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Southern Spars

Seven GPS Sailing Tips for Safer Sailing Navigation!

by John Jamieson on 10 Apr 2012
GPS safety features can become especially important when conditions are difficult .. .

If you're anything like me, easy and fast sailing navigation tips and techniques are the way to go. This becomes more vital for short- or single-handed sailing. John Jamieson (Captain John) of Skippertips shows you seven little-known ways to use your GPS alarm function for safer sailing navigation.

1. Approach a Waypoint:

Most GPS receivers beep when you get within half a nautical mile or so of a pre-determined waypoint. Pull up the 'proximity' menu. This allows you to select any waypoint, increase the distance of the alarm, and toggle the alarm. Your proximity alarm has a distinct series of beeps to distinguish it from other alarms.

2. Arrive at a Turn:

Do you have a critical turn up ahead? Will it require heading up, falling off, tacking, or jibing? Set the alarm to trigger well ahead of time. This gives you time to get ready for new sail trim or to take over from the auto-pilot.

3. Prepare to Make Landfall:

Few things are as important as sighting an island peak or blinking light after days at sea. But few things cause more apprehension. You need time to orient yourself, double check that you are where you want to be.

Move the distance of your alarm so that it sounds when you are at least one hour away. This allows you time to scan the horizon with binoculars, get the anchor ground tackle ready, and make preparations for chart navigation in coastal waters.

4. Sail onto Soundings:

When will you cross the 100 fathom curve? For centuries, this has marked the nautical boundary between offshore waters and coastal waters. Even if your depth sounder won't sound that deep, check the navigation chart and set a waypoint at the spot to trigger an alarm.

5. Cross over Depth Contours:

Squiggly lines or enclosed circles on the chart show a number somewhere in the break of the line or circle. Check the navigational chart to see whether this denotes fathoms, feet, or meters. Program the alarm to sound when you cross specific contour curves as a backup to your electronic navigation.

6. Clear Deadly Dangers:

Determine the closest safe distance to pass rocks, reefs, mud flats, or sand bars. Use your nautical chart to determine the latitude and longitude of the danger's center. Program this as a waypoint.

Use your nautical chart to draw an enclosed circle around the danger. Increase the radius by 50%. Set the radius for that waypoint in your GPS proximity function.

7. Warn of a Dragging Anchor:

Draw a swing and drag circle around your anchored position. Set your alarm to trigger when the boat touches the edge of the circle. Make sure that you allow enough room for your small cruising boat to swing with wind and current changes.

Keep these little-known coastal navigation tips and techniques handy to make your sailing navigation safer than ever before—wherever in the world you sail, race, or cruise. Stay safe and sail well!

Finally, Captain John's most important sailing safety tip:


GPS technology is great, BUT... always use your nautical chart along with your GPS, no matter what type of sailing. This includes day sailing, racing, cruising, or long distance voyaging. Nautical charts provide a powerful, second backup method of navigation to the electronics. And, in case of a power loss or signal malfunction--your paper nautical charts will take priority to insure that you make it home safe and sound.

John Jamieson (Captain John) with 25+ years of experience shows you the no-nonsense cruising skills you need beyond sailing school. Visit his website at www.skippertips.com for a free sailing tips newsletter. Become a member for instant access to 550+ sailing skills articles, 100+ sailing video tutorials, 145+ sailing tips newsletters, 12+ sailing topic e-Books, and more!

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