Originally Posted by shanedennis
I love my Garmin but never trust it or my navigational skills. What habits have you developed to keep your boat off the rocks?
Here are a few of mine:
1. Plot courses as far as practical from anything dangerous (eg: land). Usually at least one mile off danger during the day and at least ten miles off at night.
2. Plan for ideal landfalls early the day in perfect conditions and with good timing. Does not always work out...
3. Avoid anything tricky even if it means we miss our on great spots. Good spots are good enough.
4. Take back of the envelope fixes on the way into harbors. Binoculars with a built in compass are my buddy.
What are your habits?
I wouldn't avoid tricky spots at the expense of missing great places. Plus, if you go overboard
on the conservatism, you will not develop your skills. Nor would I passage
plan in order to have landfalls only in perfect conditions. In a lot of places, you would never go out if that were the criterion.
Nor do I bother with taking three-point fixes while going into harbors. I have to say that I think this is actually a bad practice, because it is laborious and takes up far too much of your attention. Now I said it's bad practice to do it -- I did not say that it's bad to know how to do it
. It's an important skill which I think is still relevant -- and could save your bacon in case you have some electronic failure and lose electronic position data.
This is a bit of an aside -- but if we were to be using non-electronic means of pilotage in a tricky, unknown harbor, we would not
be taking frequent three-point fixes anyway. It's too laborious and slow for safe pilotage. We would have prepared, in advance, clearing bearings
from various landmarks, along your route
into the harbor. A clearing bearing
only requires one quick sight with the HBC and no reference to the chart. A far more effective technique, although of course you do need a three-point fix at least once in a while to know your position.
But in my opinion it is bad practice to be doing any of these if you have electronic navigation
, which is vastly more efficient -- one glance at a chart plotter gives you all the information it would take some minutes to work out with traditional means, and with much more precision. Since it only takes one glance, it means you have that much more time to look around you and be oriented and steer the boat -- which is much safer. Increasing your work load for no good reason is not
going to enhance safety
Since electronic charts
are not infallible (there is another thread about this going on right now), it is
good practice to have some way of double-checking what the plotter is telling you. Incredibly valuable for this is radar
-- if you can overlay your radar
picture on your plotter screen
, you have instant verification of the accuracy of your chart and of your position data. The other essential tool is your depth sounder
, which we might also consider a "traditional means of navigation", I guess. You should of course keep an eye on your depth sounder
and make sure that what it says corresponds to what's on your chart. If it starts to deviate, that should set off loud alarm
bells in your head
, and you should immediately figure out why. A hallowed traditional method of navigation
was to simply follow a depth contour line by steering
to the depth sounder -- it's a great technique which is worth knowing, just in case -- crude, but effective!
Of course, keeping a safe distance off, being aware of lee shores, etc., etc. -- are also fundamental practices. But I don't think there is any point in going totally overboard
with that, adopting an arbitrary rule
to stay at least a mile from any hazard, etc., etc. In good weather
and known waters, a cable or less can be plenty of room from a hazard. In bad weather
, or unknown waters, or where you have doubts about the charts, you might need more.
As to landfalls -- a landfall on an unknown shore is of course one of the big challenges of offshore
sailing. I do try to avoid making them at night, which is something which continues to be frightening to me despite accumulating experience. But you can't always avoid it, so it's good to have some practice piloting at night. I actually love night sailing and I intentionally plan some arrivals at night, just to keep my skills up. I once lost
my chart plotter entering Poole Harbor in the middle of the night -- it was terrifying, although I have been in and out of Poole a million times. It's really hard to read the lights in a complicated harbor like Poole, especially when there's a lot of light pollution from a city. But I think it's an essential skill, worth practicing. Besides that, successfully negotiating a complicated harbor at night is really satisfying -- it always feels like an accomplishment.
For this, as in other pilotage situations, you need to memorize, to some extent, the layout of the harbor, because it is impossible to steer and read a chart at the same time. So the other basic habit I have for safe pilotage is to be sure I know the harbor I'm coming into, and its main hazards, channels, safe areas, etc. In case of a new harbor, or one I haven't been into in a while, I like to spend a half hour or more studying the paper chart, until I feel familiar with the harbor and feel like I have memorized the main landmarks, channels, and so forth, and be oriented when I get there. It's incredibly easy to get confused by buoyage or lights, which can run you straight onto the rocks if you get disoriented. I really think that study ahead of time is important -- even if you have a great chart plotter, right at the helm