GPS navigation, digital chart plotting, and traditional methods of determining location
Introduction to navigation,
boat stability and safety
by John Carlton
Navigation and safety: we will be examining all manner of modern marine electronic navigational aids, including GPS position locators, digital charting and plotters, radar screen overlays, satellite weather overlays, unified network instrumentation systems (NMEA, NavNet, etc), and how all of this interfaces with our Navitrol wireless navigation and control system.
If your cables are frayed and your chips are fried or your computer isn't computing, we will also be covering the old fashioned methods of celestial navigation and dead reckoning in conjunction with regular 'hard copy' chart interpretation. To this end, we are pleased to present the following introduction to navigation by John Carlton, professional Naval Architect and seaman ...
Introduction to Navigation - by John Carlton
Navigation is an art, and a craft, and a tradition as well as a science. There is nothing that is sold anywhere, including here, that can make any of these parts of the whole irrelevant. There is no gadget that is foolproof, no software that has all the answers, and nothing that takes away from the navigator the need to treat his profession as a craft to be practiced, a skill to be cultivated, and a science to be known. Navigation is an art, and a craft, and a tradition as well as a science.
There is nothing that is sold anywhere, including here, that can make any of these parts of the whole irrelevant. There is no gadget that is foolproof, no software that has all the answers, and nothing that takes away from the navigator the need to treat his profession as a craft to be practiced, a skill to be cultivated, and a science to be known.
There are of course tools, and some really good ones can be found here. Ultimately though they all, including sextants, give you one and one only piece of information, which is where you are. No argument, this is useful to know, but it is not the whole story. What you do with that information is what navigation is all about. Software that includes electronic charts will tell you (to a limited extent) which way to go, and lots of other cute stuff, but the choice of route is still yours, and that is the navigators decision. Before it is made information is needed about the weather, and the currents, and the hazards, and the wind direction, and whether or not the moon really is made of green cheese.
Interestingly, there has been only one gadget to my knowledge, that tells you which way to go without knowing where you are. It consisted of a box of ravens, carried by a Norwegian navigator named, obviously, Raven Loki, more than a thousand years ago. Sailing from Norway to, say, Iceland, he would periodically let go a raven. If the bird could still see the distant coast of home, it would fly back, giving a reciprocal bearing. After a few days, with no land visible, even from the ravens height, it would come back to the ship, and settle on the mast. The ship sailed on, with the raven shaken off its perch daily until finally it saw the Icelandic coast, and headed off, giving a direct bearing as to which way to go. At no stage did the crew actually know where they were, that being incidental compared to knowing how to get where they wanted to go.
Competence on the water, from the ocean to a lake, is something that is achieved, not paid for. Apart from possibly hiring someone who is competent there is no way get around the fact that simply signing a big cheque for all the boxes with high KPD ratios (knobs per dollar) does not mean that the basic skills and instincts can be avoided.
If proof of this is needed, go to any boatyard. Somewhere you will see a boat having propeller damage repaired, or a hole in the bow fixed, or bent shafts replaced, or an impact repair to the fin keel repaired. Now count the antennas on the boat. There will likely be GPS, and radar, and VHF, and maybe some exotica, like SatCom, and television.
Obviously there is no shortage of money on board these boats, but one does wonder how much of the navigator's skills and instincts are on board. It is our hope that at Software for Boats we will be able to show you the art as well as the article, and the skill as well as the science.
-John Carlton (Contact John Carlton