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post #1 of Old 01-22-2011 Thread Starter
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A few thoughts on electronics & keeping watch

Recently the proud new skipper of a shiny new catamaran was showing me all his electronic toys. I must admit he had left little on the shelves of his local electronics store. There were two of just about everything from big plotters to radars. In his joy of ownership he commented that he and his wife would lead a “normal“ life inside while the electronics GPS and autopilot steered the boat and the radars kept watch for them. I didn‘t say much remembering old Capt. Irving‘s saying that,“every skipper has his own compass “,but inside I though “this man is a danger to himself, his family, and everyone else at sea.

Chart plotters and GPS mark a position to within a few meters. The problem is in understanding what those fancy gadgets are telling you. First of all GPS is very good at telling you exactly and precisely where it thinks you are and chart plotters are only as good as the charts they are based upon. Many of the charts for the areas where we go were done in the 1800‘s and have been little updated since then. For example when we are moored stern to at Banda Neira the chart plotter shows us to be exactly. 49 Nm S.E. of where we should be, or right in the middle of the town Mosque other islands are up to 3 Nm off. Try depending on the chart plotter/GPS to enter there and you will soon be hard aground - or wondering where the island went. Remember nothing replaces the old mk-1 eye-ball and common sense. Being honest with yourself, do you have a functional back up plan to navigate safely should all your electronics fail?

The other problem is that of watches. Watches are called watches because that means someone is out there WATCHING out for other boats, fishnets, thunderstorms, lost shipping containers, and all the other things that pop up. The reason you can sleep peacefully when off watch is that you know someone else is ON WATCH. I once saw first hand the results of not keeping a proper watch when an oil tanker pulled into the port of Dakar with the complete mast and rigging from about a 45‘ sailboat hanging from their port side anchor. They were not even aware they had hit something. And bye the way, I have many times seen a wooden or plastic fishing boat with my eyes when the radar could not see it at all.
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