GPS is a very powerful tool that has been around for a little while and is only getting better with each passing day. It is a huge upgrade for boaters over previous navigational efforts. Navigation on the water has been something that has haunted boaters with its problems for centuries. Charting by the stars worked for a time, but not if it was cloudy and not if one did not understand the movement of the stars. Charting on maps worked to some extent, but only near the coast where there were lots of landmarks to check one’s position by. Without those and in the middle of the sea, it was all to easy for boaters to become hopelessly lost. Now that GPS has arrived on the scene, boaters finally have an instrument that they can trust to be accurate all the time, down to the smallest portions of a mile, and to be updated constantly with the newest and best information. It is a dream come true for boaters everywhere, and can make all boaters much better at what they do.
One of the huge benefits of a GPS unit is that it will let the boater set a waypoint in the middle of the water, with no landmarks anywhere around. This is especially useful for tacking, as has to be done when sailing into the wind. No more will boaters have to pick arbitrary or useless landmarks, trying to sail until they come close to a lighthouse or until they think they may have gone a certain distance. Now they can set a waypoint and sail toward it, and the GPS will inform them of how far they have gone and when they have reached the waypoint. They can then come about, set another waypoint, and tack back the way they came without ever having to wonder if they are in fact making headway.
Another thing about GPS is that it will let the boater know their precise position. This is better even than trying to figure out one’s position with charts and maps, because there is no room for error; the satellites get it right each and every time. Near the backs of islands, where the rocks stretch away just under the water, it is very important for the captain of a boat to know the exact position of each one of those rocks. If he or she does not know, or is a little bit off trying to judge by landmarks on the shore, the boat can hit rocks and go down before the boaters know they are upon them. Not so with a GPS. It does not make mistakes of that magnitude, and one can sail or boat in safety.
Arguably the most helpful function of a GPS unit is that it can be used at night. Before, inexperienced boaters would have trouble navigating after dark. Unless they were very familiar with the waters, with the islands and the shoals, they could drift miles off course and become very lost. A GPS alleviates that, as it lets a boater know where he or she is at regardless of the light. It also helps because it will let the boater know how far they are from their destination, something that is often impossible to tell in the dark. The water is always deceptive when it comes to distances, and the night only accentuates that. A GPS unit can take the unknown out of boating, and with that it can take any fear.
All in all, a GPS unit is a great improvement over previous means of navigation. It is back-lit and thus easy to read at night, something that a map could never be otherwise. It can receive updates that will help with all manner of problems, as maps on a GPS are always current. While experienced captains may feel that they do not need a GPS unit, beginning boaters can benefit from it immediately. Even experienced boaters would be smart to have one on board. The sea is unforgiving, and there is never any telling what can happen on the open water. A GPS unit can make anyone a safer boater, and a safer boater is a better boater.