Owner, Green Bay Packers
Join Date: Sep 2006
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Paper charts still essential
Just to correct a couple of misrepresentations.
Of course, if you are "piloting" in a channel the notation on the chart of every buoy passed is not essential. But mentally recording it is necessary for radio traffic and the minute visibility is reduced you'd be well advised to have a paper plot; how can you dead reckon without one?
Merchant ships still use paper charts and probably always will. A lot of sailors think that those merchant ships have all the bells and whistles because they can afford it. Actually, it's not unusual to find a good size yacht with more navigational gadgets than a merchant ship. I sailed with the first Sperry steering stands that would integrate with satellite navigation. We never used it after some casual playing around with it. It lost course when the sat/nav dropped signal and was more trouble than just plotting a position and setting the course. Merchant mariners are slow to change. We use what works, but it has to be convenient and reliable. We get a fix, from satellite, bearings, or stars, and we plot it. Now it's on paper, and when the lights go out we've still got our position recorded.
Adam328 makes my point exactly. If I understand him correctly, he's navigating with his GPS and chartplotter and not using his chart unless he "needs" it. What he fails to realize is that by the time he needs it, it's too late. I know of no electronic aid that provides a signal that it's about to go Tango Uniform; they just quit working. Without plotting your position on the chart you don't know where you are when it quits, other than in a vague way. The practise of marine navigation is boring and repetetive. We plot positions all the way up the bay, just to erase them, and plot new ones going down the bay. But when things go wrong, as they inevitably do, your dead-reckoning is only as good as your most recent plotted fix. Charts at home are good for passage planning and perhaps you'll memorize the characteristics of some important lights, but when a light goes dark (and they do) you need to be able to glance at your chart for the lights you didn't memorize.
Technology is great, the reliance of the amatuer seafarer on it is not. That same Sperry steering stand was illuminated by LEDs-the latest thing! Well, when they died three months out of New York, we had no illumination until returning to New York and receiving a whole new touch screen pad. We got by, but the old stand was illuminated with 50 cent red light bulbs and if you were out of red, we'd paint 'em. So we replaced a $600 pad for what 6 cheap light bulbs had done previously! Automobile instrument clusters went through the same debacle. Most people don't want to have to replace an entire expensive circuit board just to fix their fuel guage light.
I am not a Luddite, I just believe that the first responsibility is to say, "what if it stops working?" Usually, we fall back on what we did before such marvelous machines were invented.