Update your navigational charts for life

Aug 6, 2013 by Rob Gannon

I’ve done some interesting deliveries of yachts in my day. Some of these vessels were well equipped with the latest electronics for navigation, updated publications and charts on board. Others, well, not so much.

If you need to navigate an inlet along a sandy coast, even a chart from a year ago may not be accurate. The sands are always shifting, buoys get relocated and, in some cases, removed.

Navigating life can get like that as well.

A couple of years ago, I taught a coastal navigation class. This was hands-on coastal cruising, four students and me on a 50-foot sloop. We were on the Gulf Coast of Florida where the inlets are notorious for shifting and shoaling. This was a fairly new yacht with the latest electronics and big shiny GPS right in front of the helm, but the charts were a couple years old.

I had informed the students that these channels can change, so as we approached the channel for Longboat Pass, which is prone to shoaling and can test even a seasoned skipper on a rough day, I told the team they were in charge, that I would intercede only if needed.

It proceeded to get a little crazy. One student was sure we were at the wrong inlet and we had to keep sailing. Another was sure of our position but baffled by the marker positions. The student at the helm was staring at the GPS, which showed a straight channel heading in (which was not the case) and he wanted to trust that.

The debate continued as we sailed away from channel entrance. OK, time to step in. I had them tack back, confirm our position and identify the entry marker. We lowered sail and got the boat under control under power.

I then reminded them of the shifting channels and recommended they not trust the all-knowing GPS but to trust their eyes instead. Locate the red triangle day marks. Locate the green squares. Pay attention and proceed. The lesson was learned, and the following day they did a great job navigating a tricky channel in Tampa Bay.

Life throws us these shifting sands as well. The markers we expect to be there may be missing and our life map or chart suddenly seems not much help to us. We have shifted, just like the sandy inlet. Maybe some personal storms have changed our path. Perhaps our personal growth has rendered our old navigation tools less effective.

The good news is with that growth we can update the charts and our personal navigating tools with self-awareness, an open and flexible mind, and intuition. Our brains are wired to scan for stored experiences, to scan the old data to see if we have a solution there. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we do not. If we do not, the system needs updating.

Those of us who have been around the boating world for a couple of decades likely remember the Loran system. It was a radio tower-based navigation system, before the days of GPS. It was pretty good for near coastal navigating and it was all we had at the time.

Then, suddenly, we have a satellite system and GPS, which proves way more accurate, and so Loran faded away. Are you holding onto a navigation system that wants to fade away?

If you find yourself inflexible and frustrated, perhaps you are. If you’re a captain, maybe this new owner cannot be handled like the previous owner. Maybe this crew can’t be dealt with the way the old crew was.

I’m sure many veteran captains have seen how the details of the game have changed. So you adjust, upgrade your personal navigating system.

The same goes for crew. You may not be able to deal with your new captain the same way you related to your previous captain. Procedures may also be new and different on a new vessel. So you must adjust and adapt. Go with the changes. Work with the tides. Sail with the current. Go with the flow.

If you find yourself in new circumstances and what you’ve always done no longer fits, slow down for a minute and open up. Just like my coastal navigation students, take time to trust your senses and that inner GPS.

Rob Gannon is a 25-year licensed captain and certified life and wellness coach (www.yachtcrewcoach.com). Comments on this column are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.