What's the Right Type of Boating Education?
By Wayne Spivak, National Press Corps
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
What is the right type of
boating education? I've been asked this question many times over the years. This
is one of those questions that are hard to answer.
If you were to poll boating
educators, they'd be split into three camps. You'd have the Traditionalists, the
Electronics and the Hybrids.
The Traditionalists are those
educators who feel that the right boating education, especially as it relates to
navigation, is taught with charts, dividers, and parallel rules.
The Electronics believe that
those tools are obsolete, and give them a combined Chart Plotter, RADAR and GPS,
and they will navigate to the ends of the earth.
The Hybrids take a longer
view, some would say, and believe that a little of this and a little of that
makes for the safer, more knowledgeable navigator.
Days of Yore
For a very, very, very long
time, I was firmly entrenched with the Traditionalists. I would argue, and
rightfully so, because I was in the correct camp, that charts, and dividers,
lead pencils and rules were the only way a real navigator knew where he or she
was, and which heading they should take to be where they wanted to be. I mean,
hey, a compass, a watch and a chart and I'm there.
Sailors for hundreds of years
made ocean voyagers using these tools. They were tried and they were true. They
worked, and most importantly, they didn't break and relied on human intelligence
(high touch) to make them work.
However, it is just for that
reason, which my argument fell on deaf ears many times. It took a long time to
learn how to navigate by paper charts and dead reckoning wasn't all that
Then in the last ten years a
new camp sprung into existence. These people believed solely in the electronic
equipment and its infallibility.
The Electronic Age
With the advent of low-cost
LORAN sets, the age of Electronics was born in the maritime industry. Turn on a
gadget, let it settle in and find the data sources (antennas) and in no time you
have a Lat/Lon, a direction to your waypoint, and enough data in seconds that
would have taken you hours to develop the old fashion way.
Granted, LORAN wasn't geared
for true blue water voyaging, but it was great for coastal navigation, which is
the mainstay of the recreational boater. Years went by, and the RADAR sets came
down in price, and began speaking with the LORAN sets. Now we were able to
obtain more information about our location and surroundings, making our trips
easier and safer.
More years went by, and GPS
became the location device of choice. That, along with your Chart Plotter and
RADAR unit, and you could see everything you wanted, in real time, and plot your
course right on your little gizmo.
The Electronics believe that
there is no need to teach the concepts of the Traditionalists, because the
electronics are easier, faster and more reliable.
How could that be, said many
who were being swayed away from the Traditionalists, that paper charts are dead?
They liked their paper. They liked the thrill of creating a DR (dead reckoning)
and an EP (estimated position). They couldn't wait to advance their EP and get a
Running Fx. But they saw the need for electronics.
So, the Hybrids were born.
They believe in charts, and dead reckoning. They believe in using their Chart
Plotters and GPS's. They believe in the total marriage of both new and old
technologies to increase their safety at sea.
To this end, they believe a
nautical education, as it relates to navigation should be taught with
Electronics, but based on traditional charting and navigating practices.
Understanding the complete navigational theory make the Navigator a safer more
The Debate continues
I have been part of a debate
between these three camps. E-mails have flown back and forth, some of them
heated. But I can honestly say that most of us have joined the Hybrids.
There are several endearing
reasons why both the Electronics and Traditionalists jumped ship, as they say.
It comes down to some simple reasons. The boating public.
The question was asked, would
you rather someone gets some boating education or none? We all said "some."
Would you want the boating public to purchase sophisticated electronic gadgets,
but have no idea how to use them, or would you like to show them, and increase
the across the board knowledge? We said, "Increase their knowledge."
So we are working on creating
a course that satisfies both camps. As one of our group said, "First teach the
basics and then how the basics work in GPS."
As an example Chapter 1 could
be reading and understanding charts (the size of charts for local use and what
they contain that you need to know when using your GPS). Some charts, even for
the same area use different datum and some use different Lat/long (seconds vs.
tenths of minutes). These are things that are in most GPS user manuals, but new
boaters do not understand what they are taking about.
The Traditionalists loved
this, the Electronics said amen.
But until that ideal course is
taught, the United States Coast Guard and United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
implore you to take whatever boating education is available.
Remember - An educated boater is a safer boater!