Join Date: Nov 2009
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This thread is misnamed. It isn't about the overuse of technology, but the misuse of technology associated with the underuse or lack of brains.
I started out as a Luddite, sailing a boat that didn't even have an electrical system. I would go on short trips anchoring at night and sailing in daylight. We had a handheld VHF from the start, and as time went on, a handheld LORAN, a battery and running lights, cabin lights, and electric bilge pump were added. We had a good compass, charts, and Eldridges tide tables (for New England waters). We got caught plenty of times in fog that crept in on Block Island Sound, but were smug about the accuracy of our dead reckoning in acquiring passages in the reefs southwest of Watch Hill.
Then we moved up to a real cruising boat with sailing instruments, plotting LORAN and GPS, and autopilot. Sailing was a lot more enjoyable, but you had to know how to use all this stuff--not just what the buttons did, but how all this stuff plays out in the real world. (Your GPS doesn't know about currents, but it does know where you are over the bottom, so you want to use this new information and plug it into your dead reckoning process.) We learned, for example how to finesse the currents into and out of the eastern end of Fishers Island sound. Before then, we didn't know the current vectors took a decided turn in the area of the reefs--Eldridges tables and charts were too coarse.)
Then we added radar. What an eye-opener. We thought we'd supplement our early plotter (non charting version) for navigation purposes, but what we found was that it was much more useful for avoiding other boats and ships--not only in the fog! We also realized how vulnerable we had been--pre-radar--to unseen idiots moving through the fog at unreasonably high speeds. We also used it to be aware of those folks who simply drop their anchors in channels in the fog. Long story short: We use 2 charting displays when caught in a fog. One is for a radar watch, and the other is for regular navigation. (Our newer displays (2010) will allow a radar/chart overlay, but if you are using the radar for self-defense, the picture is less confusing with separate displays.)
As time moved on, our electronics advanced and we had an integrated sailing instruments, chartplotters, radar, and autopilot system. We had left the Luddite days in the long ago past. Now we didn't have to pick off waypoints with divider and calculator to enter a new waypoint. We could simply move a cursor and click. Our integrated autopilot/chartplotter system could show us the effect of time-varying currents on our sailing strategy and alert us to a condition leading to a stall in close hauled mode. All the while, we were verifying the accuracy of our electronic charts, sometimes by means of comparison with paper charts to reconcile channel location with respect to buoys. (We actually had a situation in home waters where the channel was indicated outside the buoys. We used our radar and paper chart to determine the buoys were accurately placed and the channel was in error--but this was a no-brainer in home waters!)
All that said, we have had 2 lightning strikes that took out all of our electronics in an instant--actually, 2 separate instants, 10 years apart. The silver lining in this cloud was that we replaced our electronics with then-current electronics, which amounts to significant technology upgrades. At the same time, we became acutely aware that you had better have current paper charts and a good compass and know how to use them.
Unfortunately, it is too easy for some folks to be over-reliant on technology and be totally lost in a lightning strike situation or due to another kind of electronic malfunction. And then there are the folks who never understood the limitations of their technology or its proper use in the first place--like th kayaker at the beginning of this string. Proper use of technology can add significantly to your safety and sailing knowledge. We're better sailors for all this technology, as long as we understand how to use it properly and how to manage when it malfunctions.