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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 accurate.

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.

The Hybrids

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 informed boater.

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!

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