At its simplest, marine navigation is the art and science of finding your way on the water. It has been used by sailors for centuries to get from point A on the vast globe of the world's oceans and waterways, to point B. Historically, sailors navigated by the stars and constellations. Learning to navigate today includes knowing how to read a nautical chart, knowing the various Aids to Navigation, plotting a course on a nautical chart, following a plotted course and learning to obtain a fix on a nautical chart using marine electronics.
A nautical chart is a “road map” to the oceans and waterways where you take your boat. It holds the key to a vast amount of information that you need to steer a course to and from destinations in a safe manner. Without a nautical chart and knowing the various symbols and information, you may as well be driving blind. A nautical chart shows land, water and its depth, danger areas, landmarks, buoys, lights and other aids to navigation. It has a compass rose to give you a true bearing in which to steer your boat, a distance scale, and a latitude and longitude scale so that you can you find your location. With a nautical chart and a few other tools, you can pilot your vessel anywhere in the world that you want to go.
Worldwide, there are nautical “road signs” that every boater should know and follow such as buoys, lights, and other aids to navigation that assist mariners in determining a vessel’s position and course and that warn of danger. Each year, thousands of dollars of property damage and personal injury occurs because boaters ignore the crucial skill of learning to navigate. Just as a stop sign exists to govern traffic and keep motorists safe, aids to navigation also govern boat traffic with the purpose of boats avoiding collisions with other boats or with dangerous shoals, sand bars or underwater obstructions.
In spite of your best planning on land, the forces of nature all conspire to throw you off course. Wind, tides and currents can pull your vessel of its intended track, which over time can lead to danger. This is known as set and drift. Learning to make corrections while your boat is moving is one way to be sure that you remain where you want to be and out of harm’s way.
To be sure, learning to navigate can be challenging. It can seem like there is a lot to learn, but with diligence and practice, mastering the art of navigation is possible and infinitely rewarding.