Required navigational equipment is a bit different for large and small powerboats but all marine navigation is dependent upon knowing these five things:
Since you need to know these five things, you need navigational equipment that will give you accurate information about all five of them no matter what size the boat is.
A compass is a requirement and we aren’t talking about one of those freebies that come in boxes of breakfast cereal. You need a big and steady compass that can be easily read even in adverse weather conditions. A compass covers the need to know direction which is the first information that you need for navigation.
If you wear a digital watch (water proof and shock proof, of course) and one that has a stop watch function, you can cover the next three pieces of required information for navigation. If you know any two of the next three factors (speed, time and distance) you can easily calculate the third using the Sixty D Street formula that you can learn about at the United States Power Squadron <http://www.usps.org/> website or Canadian Power & Sail Squadrons. <http://www.cps-ecp.ca/>
Essentially you can cover 4 of the 5 required pieces of navigational information with a compass, a digital watch and some information that you can get for free.
A simple depth finder can cover the 5th requirement but if you can, find and buy a good GPS/Chart Plotter/Depth Sounder unit. These units aren’t all that inexpensive but when you consider the value of human life they aren’t all that expensive either.
You should always carry hard copy (paper) of your planned route. As we who operate personal computers know all too well, electronics can fail and it’s always at the worst possible moment when it happens. A compass and a paper chart will still be there even if the entire electrical system of your powerboat fails.
More information on Coastal Navigation course
Bruce Stott is the Chief Instructor of Gulf Islands Cruising School Ltd. in Sidney, BC on Vancouver Island. He is the author of Boating FAQ’s, 71 Essential Answers for Every Boater.