Unlike, Paper, Rock, Scissors, this is no game and literally, utterly deadly serious. This is actually about more traditional forms of navigation and your obligations as a skipper.
Now GPS and Chartplotters have been a tremendous development aiding in both the accessibility and ease of use when it comes to navigation. As such, they have also introduced a whole new category of sailor to the wonders of the ocean. However, the perception is incorrect. It is the Skipper’s responsibility to have Admiralty (Hydrographer) Charts with them. After all, safety at sea begins and ends with you.
You see 95% of the world you want to explore does actually require you to have paper charts on board and use them. You’ll also find that it’s mandatory under your insurance policy, such as with Pantaenius, to carry the appropriate ones for your current cruising area and also meet that country’s statutory safety regulations.
Now if you think it can’t happen to you, then reflect on the fact that some of the world’s best parked their boat on the Cargados Carajos Shoals in the Indian Ocean. Team Vestas Wind went up on the bricks doing 19 knots because of an over reliance on digital charts. Even if you zoom right in, you can miss things and sometimes the material is not even there and words like ‘incomplete’ can pop up.
Equally, it is not about whether you grew up with Loran C or Radio Direction Finders, let alone star charts or sun shots from your sextant. It is about knowing things like dead reckoning, fathom lines, chronometers and tide tables, along with the thorough planning of your passages, not getting over-tired and ensuring you have done everything to gain some local knowledge.
Tim Cox is the Race Director at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia and is an ardent proponent of the need for complete navigation, as it were. “Electronic charts are a fantastic aid, but that is just the point. They are not the sole tool you have at your disposal or should be using, especially when in close proximity to shore or known obstacles.”
“It is important that Navigators and sailors understand the terminology of the maritime environment such as Chart Datum – the basis for measurement of depth and tide. Passage planners must consult relevant publications, such as the Australian Pilot, as they alert mariners to danger”, said Cox.
“The Notice to Mariners system for paper charts does ensure that the best information is available to the consumer. Remember that the notes on a paper chart will detail how accurate it is, and also the time of the latest survey. This could be the 1960s or way, way earlier and back to the brilliant Cook and his armada of Junior Officers.”
“No matter which Hydrographer is providing the electronic chart, they produce packages and the resellers just simply do not purchase the most expensive ones. Things are not down to the final inch at all. The electronic distance to known coastal landmarks can vary by 50-200m; so how much room do you want to leave, especially at night? Overall, the closer you go to known danger, the more attention you have to pay to knowing the local environment”, Cox finished by saying.
So in summary you can see that it is a combination of sticking the head out of the companionway stuff and then there are also Pilot Guides, books, magazines, websites, Google Earth, people at your yacht club, along with those you visit and the skill tests that some of them run.
Cover with the crew that know boats, is both sensible and prudent. Having the correct charts, along with pencils, erasers, parallel ruler and dividers on board, and also knowing how to use them, is both intelligent, and as you have seen here, mandatory. – John Curnow.