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Electronics are Great, but Remember the Basics

Helm electronics

 

Navigational technology has come a long way since sailors used sextants and the stars to chart their course. Around the 13th century, paper nautical charts were created. These hand-created charts continued to advance until around 1862 when lithographic nautical charts became available. Only in the past 20 years has electronic navigation taken off. Now, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) decision to phase out paper charts, boaters will be more dependent on electronic devices to chart their course.

 

There are many benefits to electronic navigation, but like anything, it does come with drawbacks. First and foremost is the potential distraction caused by screens. Plus, though they may seem all-knowing, electronic navigation devices are really only as “smart” as the people using them.

 

To avoid being distracted by your electronics, get to know them ahead of time. Read the instructions and spend some time with your devices at the dock. Check YouTube and manufacturers’ websites for videos explaining how to program and operate the many features offered by your electronics. As an example, consider that depending on how you program it, your boat’s GPS may plot a course for you that includes going across land. That’s why it’s a good idea to plot the course and review it before you’re on the water.   

 

Here are some helpful tips to help you get more out of your GPS – Chartplotter

 

It’s always beneficial to have a backup device such as your phone. This can come in handy if you have a problem and your boat’s electronics are rendered inoperable. It also sometimes helps to see two different views of a channel. However, if you’re using two devices, identify another person to monitor the extra device so the captain can focus on the helm and what’s in front of the boat. Here are some top boating apps you may want to consider using.

 

Nature is constantly changing many waterways, and if your GPS is not up to date, you may risk running aground. Check with your manufacturer for updates so your system stays current, but be reminded that channels are constantly changing – in many cases faster than they can be updated on charts. This is another area where your visual senses can be valuable. Learn to recognize changes in the color of the water and take notice of the water’s movement to identify shoals and shallow areas.

 

At the end of the day, there’s really no substitute for situational awareness. Taking stock of what’s around you cannot be replaced with electronics. Your GPS will not identify debris, crab pots, or other objects floating in the water. In the time it takes for you to look at a screen and decipher the information, another boat could enter into your path, or you could run aground. Be a safe boater, know how to operate your electronics, and pay attention to your surroundings for an enjoyable outing every time!