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    Re: Teaching seamanship
    From: Derrick Young
    Date: 2004 Oct 14, 15:05 -0400

    There is a large difference between the professionals and the general public
    in the navigation/seamanship courses.  The difference is not so much what is
    taught but how it is taught.  The pro's seem (for the most part) to be more
    prepared and as well as having a want/need to go into depth in the topics.
    They understand that navigation and seamanship are not distinct areas of
    study, but parts of the overall body on knowledge needed to stay alive at
    The average boater (and I admit to being one in the past) wants to learn
    portions of these skills without putting them in context.  As such, when you
    speak of seamanship, they think of boat handling, leaving/returning to the
    dock, working the lines, (hopefully) the COLREGs and (maybe) some of the
    elements of maintenance but not navigation.  Navigation is that sailor's
    "art" that is cloaked in mystery and wrapped in enigma - it is something
    that takes higher mathematics to complete and understand (or so everyone
    wants to believe).  Well, we know this is not true or they would have never
    let me learn it!
    Navigation and seamanship require that the student be situationally aware.
    They need to know what the deck watch sees, where the helm is steering, what
    turns are been made in the engine spaces, what sails are up, weather
    conditions, current/leeway, what is in the water around and ahead of them
    (depth, bottom type, hazards, etc.).  The biggest failing that I have found
    with the books (including mine) is that we do not emphasize situational
    awareness.  We mention it (mostly in discussions of danger bearings, bridge
    clearances and water depth below the keel) but we don't seem to put it into
    context of overall seamanship.  We leave that to the instructor - which,
    unfortunately, many are not prepared to address.
    Until something bad happens to the average boater, they may never understand
    how the parts fit together.  With me, I learned navigation because I wanted
    to go places.  I learned that seamanship and navigation are integral parts
    of the boating skill set when I lost all of my electronics (I do mean all,
    radio, GPS, LORAN-C, lights, bilge pumps) - I was left with a watch,
    compass, deviation table, charts, stubby pencil and paper (the blank log
    book).  My nav class mentioned (briefly) keeping a log so that we could
    reconstruct where we were.  Mine was in my head - lot of good when I got
    distracted by the other problems.  When I returned from that trip (and got
    my nerve back), I fixed the problems with the boat and started looking for a
    means of non-electric based navigation.  That lead me back to DR plots,
    ships logs and chart work.
    I had a sextant (Freiberge) but did not know how to use it.  Taught myself
    horizontal angles and vertical angles, from there it was a step to CN.  CN
    was a good choice for me - one because it helped me sharpen my math skills -
    to tell the truth, I found that I enjoy working the problems.  My daughters
    (29 and 24) are now learning to use stubby pencil, paper, slide rules,
    log/trig tables and logical thought by working out nav and CN problems.  My
    9 year old son is learning how to use the sextant to take vertical and
    horizontal angles - and he enjoys it!
    Is CN a good backup to GPS; is it a worth while study?  Each of us has our
    own answer.  For me, it is - because I never want to be in a situation where
    I lose all my electronics because of a short circuit in the battery
    compartment.  I like having something that does not rely on items in near
    earth orbit or land based transmitters that can be used to determine/verify
    my position.  I may never be steady enough to get my fixes to be within 0.1
    NM of my e-nav position, but if I am within a couple  of miles, that is
    I am not a Luddite, longing for the simpler past; I have worked in the space
    program and scrambled to replace failed satellites; worked on mission
    critical systems only to have them fail at the worst moment (thanks
    Murphy!); watched and tried to recover things after an earthquake and saw,
    first hand, what Mt. Saint Helens did in 1980 - the worst was the mud flows
    and ash; currently I am the Electronic Data Interchange Manager for a US
    Department of Defense agency - so I am very familiar with technology and all
    of it's advantages.  None of these experiences are good reasons to learn CN,
    but they are part of what I have gone through before making that decision.
    Oh - the boat - I separated the boat into 2 zones - each has it's own
    battery compartment - there is a third to start the engines and generator.
    The only common point with this arrangement is the charging circuits.
    When I teach seamanship or navigation, I stress paying attention to what is
    going on around you and the boat (aircraft, etc.).  Most importantly, the
    point that Doug, Fred, George, Alex, Herbert and others have mentioned, is
    what we do not practice, we lose.  That is especially true with the
    "magical" art of navigation.
    Finally, when we are out with the boat -yes, we practice multiple evolutions
    of docking/rafting and man-overboard (MOB) drills, we take LOPs using both
    the hand bearing & steering compasses, we take horizontal/vertical angles
    with the sextant, as well as sun/moon/star sights and other things.  I
    picked up an old Mustang suit that was being discarded (badly worn,
    tears/rips and covered with oil stains) - patched the rips/tears, sewed the
    arms and legs closed and put about 25-30 pounds of chain in it.  It still
    floats and makes a good dummy for the MOB drill.  I watched my wife struggle
    trying to get it into the boat - not fun.  I rigged a small hoist with a
    basket that can be used to get the someone out of the water without
    straining your back - also works to get supplies out of the dingy into the
    boat without tipping.
    We practice what we teach - but I am afraid that we are in the minority -
    just like many of the folks on this email list.    I have learned more from
    the folks in this list over the last 6 or so years than I learned about
    navigation in school.

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