Navigating the open seas can be challenging, but with the help of GPS and electronic navigation tools, sailors can enhance their situational awareness and improve safety on their journeys.
How to Use GPS and Electronic Navigation Tools
Welcome to our unique and adventurous website, dedicated to those who are leaving the rat race behind, purchasing a boat, and setting sail to explore the world with their families. In this article, we will discuss the basics of using GPS and electronic navigation tools to help you safely navigate the open seas. This comprehensive guide will cover everything from understanding GPS technology to using electronic charts and apps to make your sailing experience as smooth as possible.
Table of Contents
- Understanding GPS Technology
- Types of GPS Devices
- Electronic Charts
- Chartplotters and Multifunction Displays
- Apps and Software for Navigation
- AIS and Radar Integration
- Safety and Redundancy
Understanding GPS Technology
Before diving into the world of electronic navigation tools, it’s essential to understand the basics of GPS technology. GPS, or Global Positioning System, is a satellite-based navigation system that provides accurate location and time information in all weather conditions, anywhere on or near the Earth. The system consists of a network of satellites orbiting the Earth, which transmit signals to GPS receivers on the ground. These receivers then calculate their position by measuring the time it takes for the signals to travel from the satellites to the receiver.
GPS technology has revolutionized the way we navigate, making it easier and more accurate than ever before. However, it’s important to remember that GPS is just one tool in your navigation toolbox, and it should be used in conjunction with other tools like paper charts, compasses, and depth sounders to ensure safe and accurate navigation.
Types of GPS Devices
There are several types of GPS devices available for marine use, each with its own set of features and capabilities. Some of the most common types include:
Handheld GPS Units
Handheld GPS units are small, portable devices that can be easily carried on board your boat. They typically have a built-in antenna and a small screen for displaying position information, as well as basic navigation functions like waypoints, routes, and tracks. Some handheld units also have built-in electronic charts, allowing you to view your position on a chart in real-time.
Fixed-Mount GPS Units
Fixed-mount GPS units are designed to be permanently installed on your boat’s helm or navigation station. They usually have a larger screen and more advanced navigation features than handheld units, including support for electronic charts, AIS integration, and radar overlay. Some fixed-mount units also have touchscreen interfaces, making them easy to use and navigate.
A GPS chartplotter is a specialized type of fixed-mount GPS unit that is designed specifically for use with electronic charts. These devices have large, high-resolution screens that make it easy to view detailed chart information, and they often include advanced navigation features like autopilot integration, route planning, and 3D chart views.
Electronic charts are digital versions of paper charts that can be displayed on a GPS device, chartplotter, or computer. They provide the same information as paper charts, including water depths, shoreline features, navigational aids, and hazards, but they offer several advantages over their paper counterparts:
Real-time position updates: Electronic charts can be used in conjunction with a GPS receiver to show your boat’s position on the chart in real-time, making it easier to navigate and avoid hazards.
Zoom and pan: You can easily zoom in and out on electronic charts to view more or less detail, and you can pan the chart to view different areas without having to switch between multiple paper charts.
Automatic chart updates: Electronic charts can be easily updated with the latest information, ensuring that you always have the most up-to-date chart data available.
Integration with other navigation tools: Electronic charts can be integrated with other navigation tools like AIS and radar, allowing you to view all of your navigation information in one place.
There are several different formats of electronic charts available, including raster charts, which are essentially digital images of paper charts, and vector charts, which are made up of individual data points that can be manipulated and displayed in various ways. Most GPS devices and chartplotters support both raster and vector charts, but it’s important to check the compatibility of your device before purchasing electronic charts.
Chartplotters and Multifunction Displays
Chartplotters are specialized GPS devices that are designed specifically for use with electronic charts. They typically have large, high-resolution screens that make it easy to view detailed chart information, and they often include advanced navigation features like autopilot integration, route planning, and 3D chart views.
Multifunction displays (MFDs) are similar to chartplotters, but they offer additional functionality beyond just chart plotting. MFDs can be used to display information from other onboard systems like radar, AIS, and depth sounders, and they can also be used to control various boat systems like autopilots, audio systems, and cameras.
When choosing a chartplotter or MFD for your boat, consider the following factors:
Screen size and resolution: Larger screens with higher resolutions make it easier to view detailed chart information and navigate in complex areas.
Touchscreen vs. buttons: Some chartplotters and MFDs have touchscreen interfaces, while others use buttons and knobs for navigation. Consider which option you prefer and how easy it will be to use while underway.
Compatibility with electronic charts: Make sure the chartplotter or MFD you choose is compatible with the electronic charts you plan to use.
Integration with other onboard systems: If you plan to use your chartplotter or MFD to display information from other systems like radar and AIS, make sure it is compatible with those systems and can be easily integrated.
Apps and Software for Navigation
In addition to dedicated GPS devices and chartplotters, there are also numerous apps and software programs available for smartphones, tablets, and computers that can be used for navigation. These apps typically offer many of the same features as dedicated devices, including GPS tracking, electronic chart display, and route planning, but they often come at a lower cost and can be easily updated with the latest chart data.
Some popular navigation apps and software programs include:
When using an app or software program for navigation, it’s important to ensure that your device has a reliable GPS signal and that you have a backup power source available in case your device’s battery dies. Additionally, keep in mind that smartphones and tablets may not be as durable or weather-resistant as dedicated GPS devices, so you may need to invest in a waterproof case or other protective gear.
AIS and Radar Integration
AIS (Automatic Identification System) and radar are two valuable tools that can be used in conjunction with GPS and electronic charts to enhance your situational awareness and improve safety while sailing. AIS is a system that allows boats to broadcast their position, speed, and other information to other nearby vessels, while radar uses radio waves to detect and display the position of other vessels and objects in the surrounding area.
Many GPS devices, chartplotters, and MFDs can be integrated with AIS and radar systems, allowing you to view AIS and radar data directly on your electronic chart display. This can help you identify potential hazards and avoid collisions, especially in busy or congested areas.
Safety and Redundancy
While GPS and electronic navigation tools have made it easier and more accurate to navigate the open seas, it’s important to remember that these tools are not infallible and should not be relied upon as your sole means of navigation. To ensure safety and redundancy, you should always carry paper charts, a compass, and other traditional navigation tools on board your boat, and you should be familiar with how to use these tools in case your electronic systems fail.
Additionally, consider having multiple GPS devices or navigation apps available, so you have a backup in case one device fails or loses signal. And always remember to keep your electronic charts and software up-to-date with the latest information to ensure accurate navigation.
GPS and electronic navigation tools have revolutionized the way we navigate the open seas, making it easier and more accurate than ever before. By understanding the basics of GPS technology, choosing the right devices and electronic charts for your needs, and integrating these tools with other navigation systems like AIS and radar, you can greatly enhance your situational awareness and improve safety while sailing. Just remember to always have backup navigation tools and methods available, and never rely solely on electronic systems for navigation.