It is a fact that since the GPS has appeared more and more skippers have began to be indifferent or even completely ignore the traditional and foremost nautical instruments such as the compass, the divider and the parallel ruler. Their commitment in the electronic "magical" box, which gives us information about everything, is so big that the compass is now a romantic and yet decorative element of Ribs. Therefore, a new danger has come up hiding behind the "blind'' trust in satellite navigation.
Since 1974 when the first GPS satellite was launched, new roads in navigation opened. The GPS system now permits accurate geographic location with an error of only a few metres and allows us to measure distances or find out our route just with the touch of a button.
Definitely we should not ignore the electronic technology, which gives us a sense of security that we lacked so much in the vastness of the sea, making it absolutely necessary in an emergency situation.
On the other hand, we should not depend only on this, but to use it as an additional source of information and nothing more.
What are we supposed to do in a dangerous situation when we need to transmit "May Day", as well as in many other cases when our planned route is necessary to change due to mechanical problem or sudden worsening of weather, and the GPS in which all our information is stored suddenly stops working? How is it possible to call for help or plan new route while you are in the middle of the sea without knowing your position?
Therefore, under no circumstances, the observation, compass, nautical map and all of the required nautical knowledge could not be replaced. A skilled skipper should be aware of his boat's position at any time. Fixing our position should become a regular routine.
This is something that can be done very easily:
- Waterproofing the nautical map of the area we will travel and adjusting it on the board cockpit. On the map we have already made all the information relating to our trip.
- Marking quite often our position on the map, without coping it from the GPS. It can be managed by knowing our degree on the compass and the time of our departure, taking care of course to keep our speed steady throughout our trip.
By this way we will be able to determine very precisely our position, and to change our course if circumstances require so, even if for any reason the GPS stops working.
Coming out in the open sea we must realize very well that out there is another world, in which we are all alone. Just ourselves and the sea. Whatever happens, we have to face it alone.
So, let the GPS "decorate" our cockpit, using the very useful information that provides us. But we also need to have the ability to operate without it.
The knowledge of traditional navigation techniques is absolutely necessary.
In each Rib there always must be a traditional parallel ruler, a divider, a nautical chart and of course a steering compass. And of course the more we know about the traditional techniques of navigation the most secure and capable we feel.
Traditional navigation techniques were based on observation of the relative position of the Sun, Moon and Stars. The old Navigators determined their latitude by measuring the sun's angle over the horizon at noon, while at night they were able to find the true north from the stars, which rotate around Polaris.
We should always remember:
The major requirement for any navigational decision is knowledge of our present position. We can not decide which direction to follow until we know where we are starting from.