Have GPS, Digital Charts, and Radar Replaced the True Art of Navigation?

Navigating aboard a boat has never been easier, but many GPS-reliant skippers today lack the necessary skills to make it back to port if the GPS signal fails.

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Practical Sailor looks at how skippers navigate today, using GPS (global positioning systems), chartplotters, digital chart, and radar, and how these tools have revolutionized marine navigation. This revolution has resulted in convenience, but has it allowed us to dismiss the basic skills every mariner should have? GPS was intended to be used as an aid to navigation, not as a sole source. Sadly, many recreational, bluewater, and commercial boaters traverse the open ocean without a manual backup to go to in the event the GPS satellite feed is lost or the batteries die on an important piece of electronic navigation equipment. This special report considers the pros and cons of interfacing electronic equipment and the dangers of the hybrid navigation/entertainment networks. We examine navigation gear priorities for a variety of boaters. Who can get by with only paper charts? Who should carry a chartplotter? A GPS, sextant, radar, Sat-comm, Loran? And who should have it all?
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Ralph Naranjo is Practical Sailor’s former technical editor and now a valued contributing editor whose specialty is safety and seamanship. During his 10-year stint as the Vanderstar Chair at the U.S. Naval Academy, he augmented safety and seamanship training and played a key role in the development of the Navy’s 40-foot new sail training sloops. His sailing background includes a five-year family voyage around the world and the management of a full service boatyard. He and his wife Lenore have made two other lengthy cruises aboard Wind Shadow, a 41-foot sloop the Naranjos have owned for over three decades. During the past 15 years, he has moderated US Sailing Safety at Sea seminars across the country, and now is an adjunct lecturer at the Annapolis School of Seamanship. His newly developed courses on weather routing, seamanship, and celestial navigation are among the most popular in the school’s lineup. He is the author of Wind Shadow West, an inspiring account of the family’s five-year voyage, and The Art of Seamanship: Evolving Skills, Exploring Oceans, and Handling Wind, Waves, and Weather, a comprehensive textbook aimed at the advanced cruising sailor. For information about his virtual or in person seminars on a range of topics contact the editor at practicalsailor@belvoir.com.

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