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Learning Navigation

1478 Views 7 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  MazeRat7
I've sailed for 25 years, mainly in Penobscot Bay in Maine and own an Pearson Ensign. While I consider myself a competent day sailor within the limits of the bay, there is much I have not experienced and do not know, especially when it comes to longer distance or heavy weather sailing. My father traded in his Pearson 32 recently for a Baba 40 which has led me to start sailing longer distances (3-5 day trips). These trips have all been along the coast where I "navigate" simply by looking at the charts, gps and recognizing various landmarks (islands, buoys, other navigational aides). I'd like to start going on longer trips (cross the gulf of Maine to Nova Scotia, for instance), but feel there are a number of steps I should take before attempting that, which is all a long prelude to my question:

Does anyone have a recommendation for the best way to learn the basics of navigation? I'd like to find a good book and practice in two weeks when I am planning a 5 day cruise up to Blue Hill and Frenchman's Bays. Suggestions?
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I think the stuff you've been doing already is technically called "piloting" which I understand to mean "navigation near land".

It sounds to me like you're off to a great start. When you're looking at your charts, are you ever trying to figure out your precise location (i.e. take a fix) using something other than GPS? I think this would be my next step in your position. It's an easy way to augment what you're doing now. Find an easy landmark and use a compass to take a bearing to it. Use a parallel ruler to draw a line on your chart oriented in the direction of the bearing; this is a line of position and you know that you're on that line. Do it again for another easy landmark/buoy/whatever and where the two lines of position is where you are -- this is a two-bearing fix.

This is an important thing to get used to because almost all advanced navigation is based on lines of position. It's also fun, and an easy thing to teach to others on your crew. There's also a lot you can learn from there on including more advanced types of fixes.

The other thing you can start practicing is dead reckoning. From your last fix, figure out what direction you've been intending to travel (your heading) and what your speed over water was. Plot lines on your chart indicating distance traveled, say, every hour. You can then learn to take into account current and leeway to estimate your course made good. You can then check your estimated position that you got from dead reckoning against a two-bearing fix.

Long distance navigation will basically involve more advanced fixes, for example using celestial lines of position, coupled with dead reckoning.

Finally, the bible of navigation and piloting is The American Practical Navigator by Nathaniel Bowditch.

Have a good time figuring out where you are, and welcome to SailNet!
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I would suggest taking a class in navigation. There are many offered. A good instructor can explain the why's and wherefor's of navigation better than any book. Bowditch is a great resource, but I would leave it until you understand the basics.
The Coast Guard Auxilary classes are pretty tough to beat for most piloting navigation purposes. I also like their textbook Advanced Coastal Navigation it's easy to read and understand. Both the book and chart #1, which also has the legend for symbols used on charts, are included with the class. You could teach yourself all you really need but it's easier for someone to show you some trick stuff like doubling the angle off the bow.
The Power and Sail Squadron courses are also very good but you cannot take them in two weeks. Typically they start about now and run into the winter.
Thanks for the recommendations. I hear what you're saying about the class. In fact, I've been thinking that I should take a cruising class at some point before I try going to Nova Scotia (I assume that navigtion is covered in one of those courses?). At the same time, I feel like these short cruises along the coast are a great opportunity to practice some of the basic skills. I'm also going to start practising some heavy weather tactics - I've been told that heaving to is generally sufficient in a large displacement boat like the Baba (as opposed to deploying a sea anchor or drogue) - although I suppose it all depends on how heavy the weather gets - any thoughts on other things I should be focused on?
If what you are looking for is a guide to celestial navigation - and for an easily comprehended account of the basic principles with a long-term almanac - search for 'The GPS User's guide to Celestial Navigation' on
As a backpacker, with a science background, I taught myself the basics of taking compass readings, plotting a course, reading topos, the night sky, etc which has served me well.

As for the water, I picked up a used 13th edition of Dutton's Navigation and Piloting many years ago. It too has served me well. There is a ton of information in there you DO NOT want to figure out on your own when you need it. Unlike backpacking. You might consider that as an additional source of information.

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