the Navigator's Notebook

This article describes how we planned our navigation details and used the Navigator‘s Notebook while we were cruising on Callipygia.

Table of Contents for this Article
1. Passage Planning 2. Passage Directions 3. Navigation Calculations

The Navigator's Notebook was a spiral notebook that we divided into two sections. At the front of the notebook, passage planning notes were made and passage directions developed. At the back of the notebook, navigation calculations and notes were made while underway.

We felt that it was really important to write everything down related to navigation while on passage, because it was too easy to make mistakes when we were tired--as we often were on an offshore passage. Near a coast, navigational errors are easy to make and can be deadly. The navigator's notebook worked well for us as a place to do our planning in a way that made for easy reference once we were underway.


1. Passage Planning

When planning a new passage, the following information went into the front of navigator's notebook, beginning on a new page. The date was put at the top along with the "from - to" for the passage being planned. Then, the information listed below was set out, in order. After the last element, a line was drawn across the page. While usually one person (on Callipygia it was Pat) will likely do most of this work, the others on the boat went through it so they were familiar with the upcoming passage's navigation issues and details. The real benefit of doing this formal compilation of information came because in order to write up these details we had to pull out our cruising resources and become familiar with the guidance in them. We also often found things that we needed to know for a passage, but would otherwise have overlooked.

  1. A list of the available charts that covered all or some of the passage area, and their area of coverage, their datum, year, and unit of soundings.
  2. A list of electronic charts that covered all or some of the area, and their areas of coverage.
  3. A list of Cruising Guides, Coast Pilot, Reeds, Light List, Admiralty or US Sailing Directions, etc. that covered all or some of the area, identifying the pages in each resource to be referred to. This exercise also ensured that we read the material and were familiar with the information we had on board about the area to be navigated.
  4. A list of hazards to be taken into consideration (currents, shoals, reefs, traffic separation schemes, whale migration routes, shipping routes, tidal/current deadlines to pass certain points, etc.) in sequential order. Additionally, we made a note of danger bearings (compass bearing, or lat or long) so as to avoid shoals and reefs in the area to be transited.
  5. List of land features or Aids to Navigation to look for, in sequential order.
  6. Average tidal range, date of next full moon, magnetic variation.
  7. Weather notes (such as "crossing this area is reputed to be dangerous with a northerly swell") and an outline of the weather window requirements  (length needed, acceptable winds and sea states).
  8. List of Waypoints: waypoint number and name; Lat/Lo; chart reference; cruising guide page reference; and course (magnetic) and distance between the waypoints. Note that we chose our waypoints so that all were in safe waters for bypassing hazards, and we never used a waypoint of any hazard itself. We also listed the Lat/Lo for imporant floating aids to navigation.
  9. List of ETAs, noting places to be passed by certain times to meet current, weather requirements, etc., and possible stopping places (anchorages, marinas) along the way. List gave estimated arrival/departure times, and described go/nogo issues. This list was made assuming 2-3 different SMGs (speeds made good) so it gave estimated trip schedules for Plan A, then Plan B, and if necessary Plan C. We avoided entering anchorages in the dark if we could, though we sometimes left an anchorage during the night to take advantage of night wind conditions.

As the navigator compiled this information, he/she also marked the route and waypoints on the chart(s). He/she flagged the waypoints on the chart with a small blue triangular flag cut from a roll of blue masking tape. The waypoint # was written on the flag in felt pen so it was easy to refer back to the waypoint list. On the margin of the chart, for each quadrant or section of the chart, the navigator mads a list of waypoints found on that quadrant, their GPS names, Lat/Lo, Cruising Guide page references, etc. Currents, commercial traffic routes, and other hazards were also described on the margin of the applicable chart quadrant and highlighted on the chart with a yellow marker.

The Navigator's Notebook was kept open and in the cockpit inside a plastic see-through sleeve while underway, so that it was easy to reference the waypoint list, hazard list, and passage directions, etc.


2. Passage Directions

For a complex passage, on the next fresh page in the Navigator's Notebook, a series of passage directions were set out. These could be referred to in the future if the same passage was again to be traversed. At the bottom of the passage directions, a line was again drawn across the page. Passage directions for travel from Luperon to Boqueron is an example of this format. These pages were reviewed by everyone on board, together, at the start of a passage, and were then available as needed by whoever was on watch to remind them of the navigation details and issues as we went along.


3. Navigation Calculations

The pages at the back of the notebook were used in conjunction with the Deck Log and charts when underway to document the boat's position as it progressed. Any position and current calculations and/or diagrams of set and drift (done on graph paper, then cut out), etc, etc. were written or pasted in the back of the Navigator's Notebook. At the start of a passage, the date was written at the top of a fresh page in the back of this notebook. Then as calculations, including celestial sight reductions if any, or diagrams were done, the author made and documented his or her calculation so that someone else could check them, if necessary--or he/she could go back and check for errors. After each calculation a short dashed line was drawn across the page. At the end of the passage a continuous line was drawn.

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Bill Dillon (KG4QFM)
Pat Watt (KG4QFQ)
This page was last modified on June 18, 2008

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