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.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

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

02-'17-Trans-Atlantic_Downwind-Schralpin

At The Helm: Man Overboard!

Imagine this simple scenario: the boat’s powered up, sailing close-hauled in a building breeze under full sail. I come on deck as the skipper during the watch change to make sure the new crew is comfortable and the boat is properly set up for both the current conditions and ...read more

Promo-01-LEAD-MGR00321

Contrasting X-Yachts & Moody Cruisers

One of the most fascinating things about sailboats is the different ways that sailors, naval architects and builders will approach a single design problem. The result has been a bewildering array of rigs and hull forms over the years, and in the case of the two boats we’ll be ...read more

04-Yacht-anchored-in-front-of-one-of-Lastovo's-gunboat-tunnels-(3)

Cruising Charter to Croatia

As is the case with so much of the Mediterranean, to sail in Croatia is to take a journey through time. Centuries before the birth of Christ, Greeks traded amphoras of oil, wine and grain across these waters. During the first millennium, the Romans built lavish palaces and ...read more

m123728_13_01_171012_PMA_02901_9999

Alicante Announced as an Ocean Race Europe Stop

The Ocean Race Europe, a new event in offshore sailing, will include Alicante as one of four stopover cities. This European offshoot of the former Volvo Ocean Race will include the biggest change to the racing rules under the new title—fully crewed IMOCA 60s will join the ...read more

01-LEAD-doublehanded2

Preparing for a Doublehanded Race

A few months ago we took a look at the development and attraction of doublehanded racing (Two to Tango, June/July 2020). Hopefully, that served to whet your appetite. If so, the question becomes: “How do I get started? The good news, as we explained in Part 1, is that if you are ...read more

01-LEAD-Day-three---dolphins.-300-dpi

A Key Approach to Passagemaking

How you approach offshore sailing is key to the success of each passage. In addition, some of the most valuable, even crucial attitudes and skills may not be either learned or valued in everyday life on shore and may even fly in the face of talents that are greatly admired and ...read more

OceanVoyagesInstitute-2048

Point of SAIL: Mary Crowley of the Ocean Voyages Institute

In this episode of Point of SAIL, Principal Editor Adam Cort talks with Mary Crowley, founder and executive director of the Ocean Voyages Institute, a not-for-profit based in California that has been both educating sailors and working to preserve the health of the world’s ocean ...read more

01-Ocean-Voyages-Institute_PHOTO-READY_1_pg

Tracking and Catching Plastic Waste

Plastic waste—in the form of everything from plastic soda bottles to abandoned fishing nets—constitutes a major threat to the health of the world’s oceans. Giving the immense size of an ocean, though, actually finding all the plastic floating around out there in a time-efficient ...read more