The subject of navigation takes up volumes. As a beginner, you’ll likely use “eyeball navigation” (meaning that you use your eyes and take note of different landmarks in order to help you to sail to/from a destination). Using visual means is still the foundation for navigation. All other means of navigation and navigation equipment are there to aid our vision. However, it helps to be able to use a compass, read a chart, and understand common navigation aids, especially when out on the water at night or in bad weather where visibility is not good.
Charts show water depths: white for deeper water, light blue becoming darker as the water gets shallower, and green for the land. The depths at low tide are also shown. Make sure you know the time and height of the tide so you can assess the actual depth at the time. There are a large variety of symbols on charts and understanding them is crucial. Small crosses indicate rocks that could be dangerous, and tidal rips are shown with short squiggly lines. Cables are areas where fishing or anchoring are both dangerous and likely to result in severe fines. Having a good working knowledge of the symbols is an important part of being safe on the water. Charts also show latitude and longitude, which is the grid system that represents your position on the water. The distance scale is also the same as the latitude scale at the sides of the chart.
Beacons and buoys are the sign posts in our harbours to mark channels for ships, and dangers such as reefs, rocks and shallow areas that are often hidden by the tide. If you are entering an area from out at sea, the red square shaped buoys or beacons are left to your port side and triangular shaped green markers to your right, or starboard side. Always keep to the right as far as possible when moving along a channel. There are a range of other markers with different colours and shapes, some with flashing lights at night. Knowing what they all indicate is fundamental to safe navigation. By using the “sign-posts” on the water and referring to the chart where they are also marked, the chances of running aground or hitting a rock are greatly reduced.
Navigation and coastal piloting are fascinating subjects; the more extended your boating, the more of an expert you need to be. While having a paper chart is the most reliable method for navigating, electronic position-finding systems, such as GPS (Global Positioning System) have simplified the navigator’s task, however, they are only navigation aids. Essential to safe navigation is having a depth finder which, together with the large scale chart and compass, are the fundamentals for safe navigation.