When you are boating in uncharted territory, it is a sensible idea to use a local skipper. If you don’t have that option, you will need to rely solely on a chart to plot out your route. The cost of not preparing adequately for a boating trip could mean that you end up either grounding the boat, breaking the law, violating speeding restrictions, getting lost, or running out of fuel. But, if you prepare properly, and equip yourself with local knowledge and a solid plan on how you will navigate from A to B, you can afford to relax on the boat.
Plain Sailing: Check The Weather Conditions
Before you do anything else, check what the expected weather conditions are for that day. While you can use local weather websites, we also recommend using weather and tidal apps designed specifically for boaters.
Download The Marine Weather Forecast Pro
Make sure you have downloaded the NOAA Marine Weather app. It has real-time buoy data, 6-hour historical wave trend reports, an hourly wave watch model, hourly harmonic tide forecasts, NOAA weather map overlays, and severe weather reports. The useful 5 day NWS Marine Forecast always includes offshore marine zones and is particularly helpful in map view. It’s also suitable for adventurous sailors who want to cross the big blue ocean.
Bear in mind that a South Easterly wind is warmer but tends to be choppier, and a NorthEasterly breeze is cooler but less choppy.
Top tip: Don’t go on the water on a RIB if the wind is over 25 mph.
Ebb and Flo: Almanac Tidal Charts
Buy an Almanac, which is an annual publication listing a set of current information about one or multiple subjects. It includes weather forecasts, farmers’ planting dates, tide tables, and other tabular data often arranged according to the calendar. An Almanac chart is helpful for boaters wishing to go a little further afield, traveling from port to port.
An Almanack also gives you information on all of the ports, and how you should enter and exit. Be careful when reading the tide timetables because the predictions are in Greenwich Mean Time. If it is the summer, remember to add on an hour. Make a note of the local tidal patterns including the estimated time for high tide and low tide.
Interesting fact: Solent and Southampton in the UK have an unusual phenomenon, the ‘Double High Water’.
Plot Your Boat Journey Using A Chart
- Work out the distance in nautical miles using a local chart and dividers using waypoints (stopping points);
- Use a Portland Plotter (a ruler with a bezel) to plot your position and bearing;
- Information on local speed limits;
- Relevant VHF channels;
- If you’re on a long trip earmark a refueling stop;
In open seas where you can’t see any land features, and there aren’t as many buoys, you might have to rely on a compass for your bearing.
After gathering all of your information, you should have a rough idea of how long it will take to get to your destination, factoring in the weather conditions, your average speed, refueling stops, boat size restrictions. Check the waterways to ensure that your boat is safe to travel on them. Lastly, the local speeding restrictions.
Top tip: Bring a compass out on the boat with you!
Download The US Coast Guard Mobile App
This app will provide you with 24/7 access to the most necessary and commonly requested resources for recreational boating. You can identify boating safety laws, requirements, and resources available in your home state, as well as request a vessel safety check from the US Coast Guard Auxiliary. In addition, the app will help you determine what safety equipment you must carry by law and recommend additional safety measures based on your boat size and type.