Welcome to the NavList Message Boards.


A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding

Compose Your Message

Add Images & Files
    Re: Dependence on GPS
    From: John Huth
    Date: 2009 Oct 31, 09:15 -0400

    Frank makes a good  point about unnecessarily exposing oneself to risk and thereby endangering possible searcher-and-rescuers.   There is this notion of risk homeostasis.   Mountain climbers are often accused of this.   It goes something like this:  "I got away with X last time, therefore I can get away with it next time."   And then, they get nailed by putting themselves in some precarious situation.  The flip side of the coin is someone who analyzes a past outing for errors and corrects them.   I'm keenly aware of the issues of putting SAR'ers in jeopardy.

    I was in close proximity to a sea kayaking tragedy.   On Columbus Day weekend, 2003 (or 2004, I forget), I was kayaking in the fog off of Cape Cod.   The cheapy compass I was using got jammed with sea water, but I did have the good sense to wear a wetsuit - the water temperature was 55 degrees F.   Two girls went out in sea kayaks at exactly the same time as I was out, and they were maybe a half mile from me.   I used the wind and waves as a natural compass and hand-railed my way along the coast to get back home.   They got lost in the fog, and there was a two day search and rescue.   Two days later, they found the body of one of the girls.   The other was never found.

    By next spring, I had a brand new kayak and when I was paddling, I was about as tricked out as you could imagine.   Three compasses, a nautical chart, a VHF transceiver, a GPS unit, flare gun, combat knife (the kind SEALs use), you name it.

    Over time, I got more experience and learned that it actually is important to unclutter the deck of the kayak - having lost a lot of gear to waves, and also the junk gets in the way of rescues.    As mentioned, I experienced two GPS failures in conditions where I could've used them the most.   

    My main kit now consists of a deck mounted compass, a hiker's compass in my PFD, a chart if in unfamiliar waters, a flare gun and flares, water, back-up food and protable VHF transceiver.   For longer trips, there's the usual camping gear, and I probably throw a GPS in a dry bag, but mainly as an afterthought.  In the fog, I'll bring a portable fog-horn.   

    I've participated in six or seven rescues over the past five years, including 3 cases of helping motor-boaters who were lost in the fog and even had GPS'es.  Of course, they also had a few cases of beer.

    The main gripe about GPS'es for me is in the vein of the Charlie Brown comic story about Lucy and the Football.   Lucy convinces Charlie Brown, against all experience, to once again charge and try to kick the football, and she yanks it away as usual.   Last year, I found myself again shelling out $200 for a spiffy GPS unit.  Now my third -  thinking to myself "you're throwing away money...". 

    This fall I'd given my students an exercise to walk from the chapel of the college to a tall building about a mile away and try to estimate the height of the steeple using the distance walked and the angular height.   I wanted to check the accuracy of my dead reckoning and brought out the $200 GPS unit to the college yard, and lo-and-behold - no signal.    Lucy pulled the football away again.  

    There is a definite sympathy to the issue of exposing would be rescuers to unnecessary danger by taking imprudent risks, but my own experience is that the GPS receivers end up being costly unneeded baggage.   This is not a Luddite statement, I will certainly carry a VHF any time I'm out on a kayak, but my experience is that these tend to be more reliable and a much more valuable piece of equipment than a GPS unit in terms of safety.

    NavList message boards: www.fer3.com/arc
    Or post by email to: NavList@fer3.com
    To unsubscribe, email NavList+unsubscribe@fer3.com

    Browse Files

    Drop Files


    What is NavList?

    Join NavList

    (please, no nicknames or handles)
    Do you want to receive all group messages by email?
    Yes No

    You can also join by posting. Your first on-topic post automatically makes you a member.

    Posting Code

    Enter the email address associated with your NavList messages. Your posting code will be emailed to you immediately.

    Email Settings

    Posting Code:

    Custom Index

    Start date: (yyyymm dd)
    End date: (yyyymm dd)

    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site