The Mercator Madness

According to the prime reference for all things Maritime Navigation; Bowditch Volume One, the Chart is one of the most important. Mastery of the science is sometimes a difficult issue for mariners, especially when undertaking the deck officer license examinations. Accuracy, correct utility, and design of the voyage is represented on this flat, large piece of paper representing a small portion the globe. Actually, the shape of the Earth is an Oblate Spheroid, but considered a perfect sphere for navigation purposes and the mathematics applied to solve it. Finding your position utilizing this method requires some form of a paper chart, the most common, is a Mercator Projection.

One of the primary duties regulated to the Officer in Charge of the Navigation Watch is to professionally understand how to plot on these types of navigation devices. Each detail of course, speed, and time, along with the corrections, are applied to give a real picture of the vessel's location. Often times there is a lack of verifiable information sources to affix your position accurately so you rely on what is referred to as Dead Reckoning. Knowing your location is a major factor making a decision as to maneuver while piloting or to avoid a collision.

With modern GPS application, the use of paper charts and the plotting procedures are seldom, if ever, used by mariners. Still required for license examinations both USCG and International, and can be used as a back-up for advanced Electronic Charting Systems, and will remain a requirement for the foreseeable future.

There is a feeling, commonly shared by experienced boaters, that there is an over-reliance on advanced technology, especially GPS. Please don't misconstrue, I really like satellite connectivity, not only with charting, but communication, and timely, accurate weather data. The entire system delivers benefits and opportunities well beyond anyone could have imagined. The problem is not with the advances of the multi-function displays, it resides in the basic understanding of navigation and the importance of reading a conventional chart. If you lost your GPS capability could you find your way safely?

For those of you are taking a USCG License course, preparing for the upper level exams at the Regional Exam Centers, or a boater that wants to understand more; there are resources on the educational market that can guide you through the learning curve of charting. One of the absolute best is US Captain's Training; Easy to comprehend and follow, detailed instructions with demonstration examples for an extraordinary, professional training experience. Mastery of this skill is definitely possible with the right instruction. Contact me to discover how, and the cure for

...The Mercator Madness


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