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The basics of good navigation?

Navigation Tools

  • GPS
  • Sextant
  • Radar
  • AIS
  • Dividers have dual functions. They are used to measure distances on a chart and they are used for determining latitude and longitude. Two varieties can be found. The less expensive version requires two hands to set. The traditional one-handed divider is more expensive.
  • Plotters are used to determine bearings and courses on the chart. Most people are used to seeing parallel rules, but common plotters are Portland Plotters, Douglas protractors, course arm plotters.
  • The hand bearing compass is an essential piece of equipment. Nautical hand bearing compasses are used to take bearings accurate to 1°. They cost more than a simple hand-held compass, but are worth the expenditure. They can also be used at night.
  • Binoculars can be used to identify aids to navigation at a distance. Nautical binoculars are usually “7X50”. They magnify to a power of 7 times. Any binoculars more powerful than this are unstable on a moving boat. They have a 50-millimetre objective, or front, lens to admit sufficient light for use at night. Some binoculars have a built-in compass.
  • Knowing the depth of water in which you may find yourself is crucial. Traditionally this was determined through the use of a weighted lead line which was “swung.” Knots along the line indicated the depths in fathoms. Electronic depth sounders use a technology similar to sonar. Depth sounders can be set to that they account for the depth of the keel. Ensure that you are aware of any offset programmed into a depth sounder.
  • Knotmeters or logs as they are more correctly known measure the speed of the vessel through the water. The speed and direction of any current must be taken into account to determine the true speed across the bottom.
  • A watch or clock is another essential navigational tool.
  • Time, speed, distance calculations and other mathematical tasks are simplified using a digital calculator.
  • A time , speed, distance computer, a misnomer, is a circular slide rule that can be used in place of a calculator. No batteries are needed.

Paper Charts

Paper charts are still considered the gold standard of navigation, and many cruisers rely on them exclusively. In this day of decreasing cost of electronics, even cruisers who rely almost exclusively on electronic chars usually have a set of paper charts as a backup.

See Paper Charts

The Logbook

Can be integrated into chart plotter software (ECS), a stand-alone program or even the traditional physical book. This is a personal choice and really depends what you plan to do with it. Remember that most countries want a history of your last few ports of call before entry, so at least that much information should always be kept.


Publications, etc.


List links to discussion threads on partnering forums. (see link for requirements)



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