December 3, 2021
The Benefits of “Old School” Navigation in the Age of Technology
by Alexandra Yingst
In an age when paper charts are being usurped and navigational technology has dramatically improved, Captain Ken Lannamann argues that “old school” techniques should not be forgotten.
Ken’s recent seminar for the Professional Captains Association entitled , “Navigation and Seamanship THEN and NOW: Techniques, Pitfalls, and Lessons Learned Pre-GPS to Modern High Tech,” is full of stories and advice based on his lifetime of experience earned while sailing the globe.
The merits of the navigation techniques he discusses, paired with full situational awareness, are assets to any mariner’s navigational skill set.
Paper Charts and Logbooks
Electronic charts can be relied upon too much. Capt. Lannamann recommends always keeping paper charts handy and keeping a logbook of your position in addition to using digital tools. This can be a benefit for both legal reasons and in case your technology fails.
Electronic charts are incredibly useful, but the scale and level of detail on the chart should always be kept in mind. Some charts may not show hazards unless zoomed in on the screen. Additionally, many charts rely on old data that needs to be corrected. This is why some electronic plotting systems will show a vessel’s course going straight over land. Blindly following an electronic chart is less than ideal.
Boxing the Compass
In the past, all able bodied seamen were required to learn the skills of “boxing the compass.” This required memorizing the names of the 32 points of a compass. Capt. Lannamann suggests learning names for at least a few of the points, such as “Broad on the Starboard Beam,” because they are more accurate than using the clock system for describing relative bearings. Additionally, the point system can help mariners better understand the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs).
Navigation by Bottom Contours
Another important skill to know is how to use a compass and a depth sounder to reference charts and navigate along bottom contours. Due to the ease of using GPS, the skill has been lost to many seafarers. However, in the event that technology were to fail, this knowledge can help mariners get back to the harbor safely.
Technology, from the development of radar, to AIS and electronic charts, has completely changed how seafarers navigate the waters of today’s world. However, there are many relevant skills from the past that can increase the safety of any captain’s operations.
“It’s so important, especially for new people coming up, not to lose sight of the history of navigation and the skills that were developed,” says Capt. Lannamann.
Professional Captains Association (PCA)