Know Your Water Before Setting Sail
I have received several e-mails over the past couple of weeks from people who’d like to take up boating and the need to understand nautical charts. While I highly recommend knowing all you can take in when it comes to boating, I’m going to dispute the fact that understanding a formal nautical chart, such as one published by NOAA, is a pre-requisite before you get on the water. First let’s start about what type of boating you plan on doing; is it weekend fishing or cruising with the family up and down a section of the Intercoastal Waterway or the Amelia River; stretches you have boated on for years? Or is it something more along the lines of taking an extended trip up the coast in search of new frontiers and adventures? Perhaps you are thinking of an ocean crossing like to the Bahamas or Bermuda, or is it something bigger like an Atlantic crossing?
What ever the case may be, there are levels of knowledge that accompanies each scenario, some obviously more demanding than others. Do you remember the first time you had the notion of driving a car? Did your driving instructor say OK before you got behind the wheel or did they first have you spend a few hours reading the drivers handbook to better understand all the road signs you may encounter? My thoughts are you probably drove a little first, then continued further learning as you gained more experience.
I have been boating my entire life. I carry a 50 gross ton USCG license and have captained both sail and power boats in a charter configuration. I have been privileged to be captain in charge of an 82′ motor yacht and much more. For the past 12 years I have owned and operated a marine dealership that has sold and shipped boats of all sizes all over the world; to say I know a little something about boats and piloting them is probably an understatement. In all my years of boating I have found 99.8% of all recreational boats in use today are being used in the same bodies of water year in and year out by their owners/captains. Now that’s not to say that the dreams and aspirations of the owners aren’t larger and plans are always in the works for something more, it’s just when it comes to normal everyday boating, this normally takes place.
So where does a nautical chart come into play and how in depth does one need to go into before setting out on the water? First every good captain needs to have an excellent understanding of the waters he or she is planning on navigating. Knowing first hand the tides and their ranges, areas to stay clear of and the layout in general of the waters they plan to enjoy.
Even the greenest new boat owner usually knows a little bit about the¬†waters they plan to navigate before they¬†launch their boat.¬† But what about the mariners who are planning to navigate their vessels in unfamiliar waters, areas that they have never been in nor have any knowledge of?
Now we are talking about having a chart and knowing how to read it. If you are one of these folks, where do you start with the basics when it comes to chart reading? Besides searches on the internet, the Coast Guard Auxiliary is a good place to start. They do a fabulous job on the fundamentals in this area and can provide so much more to your typical scenarios you may encounter when navigating with a chart. The auxiliary has a strong presence in most major cities and in our area we have squadrons both in Fernandina as well as in Jacksonville.
If you are considering getting into boating and are hesitant due to the lack of understanding when it comes to charts or are a current boater and are considering taking on waters that are not common to you, start with purchasing a NOAA chart and carefully study them while identifying land marks and its layout. Then get yourself enrolled in either a Coast Guard Auxiliary boating class or an equivalent to get the knowledge you need to expand your horizons. You will impress your family and friends once you master the art of chart reading. But more importantly you will be safer.