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Paper charts - vital for the prudent cruising sailor

by Daria Blackwell, Ocean Cruising Club/Sail-World on 7 Apr 2013
Can electronic charts even be depended upon to be accurate? .. .
Recently we published in informative article by Neil Langford, tech-savvy cruising sailors, about whether in today's high-tech world paper charts are really necessary, and about how he changed his mind. Here, Daria Blackwell, veteran cruising sailor and sailing author (http://books.google.com.au/books/about/Happy_Hooking_The_Art_of_Anchoring.html?id=vpbggWI_8-8C&redir_esc=y!Happy_Hooking, the Art of Anchoring), replies with a contrary argument:

Although I really appreciated Neil Langford's article about digital vs paper charts, I also have reason to present a different opinion. We have been in the unfortunate circumstances where GPS/electronic systems failed and paper charts saved us.

1) We were struck by lightning on a previous vessel and everything electronic was fried, whether or not it was connected to the electrical system at the time. That included dedicated chartplotter, laptop running navigation software, and handheld GPS.

Unless an electronic gadget is kept in a Faraday cage (eg, the oven), the risk in any area of the world that has electrical storms is real. Paper charts, even older ones, provide reasonably reliable back up, as long as you know how to correct for the datum.

2) Our chartplotters (we run two) and our laptop navigation system show us crossing land on our way into our inlet in Ireland when we clearly can see the channel and our depth corroborates our position.

Of course the paper charts of our inlet date back to the 1800s, which by the way, are reproduced with less detail each year.

The liability of reproducing charts without current soundings must be relatively high. We have heard that rather than conducting expensive soundings, governments are simply deleting data.

3) We have experienced several areas where the GPS systems experienced anomalies. One was in Maine, when the systems all suddenly jumped GPS coordinates which moved us from mid-channel to the middle of an island on the chartplotter.

When this type of anomaly happens, particularly under challenging circumstances such as fog, having paper back up can save you. As it did in this case.

I too love the art of cartography and appreciate the convenience of new technology. But we won't be giving away those lovely paper charts just yet.

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