008
146
Macgregor 22 Marina Del Rey, CA CA
I have been diving, sailing, boating and fishing in the ocean for more than 40 years. This incliudes trips to Catalina, Anacapa Island, Santa Barbara Island, Santa Cruz Island, Santa Rosa Island, San Miguel Island and along the coast from Santa Barbara to San Diego. The first few years were without any type of maps except California driving maps and a hand held compass from the Boy Scouts.
Then I found the marine map books and used them for the next few years. Eventually I bought a new Catalina 30' with a Loran and thought I had gone to heaven. Over the years I found I was able to navigate by memory and wave/wind/sight/sun. I was even able to sail from Catalina on a foggy day and hit the breakwater at Long Beach. I DON'T RECOMEND THAT ANYONE DO WHAT I DID. I now feel comfortable with a map book, compass, soft lead and straight edge and knot meter, to back up what I see on my GPS's.
 
Jan 22, 2008
328
Beneteau 46 Georgetown YB
How about making LEARN the operative word? It doesn't hurt to learn a new skill.

And any new skill - be it navigating, diesel maintenance, splicing or innumerable others - could make your on the water experience more fulfilling. (Although my GF did roll her eyes when I mentioned that I had considered e-mailing the seller about that nice sextant that was advertised in gear for sale a couple weeks back.)
 
Sep 25, 2008
544
Bristol 43.3 Perth Amboy
Why learn to navigate without GPS? Because I love my family!

I have been sailing my entire 46 yrs. of life. By the age of 10, my brother and I were competent sailors and navigators. We learned the "old fashioned way". 60Dstreet, stop watch, compass, leadline, RDF and a chart. With our parents, we cruised the North East every summer. Along came along Loran, and we had an additional tool. It was not as reliable as GPS but it was nice to have in the fog. GPS offers the illusion that navigation is relatively simple. I would not trade in my chart plotter, but I never rely on it alone.

Why, my life and the lives of my family are valuable. Sometimes charts don't reflect what you see. Ever find a buoy off station in the middle of the night or the fog? Ever been out in Lightning? We took a lightning strike one night and lost electronics. What still worked? Compass, leadline, and stopwatch. Portable electronics are likely to fry if the boat is struck by lightning. Although it is unlikely that both of your gps are going to fail, it is not impossible. What if you run out of batteries?

Doo Doo has a way of happening.
 

Mulf

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Dec 2, 2003
400
Hunter 410 Chester, MD (Kent Island)
"it is highly unlikely that both of the GPSs are going to fail"

Yep! That's the way I felt about getting hit by lighting. Guess what! Dreamboat suffered a glancing blow. There was no physical damage except for a completely missing stainless steel VHF whip antenna and a blackened antenna base coil. However, it fried everything on the boat with a microchip in it. Spare batteries or 2 gps's wouldn't mean didley out in bad weather if that happened. Fortunately, the Dreamboat was in her slip and I was not there. I carry paper charts and guidebooks for everywhere, along with the binnacle mounted compass and a handheld compass. Better to know how to do it and not need it than need it and not know how.
 

kenn

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Apr 18, 2009
1,271
CL Sandpiper 565 Toronto
I completed the CYA coastal nav course last year. My reasons for wanting to know chart-based navigation are:

- my wife and I love maps and love to navigate by them. When we were young and carefree, a perfect Sunday would start by flipping open a good road atlas, picking a destination or a direction, then getting there by sideroads. I'll never have one of those bloody car GPS that go "turn right here". *I* say when and where to turn. ;)

- larger bodies of water are still a bit wilder place than on land. I want to learn to relate what I see on a chart, what I read on all my instruments, to what is around me.

- having a chart is a legal requirement in many places

- all available chartplotters and GPS units have too small a screen. When there's a 11" x 17" iPad with GPS available from Apple, maybe I'll throw out the chart

We do have a small handheld GPS, and I've used it when I needed more certainty of our position, and it's a great toy for playing with speed CMG etc.
 

Sumner

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Jan 31, 2009
5,254
Macgregor & Endeavour 26S and 37 Utah's Canyon Country
I completed the CYA coastal nav course last year. My reasons for wanting to know chart-based navigation are:

- my wife and I love maps and love to navigate by them. When we were young and carefree, a perfect Sunday would start by flipping open a good road atlas, picking a destination or a direction, then getting there by sideroads. I'll never have one of those bloody car GPS that go "turn right here". *I* say when and where to turn. ;)

- larger bodies of water are still a bit wilder place than on land. I want to learn to relate what I see on a chart, what I read on all my instruments, to what is around me.

- having a chart is a legal requirement in many places

- all available chartplotters and GPS units have too small a screen. When there's a 11" x 17" iPad with GPS available from Apple, maybe I'll throw out the chart

We do have a small handheld GPS, and I've used it when I needed more certainty of our position, and it's a great toy for playing with speed CMG etc.
I agree with all (especially the 'talk to me' GPS in the car) of that except for one small detail.

I'm making a chart plotter that uses the NOAA charts and I also have the full size Maptech paper charts and CD for southern Florida and the Keys. For detail I can zoom in and see detail much better on the video screen than I can looking at the same area on the paper chart. Now the screen is 10 inches diagonal. I couldn't say the same if I was viewing the area on the screen on my map 76S, which is the reason I'm making the chart plotter.

http://purplesagetradingpost.com/sumner/macgregor2/Comp-ChartPlot-Index.html

I posted the screen views on another thread, but here they are again. Depending on your monitor size the last one is about real life size.....







I like the GPS/Chart plotter options, but will also have paper charts for any area we will sail. I'll work on knowing how to plot a course and figure speed and bearing and all of that stuff as fast as I can, but in the mean time I'll use the GPS (3 total) and the paper charts that I can read and plot courses on to download into the GPS.

If in doubt I'll try to find a safe place to anchor visually until I can figure out the best option. I have no desire to navigate in and out of narrow twisty passages in the fog and if I did I would just have to depend on the GPS.

c ya,

Sum

Our Trips to Lake Powell, UT - Kootenay Lake, Canada - Priest Lake, ID

Our Mac Pages

Mac Links
 
Jan 22, 2008
14
Pearson 323 Kent Island, MD
Navigation is more than knowing where you are at any given time. It also includes things like knowing how to read tide tables - - imagine trying to go through a channel with a foul 4 kt current when your boat can only make about 6 kts... that would be a very long journey. Navigation also includes reading things like "cruising guides" where locals tell you to "give #4 marker a wide berth as it shoals well beyond the mark."

On a cruise in the Windward Islands a few years ago, one of the guys had a new gps. He was giving us a heading to sail to get to a small harbor on an island. I looked at the chart and some landmarks and did some "dead reckoning" to figure where we were and where we needed to be. His gps coordinates would've sailed us righ into land.

Believe me, I am an electronic gadget guy. But when it comes to my boat, I have a keep-it-simple philosophy. I bought a handheld windspeed gadget a few years ago... used it maybe once or twice, but now I prefer to observe the wind, the sails, the water and use some "old school" methods to determine how hard it is blowing.

Also, the government can shut down the GPS system at any time. I'd venture to say, they probably came close to pulling the plug on 9/11.

Bottom line: I think it is just plain lazy not to spend a couple hours to learn the basics. As a skipper of your boat, you have the obligation to know how to safely operate and navigate your vessel and I think it is negligent to rely solely on gps.
 

Ross

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Jun 15, 2004
14,693
Islander/Wayfairer 30 sail number 25 Perryville,Md.
Why learn to write with pen and paper? Why learn to sharpen a chisel? Why learn to read a road map? Why learn to cook?
 
May 25, 2004
958
Hunter 260 Pepin, WI
Moody Buccaneer has some interesting points on modern navigation aids.

I might point out that western European countries set out to create a reliable time piece, with very large cash prizes posted, precisely because so much commerce was being lost at sea due to inaccurate dead reckoning with the poor time pieces available. It was considred the greatest scientific problem of their age.

The Illustrated Longitude is a great read: Amazon.com
 
Nov 23, 2009
15
None None N/A
This thread is making me feel young again. Specifically, it is bringing me back to Algebra 1 and hearing half the kids in the class say "Why do I have to learn this? I'll never need it when I grow up."

And sure enough, many of them never did.
 
Dec 4, 2008
264
Other people's boats - Milford, CT
Just to put "old school" into perspective ...

How did they navigate before they had charts? Someone had the skill to get there with no chart and collect data points from which a chart could be made.
Cautiously :D They also ran aground or got lost more often.

A chart is an aid to navigation, it is certainly possible to navigate without one.

When charts became available did sailors forget or stop using the methods they had before?

How did they manage before they had chronometers?

GPS systems and chartplotters are just an evolution. Just as charts and chronometers were.

How good is your navigation when you cannot fix your position for 2-3 days? don't you think it would be borderline negligent NOT to have a GPS unit?

I love paper charts too ... try to find one for Banderas Bay Mexico that is newer that WWII vintage. :cussing: I have west coast of Mexico from the 1600's ... I compare the display on the chartplotter with the radar returns, I trust what I can see and the radar more than any chart. The laptop I run as repeater can overlay raster charts, vector charts, and radar. I know how bad the best charts of this area are.

Basic Navigation tools start with the MkI human eyeball. Then add the best aids available. You shouldn't be lost without your chart and you shouldn't be lost without your GPS. What most people call "Navigation" I think is more accurately "Piloting" and those are skills every sailor should have. Hell I still keep a lead line on the boat. :)

Sailors in coastal US waters don't seem to understand that the quality of coastal charts they are used to just do not exist in many places.

Just my opinion ... your mileage may vary ...

Randy
Your other points are very good. Sailors need to use all available tools to keep themselves in safe water and find their destinations. I would never go on a long or medium voyage without a GPS on board. But if you gave me a choice between a depth sounder and a GPS, I would take the depth sounder.

You comment on pilotage also struck me. Pilotage is the method of navigation that is used most often while sailing within sight of land, which is most of my sailing. I would say that good pilotage and a small amount of DR is all that a navigator will need while coastal sailing.

Todd
 
Jan 22, 2008
7,976
Beneteau 323 Annapolis MD
So what does the rest of the board think? Is there any merit in old navigational skills other than wanting to claim one is salty enough to know how to use a sextant? Levin
Levin, there are some world cruisers who use a sextant to take their noon (and whenever) sightings, do the calculations to get lat/lon, then they turn on the GPS just to check their result. This assures them their sextant skills are still in order.

Probably even in your GPS manuals there is a sidenote that we see on most navigation equipment;"The prudent mariner will not rely on only one source of information to navigate their boat."
 
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