Good sea sense starts with excellent navigation skills. Yachting Monthly’s experts share their top tips for a smooth passage
Boat navigation is more than just chart work, it’s about getting a sense of your surroundings and relating information on the chart to what you see in the real world.
Many sailors now rely solely on electronic charts, but many argue that it is worth keeping traditional skills up to date, and that having a paper chart on board as a backup is a good idea.
However you prefer to sail, the experts at Yachting Monthly share their tips and tricks for a stress-free voyage.
Satellite navigation – Thom D’Arcy
During my circumnavigation, I found satellite imagery to be an extremely valuable means not only of checking my electronic and paper charts, but also as a primary method of navigation in poorly chartered areas.
In Fiji, for example, where electronic charts were very inaccurate in some areas, satellite imagery allowed me to plot courses through coral reefs with confidence.
There are different ways to use satellite images for navigation, but I found the best solution through OvitalMap, a cross-platform app for phone or tablet that saves Google and/or Bing images in any area of interest for offline use.
The boat’s position, speed, heading and course can be displayed in real time, or waypoints can be extracted in advance to be plotted on your chart.
Other advantages of satellite imagery include the ability to identify beautiful areas of sand to drop anchor or to study the development of a port or marina before arrival.
Remember to download the data in advance when you still have an internet connection.
OvitalMap can be downloaded from Apple or Android stores.
Find the nearest shelter – Dag Pike
Passage plans require you to identify alternate ports you can travel to if conditions deteriorate.
As with most passage plan requirements, this makes sense, but remember that the most convenient alternate port might be the one you just left.
It’s a bit like the airplane safety briefing, “The closest exit may be the one behind you.”
You’ve made all your plans and checked the forecast and, as is often the case, things can be a little marginal, but you want to keep your cruise on track.
Conditions could be worse than expected as the wind is against the current.
Turning around isn’t going to be something you enjoy doing, but it may be the best option in some cases.
Identify Your No-Go Zones – Rachael Sprot
When we learn navigation, we focus on calculating the perfect route.
We take tide, drift, variations and deviation into account to find a course to the nearest degree, but we rarely sail that exact course.
In reality, the wind is turning or the sea state is uncomfortable, we are delayed and the tide has changed or we have to divert around a fishing fleet.
What you need to know now is not where you want to go, but where you can’t go.
Once you’ve identified the hazards, take a pencil and black out any no-go areas to leave you with a safe zone to navigate within.
This will highlight any hazards for crew who might be navigating and help you create a mental map of the area so you can make confident decisions on the clog.
Traditional navigation has its place – Tony Curphey
I guess my type of navigation would be described as old hat as it doesn’t depend on or even involve chartplotters, laptops, software or hardware.
I am admittedly, and proudly, old-fashioned.
I use a GPS, a portable Garmin hooked up to the ship’s electrical system and I have an AIS transceiver which alone is worth its weight in gold.
But I work on paper maps.
When on the ocean I plot a position every day, at noon, but in the logbook, I note the position each time I have a reason to write or report anything: change of wind, sail change for example, so I always know where I was several hours ago.
When I’m close by, near a coast, island or the English Channel, maybe I use a larger scale map and can put a position on it every 15 minutes, depending on conditions or circumstances.
There is not a single electronic device on Nicky which I could not do without if, for example, a lightning swept away everything.
My sextant and my tables and a perpetual almanac always travel with me.
It’s been 22 years since I really worked on views when I completed my first world tour on storm petrel.
The sextant was my only means of navigation on this trip, so I think it might take me a day or two to get back to it, but I’m confident that these traditional tools would get me home.
Overcoming Steering Bias – Dag Pike
Once you have handed the helm to one of the crew and given them the compass heading, it may be a good idea to check the heading actually steered, as most people at the helm will skew the heading by turning to one side or the other.
It’s not done on purpose but it’s just a natural reaction to the steering.
On a yacht you will find that most people let the heading drop to leeward when upwind or reaching, then bring it back to the required heading before letting it drop back down to leeward.
Rarely do they turn the heading upwind, so in fact the directed heading can be up to 5° off the desired course.
It’s easy to assess once you’ve watched the heading for a while, and you can incorporate a course correction to steer once you recognize what’s going on.
Identifying the problem can save you from descending too far downwind.
Don’t Always Follow the Tide – Helen Melton
For a long time after learning to sail, we closely followed commonly written advice, timing arrivals at famous tidal promontories for slack water at the turn of the tide, then using the favorable current to help along the trip in progress.
After a few uncomfortable passages wind against tide, we started to rethink our strategy and wonder if there were alternative options for situations where wind and tide were against each other.
One was to reach a headland or tidal run near the end of the favorable tide rather than the beginning.
We did this while sailing north from Camaret-sur-Mer, Brittany, to L’Aber-Benoît in a strong northerly wind.
We arrived at the southern end of the Chenal du Four – its narrowest point and where the currents are most intense – at slack, and crossed a bumpy but flat sea, pushing increasing amounts of tide as it went. as we traveled.
As the boat sails faster on flatter seas, the journey to L’Aber-Benoît only took about an hour longer and the crew all felt it had been a more comfortable passage compared to sailing earlier in the day when the wind was blowing. stronger swell.
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