Navigating Your Boat

A great way to experience the joys of sailing or driving your boat is to head out on open water on a long sail or cruise. This will give you the chance to see more of the world around you and experience a sense of adventure you’ll never have when you stick close to shore. However, in order to go long distances on a boat, you need to know how to navigate your boat safely and expediently from one point to another without getting lost or colliding with other boats or objects in the water. Here at Norfolk Marine, we’ve picked up a few tricks when it comes to navigating a boat and we’ve shared them below to help you plot your course to boating success!

Navigational History & Tools

Before the development of modern GPS and portable navigation devices, anyone embarking on a marine journey needed to have a specific set of tools at hand in order to navigate open waters, particularly on the open ocean. These tools included paper charts, maps, a compass, parallel rules, a stopwatch and dividers. Navigators plotted courses on charts that they followed using observational techniques of surrounding landmarks and pace-keeping methods. The term “knot” for a boat’s speed comes from the practice of using lengths of rope with knots tied at specific intervals, tied to a log which was cast into the water. The sailor would let the knots run through his hands and count them over a length of time to obtain the speed at which his boat traveled.

Today we have the benefit of global positioning systems that rely on Earth-orbiting satellites to provide precise navigational information to mariners. These satellites coordinate with one another to determine exactly where a given vessel is at any time. Courses can easily be charted making use of this information, which is also updated frequently to account for shifts in winds and currents. Almost every modern cell phone is capable of using a mapping program to navigate as well, and these can be used on smaller crafts that lack a GPS, although the GPS will certainly spare you from racking up data charges!

Dead Reckoning

Before the more recent technological developments detailed above became available, dead reckoning was a sailor’s main way to navigate. This technique requires the establishment of a “fix” or initial position in the water using external reference points. From this, a vessel’s predicted course is charted based upon the speed of the boat and direction of travel. Dead reckoning uses nautical miles or “knots” as measurement, equivalent to 1/60th degree of latitude.

Dead reckoning is not as accurate as more modern developments in navigation, but if you’re caught out in the water without any other way to navigate, then it can be useful to help get you back to where you need to be. The risk of error is high because winds and currents are not taken into account, which could subtly shift a boat’s direction or position. An inaccurately-set initial “fix” will also compound errors over time as the data becomes increasingly inaccurate.

Using Bearings To Create A Route

If your route of travel is not a straight line from point A to point B, then you’ll need to use bearings to create a route for sailing or driving your boat. Most routes have to take islands, coastline abutments and obstacles into account, so bearings will almost certainly become necessary for any long trip. Bearings could be considered intermediate destinations that need to be reached in order to seek the next one out, followed in a chain until you get to your goal. Plot your starting position on a chart along with your final destination, then draw the legs of your route between these points using bearings along the way. Generally, you’ll determine bearings with a magnetic compass and a parallel rule, which is a set of two rulers anchored together with a swiveling arm. The arm allows you to draw straight lines between bearings and the rulers let you measure the distance between them, which you can compare to the scale on the map to get the exact distance. Once you’ve determined each bearing and have drawn legs to connect them, you’ll have a fairly good idea of the route you’ll need to take to get to your destination, along with a good sense of how long the route will take.

Rules Of Navigation

The International Maritime Organization produces Collision Regulations that are referred to as COLREGs, which help to prevent collisions at sea. The United States Coast Guard administers and enforces these rules for American vessels. When driving your boat, you’ll want to use good safety practices to keep yourself and other boat operators safe, which means that all sailors and boat operators need to be aware of one another and remain vigilant at all times to be able to spot obstacles well in advance of a collision. Boat operators need to drive their boats at safe speeds and utilize radar and other technologies to locate other crafts on the water. The COLREGs also detail how to avoid a potential collision, as well as describing what boat operators should do if a collision is imminent.

To get maintenance concerns addressed quickly, contact the Norfolk Marine service department so our professional mechanics can help you get your boat in ship-shape for your next ride. We also carry a wide selection of new and used boats in many styles at our dealership. Norfolk Marine serves the cities of Chesapeake, Virginia Beach and Hampton, Virginia.