Navigation Instruments!
By Daniel Sprague

I have to admit I like all the electronic navigation instruments you can get for your boat. However, the compass, VHF radio, and depth finder are the three instruments that will be used the most and they provide a link of safety.

In the middle of the day, on open water and out of sight of land where you have no landmarks you can see, a compass can tell you what direction land is. That is a scary situation. Even if you never lose sight of land, it still can help you get where you are going and back again.

Types of Compasses!

There are two types of compasses, magnetic and electronic. The magnetic type has been around for hundreds of years. They are reliable and accurate and come in different styles and mounts that let you pick one that is suitable for the type of boat you have and where you can mount it. 

The digital or electronic compasses now available are also reliable and accurate and they can be integrated with other navigation instruments easily. That is their biggest asset.

Buy the best compass you can afford. The compass will last for years and it is an investment in safety and peace of mind. Pick the largest, easiest to read compass you have space for. If it is hard to read, it can be inconvenient and dangerous. There are a wide variety of prices and styles on the market to pick from and making the selection can be fun. Pick the best you can afford.


A VHF radio is the next instrument you need. They can be hand-held or mounted, and come in a wide price range. Hand-held radios have a shorter range than a mounted radio with a separate antenna. As a rule of thumb, a hand-held has a line of sight range.

A radio lets you talk to other boats, get directions, talk to draw bridge operators and lock attendants, and call for help if needed. A cell phone can do most of these if you are near a cell tower, but cell phones are not monitored by the Coast Guard and a VHF signal is. 

My sail boat has an antenna on the mast and that can give a fantastic range to the VHF radio. We use a hand-held for most things since it can be in the cockpit at hands reach. The hand-held is more than adequate for most situations, and it was less expensive than the mounted unit. Again, get the best your budget will let you afford.

Other Navigation Instruments!

Depth finders can keep you out of trouble. You cannot often see shallow spots in open water or where a channel is but a depth finder can. How much water your boat and motor draw limits where you can go and if you will get stuck. There are BIG fines now for damaging some seabed's if you get caught. A depth finder can help prevent you from getting grounded.

Like most navigation instruments, depth finders come in a wide range of prices and are often multi-functional. You can get a one that just reads depth, one that is a depth and fish finder combination, or one that is a depth finer, fish finder and GPS-chart plotter all in one. 

Get what you can afford. My boat has just a depth finder that has a warning signal that lets me know it is getting shallow. This is more than adequate, and that is what my 20-year-old boat came with.

The fish finder that we have gives the same information but graphically and can be more useful seeing the bottom shape. It also sees fish. 8-). If just fitting out a boat I would go with a depth finder / fish finder unit. Screen size needs to be considered. If it is too small, it is hard to use. Focusing on a small screen takes your focus off of steering.

The field of view of the depth finder has is important. Some units have two field of view modes. A wide field of view in shallow water gives a better overall picture of what you are over. The smaller field of view gives better information in deeper water.

A GPS is great to tell you where you are, where you've been, and show you where you are going. The drawback is you have to know how to use it, store way-points and navigate with it. For simple navigation, you can do without it.

I still like all the flash of a bank of navigation instruments with all the colors, displays, and glitz, but the three I really use is a compass, a radio, and a depth finder. These are the first three to get for safety and usefulness.

Daniel Sprague, owner of the Digital Compass Shop is a sailor, and internet entrepreneur. My goal is to provide the mariner with good quality products and information. Visit today to see our great deals and other articles.

Article Source: Ezine Articles

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