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Old 15-01-2020, 23:38   #1
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Traditional or digital navigation - which is safer?

I started navigating with paper charts and celestial, there was no choice then.
Watch "Yacht Navigation - how to be safe", https://youtu.be/iTQxLhp45lg

I really like the accuracy and ease of modern digital navigation, but many people still prefer the old traditional methods. Do some sailors still navigate with safety using just paper chart plotting and a sextant?
Or have we all switched off our navigation brains, and been seduced by the convenience of GPS?
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Old 15-01-2020, 23:44   #2
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Re: Traditional or digital navigation - which is safer?

or perhaps some use both
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Old 16-01-2020, 00:03   #3
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Re: Traditional or digital navigation - which is safer?

Richmac, you may not realise it, but your knowledge of 'manual' navigation, helps your digital navigation enormously.
No, I seldom use the traditional methods, however en-route I always have the current chart on the table... just in case.
Thank you for the reminder, I must plot my position at least once every watch, not just write it in the logbook.
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Old 16-01-2020, 05:06   #4
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Re: Traditional or digital navigation - which is safer?

Neither is safer--an idiot can screw up both. Digital does most of the work for you, so it's very convenient, but doesn't remove the necessity of prudence and good judgment. It has emboldened untold numbers of people to go seafaring who otherwise wouldn't have wanted it bad enough to go to the effort of learning to navigate, but not all of them do it with safety. I'll bet there's some very experienced people out there who would be safer with just an hourglass and a travel brochure than the rest of us using every gizmo we can buy.
I will say that I'm a firm believer in knowing as much about non-digital nav as possible, since as Hank pointed out, it makes you understand your digital better. That's pretty huge for troubleshooting, or when a signal gets dropped, or lightning strikes or whatever.
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Old 16-01-2020, 05:52   #5
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Re: Traditional or digital navigation - which is safer?

Quote:
Originally Posted by RichMac View Post
I started navigating with paper charts and celestial, there was no choice then.
Watch "Yacht Navigation - how to be safe", https://youtu.be/iTQxLhp45lg

I really like the accuracy and ease of modern digital navigation, but many people still prefer the old traditional methods. Do some sailors still navigate with safety using just paper chart plotting and a sextant?
Or have we all switched off our navigation brains, and been seduced by the convenience of GPS?

I still carry paper.

The appropriate chart is always on the table. You can visually observe your passage , learn geographic names and anticipate challenges

Digital charts poorly capture important topographic details ...names of landmarks, feature, islands ..what is the name of that tall mountain ? Those white cliff faces ?

Digital charts work best for all weather, electronic navigation , harbor approaches
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Old 16-01-2020, 06:40   #6
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Re: Traditional or digital navigation - which is safer?

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Neither is safer--an idiot can screw up both... I'm a firm believer in knowing as much about non-digital nav as possible, since as Hank pointed out, it makes you understand your digital better...
Yep, that about sums up my position.

I’ve never learned celestial navigation (still pick away at it), about all I can do is what we used to call coastal piloting, but I tend to use it quite a lot as I’m comfortable with it – in the past 10-12 years I’ve started using a hand-held GPS as well, especially for night runs, but nearly always with a route marked on the chart (usually chart-book) corresponding to GPS waypoints. Just my opinion, but I think a skipper owes the passengers the best of both if possible… I find that if I set up a route with waypoints, using lat/long, then I’ve pretty much learned the route before I set out – but then I puttered around the Bay and lower Potomac/Patapsco without a depth-finder (used sounding line) for quite a few years, so I tend to look outside the cockpit more than inside, let alone a chart table… I think both digital and paper are good – neither are mutually exclusive. Of course the batteries will never go dead on the chart…

If I ever do pull the plug and head out -- it'll be because I've gotten comfortable with the sextant at some level...
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Old 16-01-2020, 07:09   #7
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Re: Traditional or digital navigation - which is safer?

The Barefoot Navigator by Jack Lagan is an interesting book. It can/might at least get you in the ball park if you should lose power/GPS offshore. The book along with some shaky sextant use might just work

All I have at this time are the old charts the PO left on the boat from the early 2000's and I plan to use them when I first start cruising South along with my GPS units Standard Horizon GX2200 and handheld. He left charts that covered from Massachusetts to Florida and the Bahamas.

For the Bay and it's creeks, he left an old guide but usually after you go so far "up the creek" that there are no more channel markers you have to sort of feel or bump your way along. (and sometimes watching the water helps)


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Old 16-01-2020, 07:14   #8
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Re: Traditional or digital navigation - which is safer?

What Benz said.


It's a bit like asking... Which is safer, a screwdriver or a wrench? Neither is "safer." They are both tools that can be safe, or dangerous, depending on the user, and how they are used.
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Old 16-01-2020, 08:30   #9
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Re: Traditional or digital navigation - which is safer?

Quote:
Originally Posted by RichMac View Post
I started navigating with paper charts and celestial, there was no choice then.
Watch "Yacht Navigation - how to be safe", https://youtu.be/iTQxLhp45lg

I really like the accuracy and ease of modern digital navigation, but many people still prefer the old traditional methods. Do some sailors still navigate with safety using just paper chart plotting and a sextant?
Or have we all switched off our navigation brains, and been seduced by the convenience of GPS?
We practice "No Electronics Day" at least once a season, separate from "MOB Drill Day".

Practice makes perfect, in just about everything.

When I am requested to crew for a new skipper, the two most important interview questions (for me) are:

1. What navigation solutions do you have aboard?

2. Describe your MOB procedure?

If I don't like either answer, from my perspective, the interview is over.

In my experience, these two issues are a very good indication how competently and seriously a skipper takes his responsibility to return all crew to port safely.
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Old 16-01-2020, 09:06   #10
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Re: Traditional or digital navigation - which is safer?

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Originally Posted by Mystic38 View Post
or perhaps some use both
Hybrid of both. Planning is done on paper charts and with the aid of cruising guides. Routes are planed on the GPS with waypoints names matching the chart name and the waypoint numbers on the charts. My wife uses binoculars (with bearing compass) and charts (with dividers and parallel rules) looking for landmarks and waypoints while I look at the chartplotter. When there is any confusion or disagreement we swap positions so I can review the paper charts and our position plotted manually while she commands the helm. I am just starting with celestial navigation but I will add that to the mix, mostly because I enjoy the challenge. Nothing like having both methods in sync to make you feel more confident.
I find it interesting to remember that using LORAN really did force us to use a hybrid approach. Maybe that is why our current method feels so comfortable.
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Old 16-01-2020, 09:11   #11
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Re: Traditional or digital navigation - which is safer?

From the safety side I don't think there's a good argument that the old-fashioned methods are safer than using real-time satellite positioning data. The amount of error introduced, both spatial and temporal, by traditional methods is huge in comparison.

That may not matter until you find land someplace unexpected. But, as others said, the underlying concepts must be understood and there's a reason for phrases like "all available means". Getting caught up in paper vs. electronic is almost a red herring in that regard.

As an aside, I was reading a bit about the "automation dependency" problem in aviation recently; someone suggested that a wise approach to addressing the brain switching off might be to design software that works with the pilot rather than for them.
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Old 16-01-2020, 09:32   #12
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Re: Traditional or digital navigation - which is safer?

From the thoughts churning in my head I can already tell; this will be TLDR.

I, too, started navigating with a sextant. I used to consider myself quite competent. I can still reduce a sun sight using HO 249 on paper in a few minutes, but the subtle nuances of the dance of the stars and the ephemerides are lost in the fog of time at the back of my brain.

I remember gathering in some tropical anchorage two or three times a year and raising a toast to the "Wanderlust" or the "Sea Foam" and their crews, lost on some idyllic tropical reef. Victim to poor sky conditions, or changes in the current, or just plain inattention (and I've done all three, and been on a reef, and walked away to tell about it). We'd make a ceremony about marking the wreck as a transient aid to navigation on our charts - the wreck of the "Maid", visible 5 miles, 2 1/4 miles west of pass - and a reminder of the hubris of our vocation. In 10 years the wreck would no longer be visible and would cease to be a reminder of the fate of our brethren.

When they swallowed the anchor my parents built a house, and every 4 or 5 years they'd host some couple, just flown back to the States with the clothes on their backs and empty pockets, their home and all their "things" having recently joined so many other vessels as an ornament in Neptune's Garden.

With the dawn of the digital age I thought these would be events of the past. But sadly, I still see reports every year of this boat and that, lost on the reef of some idyllic tropical isle. We know our position to within a few meters at every single moment, no longer subject to the questionable DR and the vagaries of changing currents. And yet we still have friends and neighbors who show up wet and bedraggled in the middle of the night, their vessel awash on the ocean side of the reef.

So the digital age doesn't seem to have changed much. There are still the unprepared, the unskilled, and the unlucky. And just as before the first GPS satellite was launched some of them "learn from their experience" and continue on and others hang up their foulies and never look back.
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Old 16-01-2020, 09:41   #13
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Re: Traditional or digital navigation - which is safer?

I think using both is the safest option. But given the decision by many countries to not require the extra expense and required stowage for paper I think it is fine to have a simple electronic backup for the more robust system.
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Old 16-01-2020, 09:43   #14
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Re: Traditional or digital navigation - which is safer?

Quote:
Originally Posted by RichMac View Post
I started navigating with paper charts and celestial, there was no choice then.
Watch "Yacht Navigation - how to be safe", https://youtu.be/iTQxLhp45lg

I really like the accuracy and ease of modern digital navigation, but many people still prefer the old traditional methods. Do some sailors still navigate with safety using just paper chart plotting and a sextant?
Or have we all switched off our navigation brains, and been seduced by the convenience of GPS?
Hold on for a minute while I get a huge tub of popcorn.
This thread will go on for a long time.
.....again.
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Old 16-01-2020, 09:44   #15
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Re: Traditional or digital navigation - which is safer?

I would like to re-inforce the comments here. To really understand digital it pays to really understand charts, pencil, paper, tide tables, bouyage etc. I have my Garmin Chartplotter with repeater panel in the cockppit but I also have Nav software running on a tablet in the cockpit too. However I find Im always just picvking up the chart to re-assure my self.


I find I get a better "picture" from paper charts and then a comparison with reality. My chart plotter can have too much information clutter, especially with AIS in a busy area.
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