Sailor says GPS is all he needs

Why do many experienced pleasure boaters seem to take pride in rejecting GPS, the accurate and reliable Global Position System? Boat navigation has much in common with aviation, so I question a couple of Chris Waln’s observations in the Jan.⁄Feb. 2001 Correspondence section (“Using a GPS to assist with piloting tasks,” Issue No. 111).

What exactly is a “sun compass”? Does he mean a standby compass? How does one set a GPS for local magnetic variation? The GPS unit knows where it is. Maybe Mr. Waln has some esoteric electronic nautical hardware unknown to others.

Then his emphatic statement: “Finally, GPS units all fail eventually…” Sorry, this is not only incorrect, it’s nonsense. But if Waln believes this then he and his wife had better never fly overseas; they’ll be worried sick about the in-flight satellite navigation.

Boaters seem to have an innate suspicion of GPS, together with grandfather worship of the temperamental loran. Then there’s the advocacy, even adulation, of celestial fixes as a primary navigation method. As Doppler, Omega, INS, and then GPS came on line, sextant-wielding airline navigators became redundant. With the SA now removed, DGPS available, and WAAS soon to be, my boating experience is that GPS chartplotters can have astounding accuracy (always backed up with a paper plot).

The same issue of Ocean Navigator includes a lucid account by Allyson Madsen of some escapades in the Houston Ship Channel (“Dodging ships in a foggy Houston Ship Channel”). Much work and effort had gone into upgrading their ketch by these obviously accomplished sailors and literate correspondents. Yet they ventured into commercial shipping areas with only an antiquated and unreliable loran — grandfather worship again — not even an inexpensive position-finding GPS on board. With their obvious boating proficiency, this is unbelievable behavior, bordering on irresponsible if the Coast Guard had been involved.

Maybe I’m being pompously judgmental; though Ocean Navigator’s professional approach to the fun of boating is just one reason for subscribing.

Barry Syrett lives in Gig Harbor, Wash.

By Ocean Navigator