Navigation Basics in a High Tech World

Bobby Byrd
Navigation Basics in a High Tech World
Your compass is one of the most important pieces of equipment on your boat; notice its front and center location at the helm of this sportfisher.

How do you navigate when your GPS fails?

We hope everyone is enjoying the summer fishing season and catching lots of fish! Besides fishing reports, we have heard a few other stories this year that have prompted us to address the issue of navigating without GPS or Loran when offshore. Most anglers rely heavily on their GPS plotters to get them from point A to point B when running offshore, but what do you do when you are well offshore and your electronics fail? Some of the older captains and fishermen who remember the days of Loran A or C and navigating with paper charts by dead reckoning will not be fazed by such an event, maybe just a little inconvenienced. However, because of these new user-friendly navigation units, many fishermen haven't taken the time to learn basic navigational skills. They have become so dependent on their GPS plotters with moving maps, that they aren't prepared for this scenario and haven't prepared themselves to handle this situation.

Loss of electronic navigation can be caused by several things. Equipment malfunction is a common problem; so many boats have a back-up GPS unit, which is an excellent idea. However, sometimes a failure can be caused by the loss of the vessel's electrical system affecting all electronics on board. A direct or nearby lightning strike, salt and corrosion, rough seas and water damage can also cause loss of electronic equipment. A handheld back-up GPS is a great remedy, but what do you do when you find yourself in a situation without any electronics working?

It's important to remember one of the most important pieces of equipment on your boat is a compass. Make sure it is a good one and take the time to check it for accuracy. Learn how to convert from a true heading to a magnetic heading. The United States Power Squadron and local captain's schools are a great place to learn basic navigational skills. If you don't know how to navigate without a GPS, you owe it to yourself to learn. It's also very interesting and you will have a lot better concept of just how much information a GPS provides for you. It's really quite amazing considering many of us can remember when it didn't exist.

You should always use your compass and check it against your GPS information. Remember to write down the heading you ran out on. Always carry a paper or laminated chart for a back-up. At the very minimum, learn how to read a chart and use the compass rose. You should also know how to find your position by latitude/longitude and plot a course. Keep track of where you are at all times, so if you have a failure you know about where you are and the general direction of your home port. If you are not sure of your position, you can call a nearby boat or if you can see a rig, you can get the block number off of it and locate your approximate position from a block chart. If you know where you are, then you can keep fishing and not be too concerned about the electronics loss. When you are ready to head home, give yourself extra time to get in. Use a paper chart to get the bearing off the compass rose and start in. Make a note of the time you left and the speed you are going, so you can calculate your position. You can double check your position by monitoring your depth on the sounder, if it is still working. You can follow depth contours off of a chart to navigate certain areas. Also, if you have a working radar, navigation without GPS gets even easier. Oil rigs detected by radar can be matched to rigs found on your chart. Sea buoys and jetties marking the entrance to major ports also show up well on radar.

One other factor is navigating at night without GPS. It's really not that difficult and in some ways easier. If you know major stars and constellations they can help verify your compass heading. Navigational lights, oil rigs and lighted buoys are marked on charts and can be seen many miles away. Also, the glow on the horizon from the lights of major communities can help you verify your position. Finally the age old lighthouse, seldom used or even operational anymore has always helped mariners find heir way home when getting close to shore. The next time you head offshore and see the old lighthouse standing there, remember the thousands of mariners it guided safely home and you will appreciate that little high tech machine in front of you a whole lot more.

Taking the time to understand navigation basics will help you be a safer more knowledgeable boater and fisherman. For more information on learning about navigation, big game fishing or rigging your boat, call us or come by Tops-N-Towers in Seabrook, Texas. Our Fox Yacht Sales-Seabrook office has an extensive inventory of brokerage boats and Fox is the exclusive Texas dealer for CABO Yachts.