As with all aspects of navigation, following ‘best practice’ is the surest way to make sure you are passage planning in a seamanlike manner, says Bruce Jacobs

Rubicon 3 Adventure Sailing’s Bruce Jacobs shares his 8 tips for confident digital navigation.

1 Check the GPS settings


Is your GPS set to WGS84? Does it show true or magnetic? Is it accounting for variation? All of these settings can be changed (and may well have been by a previous skipper) so get into those settings and get things set up as you want them to be.

2 Always zoom right in on vector charts

A screen of a Navionics chart

Credit: Navionics

When using vector charts always keep in mind that the dangers are hidden until you zoom in to the appropriate layer.

Don’t become a victim of unseen hazards.

Once you have your route in place, zoom right in and check, check, check.

3 Don’t put your waypoint on a hazard!

HY36XA North Cardinal mark floating on North Sea off the Dutch west coast near Den Helder, Netherlands

Credit: Alamy

Yes, even a buoy is a hazard if you inadvertently drive into it. This really applies if you have turned on your autopilot and it is following a route.

If you ever get to this point it suggests you were not paying anything like close enough attention anyway.

4 Put your waypoints somewhere meaningful

Brewin Dolphin Commodores’ Cup 2014 Day 5 Friday, Round the Island Race. Needles Light House Teasing Machine

CREDIT: Rick Tomlinson/RORC

With GPS charting it is particularly easy to be lazy in placing your waypoints.

Will you really head two miles past a headland before turning, or should that waypoint be much closer in?

If you’re cutting corners on your route, you’re in unchecked territory.

5 Know your distances

A yacht anchored amongst rocks

If using your GPS as an anchor alarm, make sure you know how far you can move before you wish the alarm to sound.

0.1nm is 185m, so depending on your anchorage you should probably be setting your alarm for less than a quarter of this.

6 Remember GPS is not infallible

Especially if you are in a tight, hilly area the accuracy of GPS can be off by quite a few metres.

If you are piloting through a narrow channel, this could be the difference between staying in deep water and hitting a rock.

Nothing beats the Mark 1 eyeball and a lot of common sense.

7 What does it mean in the real world

A yacht going around the Needles, Isle of Wight

Credit: Alamy

It is easy to feel that you’re a safe distance from a hazard when looking on a zoomed-in Vector Chart.

But you can often look up, or go on deck to see that you feel much closer than you thought.

It is always worth keeping your head out of the boat and looking up from the screen to take a real-world view.

8 Keep updated

A woman holding a chart

One of the most useful aspects of digital charts is the ability to keep them up to date.

A chart is only as good as its last survey, but around much of the UK, hazards do move regularly.

Keeping your charts up to date is vital whether paper or digital, but making notes is not yet an option on digital charts