Art of Coastal Navigation

You Really Need To Know This

( the art of coastal navigation )

It’s a strange thing about sailing.

Figure this.

It’s much easier and safer to navigate your boat over thousands of miles of untracked ocean, from say Seattle to Tokyo, than to sail 5 miles into the harbour of any city at night – or 20 miles along any coast for that matter, day or night.

You can blame it on technology of course. The Global Positioning System, or GPS, has made ocean navigation relatively simple. Press a button and you know where you are to within a few meters.

And when you navigate in oceans you’re generally headed for a fairly big target, a city or major port, so there really isn’t the need for the pinpoint position accuracy you get with GPS. Unless of course you’re sailing into the reefs and atolls of the south pacific, in which case you’re in the same trouble as

the coastal navigator

Most problems in navigation come when you get to the rocky bits around the edge.

If you’re sailing on a shoestring as many of us are, you’re probably using paper charts and a GPS for navigation. But have you checked the date that your chart was surveyed recently?

If you do, you’ll probably find that the actual survey the chart is based on was done way before they had GPS, maybe even a hundred years ago.

And herein lies the problem.

Your GPS will give you a position within 10 meters, but your chart may be nowhere near that accurate, especially if it’s a chart of some unfrequented coast.

So if you rely on your GPS for position and lay that position on your paper chart and then believe what you see on the chart, you could be in for an unpleasant surprise.

You should always assume that the indicated positions of offshore reefs, rocks, sandbanks and other nautical obstacles are at best approximate when you lay a course on your paper chart. You should also realise that your chart has probably not had a major revision for 50 years.

Things change – and it probably wasn’t that accurate in the beginning.

What I’m coming to is a plug for the ancient art of coastal navigation.

I believe every sailor who ventures outside his or her port or estuary should have a working knowledge of coastal navigation.

Relying on your GPS in these circumstances can be fatal.

Don’t believe me? Read this sad, sad story.

You need to be able to keep a dead reckoning log, you need to be able to check your position using a depth sounder, a hand-held compass, dividers and parallel ruler, you need to be able to interpret your chart and use the information on it to help you determine your position.

In other words, you need to become a coastal navigator.

Your life could depend on it.

Why not get this vital skill before the next sailing season?

Here’s my pick of the coastal navigation courses available on the internet. I don’t know this guy, but he’s based in my home state, South Australia and the multimedia course is really very good.

Don’t be put off by the hokey website.

Tony Hollin’s multimedia coastal navigation course

And I don’t make a cent out of this recommendation – unfortunately