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Navigation for boaters

Learning how to navigate a boat is essential to boating safety. All boaters must comply with the same Rules of the Road and understand standard Aids to Navigation for proper and safe conduct on these shared waters. There are many courses available, both online and in the classroom, for boaters of all experience levels.
Nautical Charts
A friend of mine recently asked me how boaters know how to get from point A to point B. My answer was that they usually rely on GPS but all boaters should know how to read a chart, at least as a back up for your electronics. Charts may seem overwhelming at first, but We're not talking about celestial navigation here (although that's not a bad thing to know!) - nautical charts are just maps with a little extra information on them... and without the interstate highways. There are plenty of resources to help boaters translate maps into English, so we won't get into it here other than to list a couple of the better resources.
  • Chart No. 1, Nautical Chart Symbols and Abbreviations
  • The standard symbols and abbreviations used on charts published by the United States of America are shown in this chart, which is available to download for free by the NOAA from this page.
  • How to Read a Nautical Chart : A Complete Guide to the Symbols, Abbreviations, and Data Displayed on Nautical Charts
  • This book essentially contains an annotated version of the above US Government publication, making it a little easier to understand how to read a nautical chart.
    Classroom Instruction
    The Coast Guard Auxiliary offers many classes on both safety and navigation, including the proper use of GPS. Take a look at the types of classes offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
    Learn more about the Coast Guard Auxiliary in this external article about the organization.
    If you find a type of navigation or safety class you would like to take, your next step is to check the schedule of Coast Guard Auxiliary courses offered near you.
    There are also safety and navigation classes conducted by the USPS (United States Power Squadrons, not the Postal Service), a non profit, educational organization dedicated to making boating safer and more enjoyable by teaching classes in seamanship, navigation and related subjects. Visit the USPS and look for information about their "Chart Smart" program. Chart Smart includes information on compasses, charts, and plotting courses.
    Online Courses
    Visit SeaSources if you are interested in an online study guide for Coast Guard navigation tests. It includes chapters on "Rules of the Road" and "Aids to Navigation", and is intended for maritime professionals.
    Take a free online course in the basics of navigation, created by a USCG Captain and veteran of a marine division of a NY police agency. USCG approved.

    Additional Resources
    NOAA Charting and Navigation Resources: A comprehensive US Government site, which includes no-cost electronic charts available for download.
    The official web site for the USCG Navigation Center and the starting point for finding navigation information online.
    Free book
    Practical navigation using handheld GPS for boating available for download at
    Dowload the NAVRULES navigation training program. As of this writing, it's free for 30 days (then it's $20), but it only runs on Windows (sorry, Apple people).
    Related Web Pages
's Boat Insurance Guide
's Boating Safety Guide
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