If you are planning an offshore cruise under sail, you need access to as much vessel data as possible in one single place. A multifunction chartplotter display is the nerve center of the modern offshore cruising vessel, bringing together chart navigation, radio communication and a variety of other inputs onto one screen to inform you of the overall performance of the craft while underway and at anchor.
Before committing yourself to a particular model of chartplotter, you need to consider several factors: vessel size, deck layout, planned location of monitor installation, and of course, your own specific needs and tastes. Generally, a large monitor is located on a bulkhead in the nav station, but some boats offer plenty of room closer to the helm under a hard dodger, or even on a swivel mount at the helm itself.
On larger yachts, you have more options available from which to choose. You can opt for two complete systems, one above decks and the other below decks, both of them ensuring you have constant navigational control, no matter where you are on the vessel. And with the automatic operation and ease of use offered by the latest in navigation technology, keeping one nav station as a backup ensures navigation and communication capability in the event of system failure.
When sailing in inclement conditions offshore, it’s comforting to have a relatively quiet, well-lit place below decks where you can study charts and alter course periodically as needed. With a large monitor in the nav station, you can cross-reference with paper charts and jot down notes without seas crashing on your work.
And remember, regardless of how fancy your electronics, carrying paper charts to cover all cruising grounds is still a must. That may seem silly and old-fashioned to younger skippers, but there are still significant navigational advantages to paper charts. As you may have noticed, even a large-scale paper chart indicates shallows and obstructions not always visible in all elevations of electronic charts.
With reports of groundings on “uncharted” offshore shoals occasionally popping up in sailing news, we are reminded of the quality and authenticity of government-issued paper charts. It is almost certain those shoals appear on paper charts of the ocean areas in question. They may also appear on different elevations of the electronic charts.
All the same, this is a good, common-sense rule: while sailing offshore, use electronic charts to stay on track while referring to paper charts occasionally to have both a broad picture of your corner of the ocean and the security of being able to anticipate submerged shoals and rocks. When close to shore in familiar waters, use electronic charts but periodically refer to paper charts, just to be on the safe side.
Another ancillary navigation tool is a hand-held GPS or a small, binnacle-mounted chartplotter to keep you on course while either hand steering or making adjustments to the autopilot or wind vane self-steering. Redundancy in navigation systems goes a long way toward ensuring a safe passage.
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