Updated:
Original:

Curse of the Cursor

The first time I ever used a GPS on an offshore passage we almost lost the boat. The navigator, delighted with his new toy, had plotted a waypoint just off our destination, but somehow missed the long, low, unlit headland between us and it.

The first time I ever used a GPS on an offshore passage we almost lost the boat. The navigator, delighted with his new toy, had plotted a waypoint just off our destination, but somehow missed the long, low, unlit headland between us and it. We faithfully steered the course he gave us and as dawn broke were confounded to see a line of breakers straight ahead of us. It took a few panicked moments before we realized what was up and took the appropriate action. (“OK guys, let’s gybe—right NOW!”) 

In the two decades since, the increasing use of chartplotters has reduced basic navigation to cursor-moving and button-pushing. These devices have made coastal sailing safer in many ways—I wouldn’t choose to be without one—but they can also foster the kind of carelessness and inattention you could never get away with in pre-electronics days. The result has been a long string of GPS- or plotter-assisted collisions and strandings. This can happen when you ignore a few basic precautions that should be obvious:

• Plan your cruise on a paper chart so you get the big picture. Small hazards are much more obvious on a big chart. On a typical plotter screen, it’s easier than you think to lay a course across a shoal or even an island without realizing it.

• Don’t link your autopilot to your plotter and have it slavishly follow a programmed route. This makes you lazy and takes your mind off the game. 

• Your plotter looks like a video game and can breed that same mentality. What’s around you is real and can ruin your day. Use your eyes first and your plotter to double-check.

• Practice the basic principles of old-fashioned pilotage with your crew. It’s fun and will keep you from panicking when the plotter up and quits on you. Yes, it does happen! 

Photo by Onne van der Wal/bluegreenpictures

Related

ed3b8ae9-b65d-2941-47ec-cd0277bfcbe8

Mirabaud Voting Open to the Public

Photos from the industry's top photographers are in, and the 12th annual Mirabaud Yacht Racing Image competition is underway. An international panel of judges has selected this year's 80 finalists, which have been published online. The panel will also select the winner of the ...read more

P1320232-copy

Annapolis’ Boat Show is Back

After a year off in 2020, the United States Boat Show in Annapolis is back. From the diminutive Areys Pond Cat 14 XFC to the massive Lagoon Sixty 5, many of the SAIL’s 2022 Best Boats Nominees are on display for the public to get a firsthand look at, and SAIL’s Best Boats panel ...read more

05-Squall-in-the-ITCZ

Close-Hauled to Hawaii

The saying “Nothing goes to windward like a 747,” is one of my favorites. I actually once took a 747 upwind, retracing my earlier downwind sailing route across the Pacific. I’ve also done a fair bit of ocean sailing to windward. The 747 was a lot more comfortable. But then ...read more

01-LEAD-IMG-2106

Refurbishing Shirley Rose: Part 3

If you missed the first installment, click here. The hull and deck of Shirley Rose had been repaired, but what kind of sailboat would she be without a sturdy rig? I was told she was ready to sail, and that the owner replaced the standing rigging a few years before. Shirley Rose ...read more

211007MINI_1208-2400x1600

Mini Transat: Bouroullec and Fink Win Leg One

The Mini Transat is a roughly 4000-mile course that comprises two legs— Les Sables D’Olonne, France to Santa Cruz de La Palma in the Canaries, and Santa Cruz de La Palma to the French Caribbean island Guadeloupe. Two fleets of Mini 6.50s compete—the Production class in ...read more

01-LEAD-7-1-Rhiannon-loaded-on-the-truck-with-Clark,-Andre,-and-Louis

Book Excerpt: Taken By The Wind

In 1975, as a senior at Harvard, the question for Chicago-area sailor Mike Jacker became what to do next. The answer, as related in his new book Taken by the Wind, was to make a small-boat voyage to Tahiti with his grade-school friend Louis Gordon and Harvard classmate Clark ...read more

Maserati _Arthur Daniel

The RORC Caribbean 600 is Back

With a start planned for February 21 in Antigua, the famed 600-mile Caribbean race is back. The course circumnavigates 11 Caribbean islands starting from English Harbour, Antigua, and heading north to St Maarten and south to Guadeloupe, passing Barbuda, Nevis, St Kitts, Saba and ...read more

01-LEAD-14_00_210613_TORE03_JRE_4266_16961-3000x3000

The Ocean Race Europe

The fully crewed, round-the-world Ocean Race has experienced tremendous change over the years. From the 1993 transition to a one-design fleet to an ever-shifting route, what began as the amateur Whitbread Round the World Yacht Regatta in 1972 is a very different race today. The ...read more