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Coastwise Navigation

Knowing where you are on the water.

Chart photo

Tuition: $825

Note: This is a five-day course ending Friday evening. The course will include a day with marine electronics writer, and former WoodenBoat instructor, Ben Ellison on his 37′ lobster yacht GIZMO, aboard which is installed a remarkable collection of chart plotters, radars, sonars, and other modern aids to navigation.

Except in the smallest bodies of water, the sailor is helpless if he or she lacks the age-old skills of piloting and dead reckoning. Even in the clear waters of the tropics, vigilant eyeball navigation is not enough to keep a vessel off the reefs. Along Maine’s coast of cloudy waters, sharp rocks, and sometimes thick fogbanks, only a fool would get underway without a good understanding of how to use charts and instruments to navigate a safe voyage. For these reasons, basic piloting is taught in all our Seamanship classes. The goal of this course is to give students a really thorough understanding of and facility with, the subject—approaching it both “academically” and on the water.

You’ll start with charts, the fundamental tool of the navigator. Modern charts present an incredible amount of information, and to really utilize it all—to continuously visualize the connection between the chart and your spot on the water—takes skill and experience. Jane will help you acquire both. You'll learn about symbols, scales, specialized charts, and more.

You’ll examine compasses—types, azimuths, lubber lines, the confusions of deviation and variation. Parallel rules and dividers will become your friends as you learn the techniques of plotting courses, LOPs, and fixes. You’ll move on to more advanced procedures such as running fixes, compensation for set and drift, bow and beam bearings, circles of position, and the six-minute rule.

You’ll go boating a lot in this course, putting your lessons into practice and getting skillful with the tools. You’ll use traditional and reliable instruments like the compass and leadline, and you’ll get your hands on electronic devices like depthsounders, Loran, and GPS. A day or two of fog will be welcome, but barring that, you'll work under an airplane pilot’s training glasses to experience running blind.

The beauty of this course is that it provides the ideal blend of the theory and practice of coastal navigation. By week’s end, you should be able to enjoy the niceties of piloting and relax more with your boat on the water.