Boating Safety Blog
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Boating Safety

Seamanship:  Page 1

1. Navigation

2. Boat Handling

3. Weather

4.  Communications

5.  Sailing

6.  Emergencies

7.  Courtesy On the Water

The simple definition of seamanship is; the art of operating a ship or boat see  However, seamanship is far from simple. It involves using many skills to safely operate a boat under all conditions, as well as maintain the boat in a safe condition.

Some of those skills are:


Boat handling.





Rules of the road and other legal matters. See NAV RULES

Emergencies. Such as Man overboard, fire, flooding, engine failure, and others.

First Aid including CPR and other emergency medical procedures.

I am not going to try to teach you all of these in this web site. Entire books have been devoted to each of these subjects, but I will try to give you links and references to learn more about each skill.

Navigation: I covered some of this under Navigation Rules; and

Navigation Aids (Aids to Navigation) Buoys, Day Marks, Lights, Lighthouses.
US Aids to Navigation System
International Aids to Navigation (IALA)

Navigation involves being able to safely move your boat from one place to another,Aids to Navigation knowing where you are at all times,  without running aground or running into things. This is also called Piloting.  The most basic of navigation techniques is coastal navigation.  Coastal navigation implies that you always have landmarks in view that you can use to establish your location.  These landmarks can include aids to navigation such as lights, buoys, towers, and day marks (signs). The image to the right illustrates Aids to Navigation on U. S. waters. (   There will be different Aids used on Lakes that are solely under state jurisdiction. 

Also, land features such as points, headlands, hills, mountains and other natural features, and man made landmarks such as tall or distinctive buildings, water towers, aircraft beacons, and bridges can be used fix your location.  This is called taking a fix, that is, establishing your location. 

This requires use of nautical charts. Automotive road maps should never be used for on the water navigation, they simply do not have enough accurate information.  Nautical charts are available in paper format, in booklets, or electronic charts that can be displayed on a computer, smart phone or tablet, or a dedicated electronic chart reader and navigation system. They can be downloaded from the internet by you, or downloaded and printed by a nautical chart retailer.  They contain a wealth of information on aids to navigation, water depths, locations of hazards such as rocks, reefs and wrecks. If you live in an area that has a vessel traffic system, such as Puget Sound, San Francisco, Chesapeak Bay, New York Harbor, Houston/Galveston and others, they also show the traffic seperation lanes. See

Coastal Navigation:
Coastal Navigation With GPS:

NOAA Chart Locater: Nautical Chart

On inland waters that are under state jurisdiction, local marinas may have charts for the lake or rivers you are planning on using.

It also requires the use of simple instruments, a compass, a pair of binoculars, a pencil, a pair of dividers and a nautical protractor (also called a chart protractor, see below.)

Another navigation technique is called dead reckoning.  This involves navigation when out of sight of land, or when in limited visibility.  It requires starting from a known position and Navigation Instrumentsbeing able to judge or measure your speed and distance traveled.  You must know the direction you are traveling and any other conditions such as current and wind speed and direction.  Then you calculate how far you have traveled over a specific time period.

Probably the most common method used today is GPS (Global Position System), using satellites to determine a position.   This is a very good and accurate means of pinpointing your location usually accurate within a few feet. I said usually because there have been anomalies with GPS in some areas.  Unfortunately, far too many people rely solely on GPS which can get them into real trouble.  GPS fixes only tell you where you are. Without a chart that shows the surrounding area, and things such as reefs, rocks, shallows, and so on, the GPS can lead you into troubled water fast. To effectively use GPS you need to know the basics of coastal navigation first!  Also, if for some reason GPS fails (there are countless possibilities, the simplest of which is the power fails) you need to know how to go back to basics.

Another drawback to GPS is it will give you your speed over the ground, but in an area with strong currents (almost everywhere) it will not tell you your speed through the water.   This information is vital in tidal areas, rivers, and offshore where there are currents like the Gulfstream.  So be careful relying solely on GPS.

Navigating with GPS (USCGAUX)

Tides:  Tides are the daily rise and fall of the oceans and coastal waters due to the combined gravitational affects of the Sun and Moon, and the rotation of the earth.  Depending on where you are located tides can be anything from almost negligable to a very large difference.  The highest tidal differences in the world are in the Bay of Fundy where tidal differences of 53 feet (16 meters) have been measured. Generally there are 2 highs and two lows a day but,  that varies as well depending on the geographic location and the relative postions of the sun and moon.

Anyone who does their boating in waters affected by tides needs to take into account the highs and lows, especially if you are launching a boat at a ramp.  It may be no issue at high tide, but at low you may not be able to use the ramp.

But just as important are tidal currents.  Tidal currents are the flow of water in and out as the tides rise and fall.  Again they can be small, and in other areas may be many knots. In a narrow passage in Washington state called Deception Pass the tidal currents at max can reach over 22 knots (40 Kilometers/hr)  So knowledge of the tidal currents, speed and direction in your area can be vital to safe navigation.

Obtaining a tide table or chart for your area is important.  Tide tables can be purchased at most marine stores, marinas, and even book stores.  There are also many online tide tables available and apps for your phone.  Most Marine GPS units also show tides where you are located.

See:  Tides around the world:

Other methods:
Radio Navigation (triangulation) also called RDF or Radio Direction Finding.
Electronic Navigation by using Global Positioning System (GPS)
Radar: Using radar to determine a fix (your position) by using landmarks that reflect radar.
Sonar: Using nautical charts that show depths and depth finders to locate a known fathom line and following the fathom line to a pre determined point.
Celestial Navigation. Using a sextant, and an accurate clock (chronometer) and the stars, sun. and planets to navigate without electronic aids.

Several good books on Seamanship and Navigation:
Chapmans Piloting and Seamanship.  Maloney,
Boating Skills and Seamanship. (US Coast Guard Auxiliary)
The Annapolis Book Of Seamanship. Rousmanierre


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