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Boating navigation resources

Boating navigation resources

I was reading a post on one of my Facebook boating forums and I was struck by an interesting post. The poster, presumably a boater, was asking the forum what app people used to avoid sandbars and rocks while on the water in the interest of staying safe. I was somewhat surprised by the question.  Now this is a good question as there are many Apps availably to help with this function. Navionics for one is excellent. 

Boating is about having fun and staying safe on the water. There are few requirements that boaters educate themselves on how to actually operate a boat, learn the rules of the road, or how to navigate. There is no universal or state requirement for a license similar to automobiles.  Some states, like New Hampshire, do have such a requirement but not all. Here is a listing of state-by-state requirements. Prior to engaging in one of the funniest activities going, boaters should seek out the skills and information useful to keep themselves, their passengers, and others safe on the water. For example, buying a paper chart of your local boating area or taking a class from the Coast Guard Auxiliary to learn how to navigate is a great way to start.

This is not always the case. Due to the lack of requirements, a small number of boaters do not take the time to educate themselves on safe boating practices. They buy a boat with GPS or install one of the new units in their boat and think they are good to go. Understanding how to read a chart including all the symbols and interpret tide information takes learning and practice. There are excellent books available on how to do this. The same applies to learning how to interpret and operate electronic instruments from GPS, depth sounders to radar and VHF. Having these tools onboard is only the start. Learning how to use them is not second nature and you should learn how to get the information you need when you need it. When things go sideways, you encounter bad weather or fog, it is not the time to try to learn how to navigate.

For example, it’s not uncommon to hear someone calling for a radio check on Channel 16.  This channel, being reserved for emergency purposes only, is not for this use. The Coast Guard will often admonish users to not use this channel in this way. There are several automated radio check stations maintained by SeaTow that can be used for this purpose. (VHF Ch. 24-28, 84). Call for a radio check here, and you will hear your own voice repeated back if your signal is received. Sadly, YouTube is replete with videos of boaters doing less than smart things including failed boat launching, going over waves to fast or overloading their vessel, common sense is sometimes on vacation with these boaters. Sadly, the news also includes boating tragedies that are caused by preventable mistakes.  


On the subject of electronics, an increasing number of people are using a phone or tablet as their electronic navigation device. Why not, right? We all have a phone, and an iPad costs under $500.  Download the Navionics App and you are good to go right? Maybe but… These devices are fine as a backup but not as your primary navigation tool to rely on. There is a reason why a marine GPS/chart plotter with a screen the size of an iPad is over $2,500. They are made to withstand the harsh marine environment including exposure to heat, water, UV rays and vibration. They keep working in all conditions.  An iPad will shut down if it gets hot or gets even a drop of water on it. Boating does not need to be super expensive but it is not cheap either. Skimping on critical components is a fast way to end up in trouble.  

Safe boating is a function of learning, asking lots of questions, and taking a boating class.  Using common-sense is the best skill we all have.  We cannot let the desire to “get out there” override being safe.  

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