Get more from your electronic navigation aids

Plot an easier course with technology

Wide shot of two women steering and navigating a boat

In recent years the way we navigate has changed dramatically. Many sailors and motor boaters now regard electronic instruments as their primary choice for boat navigation. 

Last year the UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) announced the phase out of paper charts. And with more and more people choosing to go paperless, electronic navigation is clearly here to stay. 

The constant evolution of technology means we now have access to a wider range of systems and sources of information than ever before. In turn, it has never been more important to understand the benefits and limitations that come with boat navigation in the 21st century. 

There will always be a need for pilotage techniques like transits and buoyage, as well as independently verifying the information your electronic system is telling you. So how can your electronic systems and more traditional techniques work together? 

Here’s how to get the most out of your electronic boat navigation aids. 

Use technology to enhance your boating

There’s no doubt that a modern chart plotter can make short work of boat navigation. They allow us to plan, execute and monitor the whole passage with one easy-to-read screen and all the data we might need at the touch of a button. Know how to use yours intelligently to get the most out of your boating.

close up of boat navigation GPS

Be aware of limitations 

The functionality and performance of electronic navigation aids is staggering, but no system is perfect. Always make sure that you are aware of the limitations and have a plan to mitigate against these and work around them if needed.  

Get familiar with the system you’re using

There is currently no standardisation for how manufacturers collect, interpret and display information to their end users. This means that one chart plotter may work differently and look and feel completely different to another. Ensure you are familiar with the system you are using and understand how the information will be displayed to you – an assumption here could prove disastrous. 

wide shot of boat navigation equipment

Always have a backup 

At least one other means of plotting or confirming your position is essential. Many still rely on paper charts as a backup but with modern electronics becoming more and more reliable, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. It is however vitally important that you have an alternative means of fixing a position and navigating to safety. This should ideally be on a system that will continue to work independently should your primary systems fail.    

Get trained 

There are a number of RYA boat navigation courses aimed at all levels of experience and ability. The RYA Day Skipper Theory course specifically covers electronic navigation, as well as chartwork, meteorology and the basics of seamanship. Find out more about our full range of training courses

Wide shot of sailors using electronic navigation on boat

Enhance your knowledge 

The Royal Institute of Navigation (RIN) has a helpful booklet with useful advice and guidance on the functionality of various types of electronic navigational equipment, including some of the advantages and drawbacks of different systems and approaches. This booklet has been written with input from the RYA and designed to complement the our shorebased training courses. 

Further updates

The RYA is working closely with the UKHO and Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to represent the views of our members on the production of paper charts. Find out more about the latest updates and keep an eye out for further information.