Why Mariners Use Knots Instead of Miles Per Hour

January 7, 2022

Why does a mariner (and, for that matter, an airplane pilot) measure their boat’s speed in knots, rather than miles per hour or kilometers per hour? The answer goes back to the 17th century and remains true today.

The nautical mile has two origins

The answer as to why mariners measure speed in knots evolved from both a strange custom of measuring speed and how the circumference of the earth was measured. 

In times dating back to at least the 1700s, captains measured their ship’s speed by tossing a long rope in the water with “knots” tied at even intervals. The rope had a wood chip at its end to hold it in place where it was tossed into the water. Then, the number of knots pulled off the stern in a given amount of time, based on a certain amount of sand flowing through an hourglass, were calculated as “knots per hour.”

Illustration of a ship’s knotted rope to measure speed.

Over time, this custom aligned with the second, more mathematical way in which a knot was calculated. When the earth’s circumference came to be measured in “minutes,” then 60 minutes made one degree of the earth’s 360-degree circumference. Coincidentally, the time it took to travel one minute of latitude in one hour became one knot. So, a knot is a measure of speed, not distance.

Thus, these equivalents evolved: a nautical mile became 1.15 statute miles (or 1.85 kilometers), or one minute of latitude, which is the distance a boat travels in one hour going one knot. 

While the measurement technique using rope knots dates to the 17th century, it wasn’t until 1954 that the U.S. adopted the exact measurement of the nautical mile. The U.K. didn’t come on board until 1970. Until then, each country had its own interpretation of what a speed of one nautical mile per hour meant.

The benefit of keeping with the knot measurement

Why haven’t the measurement gurus come together to decide on a uniform measurement for all travel (such as cars, boats, planes, and trains) in all cases?

The answer seems to have something to do with travel over the curvature of the earth. Cars and trains, known for shorter travel segments, use miles per hour or kilometers per hour. Boats and planes, which often travel longer distances affected by the earth’s curvature, use knots. Knots are a more accurate way of predicting how a boat (or a plane) traverses the face of the earth. That’s why nautical charts include and depend on longitude and latitude measurements. 

Because a nautical mile is longer than a statute mile, a ship going 20 knots is going 23 miles per hour. (Conversely, a small airplane going 173 miles per hour is traveling 150 knots.) If you are sailing in a hurricane, it may not matter to you whether the wind is blowing at a Beaufort 12, 78 mph, 124 kph or 68 knots. But mariners can more quickly understand conditions when stated in knots. Airspeed indicators on planes and boats show knots. Conveniently, the knot is used in meteorology, too.

Knots also are the preferred measurement for moving fluids, including water in rivers and oceans. Mariners are given the speed of a river current, wind speeds or tidal stream speeds in terms of knots, making it easier to calculate how their boat or ship must compensate for navigational direction.

And, of course, the numbers a boater sees on certain markers are in knots. For instance, a speed restriction buoy with the number “8” on it means speed in that area is restricted to 8 knots. 

For historical, astronomical, and meteorological reasons, then, the knot has become the standard for travel on our watery world, a standard that is likely to remain.


A Quick Guide to Boat Operator Licensing

January 4, 2022

Now that it’s the off season for a lot of boaters, it may be a good time to review boat operator licensing requirements and make sure you’re up to date. For recreational boaters in particular, the big issue in the eyes of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and many state licensing bureaus is safety education. 

Safety education and licensing is a multiple win: it gives boat operators the skills to keep passengers and vessels safe while avoiding fines and saving money on insurance premiums.

Here’s a rundown of operator license types, where they’re required, and when they are needed. (This list does not include boat registrations requirements, vessel insurance requirements, passport requirements and USCG life jacket requirements.)

1. Boater safety education, $55 to $65

Most states require this certification for recreational boat operators. 

Why is this “license” important? It teaches safe navigation. A boat safety course covers the proper steps to take in the case of capsizing, person-overboard, fire, sinking or collision. Not having this training often leads to boating accidents. In fact, the USCG estimates that 70% of the 7,700 boating accidents each year are caused by operator error. More than 80% of recreational boat operators involved in fatal boating accidents have not taken a boater education course. 

Only Maine, Arkansas, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Alaska and Hawaii do not require boater safety education. Boat operators take a course, often online, and then obtain an I.D. card at a state licensing center. For many boaters, this is all that is necessary in terms of licensing, along with annual registration fees for your vessel. The certification serves as a “boating license.”

2. Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels (OUPV), $900 to $1,500

You’ll need this license if you operate a vessel over 100 gross tons and with up to 6 paying passengers. These vessels usually don’t have to be inspected by the USCG Commercial Vessel Inspection Standards. The license is commonly for operators of, say, a small fishing charter or sightseeing boat.

To obtain the license, the boat operator first has to use the boat for 90 days, often under the tutelage of a licensed person. Actual hours need to be logged when on the Great Lakes or the ocean. This is followed by a course and evaluation exam, for which many boat operators use a tutor. Requirements don’t stop there. Operators also are required to have a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) from the Transportation Security Administration. Plus, they must complete an American Red Cross CPR course and a health exam, followed by a background check and drug test. 

3. Master License, $1,140 to $1,670

A Master License is required for an operator of a vessel carrying more than six passengers on a boat that also is required to pass USCG commercial inspection standards. The license itself varies depending on whether the vessel is 25, 50 or 100+ tons. Requirements are similar to the OUPV license, where you need CPR certification, TWIC, a background check, drug testing and a physical examination. Those with a Master License must, in many jurisdictions, sign up for random drug testing.

Some mariners prepare to qualify for the OUPV and Master License by working for a licensed captain to get the knowledge and experience required for certification.

Endorsements

The two most common required endorsements are for towing or for sailing, each obtained by attending additional courses at about $200 each.

Start the process by taking the safety education course

Given the importance of boating safety and licensing in particular, a lot of resources offer this training. Boaters can select from online, video or classroom formats. Times and locations for the safety education course can be found using the links below:

Consequences of not having an appropriate license are stiff

Fines for those without the correct licensure depend on the level of required licensing but can easily be in the $5,000 to $40,000 range depending on circumstances. But the safety of the operator, crew and passengers should be the biggest motivation to make sure operator licensing is correct and up to date.


Protect Passengers and Your Boat From Fumes and Fire

December 17, 2021

Having adequate carbon monoxide (CO) detectors and smoke detectors is a simple and affordable step that can prevent serious harm to recreational boaters and their vessels. 

There have been 46 CO boating deaths in the last decade in the U.S. Plus, just in 2020, 316 U.S. boaters died of onboard fires, smoke and explosions. In 2019, in a widely publicized tragedy off the coast of California, 34 passengers in a dive boat died of smoke inhalation due in part to there not being smoke detectors in the accommodations area of the vessel. 

Yet it takes just a few pennies and minutes to install these alarms, update them or check batteries. As cold weather sets in, now is the greatest time of need.

CO and smoke detectors may be required soon on recreational boats

Surprisingly, the U.S. Coast Guard does not require smoke detectors on recreational craft. But the USCG relies on the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) chapter 46 guidelines to require that smoke detectors be installed in the sleeping compartments of all small, inspected vessels that carry paying passengers.

While international boating rules vary on the issue of CO and smoke detectors, the USCG is moving toward making detectors a requirement on recreational vessels. 

Boat burned by fire
From PropTalk.com, May 2018

Currently, the USCG:

  • requires boats to have at least one B-1 marine fire extinguisher on board. Boats 26′-40′ need to have at least two B-1 fire extinguishers on board.
  • advises the owners of all inboard and sterndrive powered boats built prior to 1998 to inspect their CO detectors.

After July 22, 2022, the USCG intends to impose fire detection requirements on passenger vessels, because at that date new marine smoke detectors will be available that meet USCG testing requirements.

Here’s a look at suggestions for alarm placements:

1. Installing smoke alarms and fire extinguishers 

Fire is one of the leading causes of boat losses in the U.S. Shipboard smoke alarms, particularly in cooking and sleeping areas, issue ear-piercing alarms, alerting boaters and giving them time to extinguish the fire or evacuate the danger area.

Boaters are advised to place smoke alarms not only in cooking and sleeping areas, but in other onboard areas where fire dangers exist, such as in battery compartments, adjacent to the shore power inlet and cord, and near engine voltage regulators. 

2. Detecting gas vapor buildup that can cause a fire

A vapor detector is another important safety alarm to have. Fumes can accumulate during fueling or engine operation and ignite from an engine spark. Also known as “fume sniffers,” vapor detectors monitor for flammable gases such as gasoline fumes. If a boat has a gasoline fuel tank mounted below deck, a vapor detector alarm can be placed nearby. 

3. Placing CO alarms in vessels where buildup is most common

Deadly concentrations of CO are some of the most menacing gases because they can’t be detected by humans. CO has no smell, taste or color. The gas, when inhaled, prevents the body from retaining oxygen. Brains become foggy. People either die of asphyxiation or become disoriented.

Causes on a vessel of excessive CO often are traced to engine exhaust or cooking. Safety experts suggest that boaters examine the obvious areas where CO can be created and can build in concentration. Experts recommend that boat owners take time to:

  • Check engine room seals and replace them if necessary.
  • Replace faulty exhaust lines or clamps. 
  • Add CO alarms near cooking stoves and make sure stoves are properly vented
  • Check hatch vents above confined galley spaces and make sure the vents remain open even in inclement weather, so as not to trap CO inside. 

Efforts that recreational boat owners take to protect their passengers and their vessel by way of these alarms are relatively easy and can save lives.


Seven Smart Boat Upgrades for the Off Season

December 7, 2021

The off season may not be as much fun for boaters, but it’s a great time to improve your craft in ways that make it safer, more functional or even more stylish. If it’s cold where you live and your boat is in a protected warehouse or garage, you may want to plug in a space heater and get to work. 

Here’s our list of the top seven upgrades to consider:

1. Battery and related upgrades

Start by purchasing a battery monitor. For $300 to $400, a monitor will tell you if your batteries are falling below 50% (flooded lead acid) or 70% (absorbent glass mat) charge. When that happens, the battery either degrades or fails permanently. Monitoring is essential to long-term battery health (not to mention avoiding surprises). Second, purchase a battery charger as an essential backup. Solar chargers are popular, but so are methane-powered generators, especially for cloudy days. Most chargers have blue tooth adaptors that monitor operating mode, fuel level and charge rates and display them on your phone. Third, even with a monitor and charger, check the batteries themselves, which may need replacing. 

2. Enhanced solar power

Solar has long been a favorite power source for boaters. Without the generator buzzing, cruising under sail is quieter. For cruisers, solar power is a backup and can reduce the battery bank or extend its life. So now might be the time to switch out an old solar panel for a new one. Panels range from $400 to $800 and their power has doubled in the past few years, from 100W to 200W. 

3. Automated Identification System (AIS) equipment upgrade

Safety at sea¾or on a large freshwater lake¾depends on being able to identify other craft and have them “see” you on VHF. AIS information provides boat identification, position, course and speed. A strong, dependable AIS system requires three components: a VHF antenna, an AIS receiver and a chartplotter. For the latter, you can use a smartphone, but a larger screen that integrates your chart with the ID numbers is more descriptive. Expect to pay $1,000 to $1,500 for the transceiver/receiver alone.

4. Repairs of worn-out parts

Every year, manufacturers produce more flexible and durable hoses and stronger hardware less prone to corrosion. To take advantage of these advances, replace punctured or frayed hoses (and worn-out clamps) that are used in fuel supplies, freshwater and overboard discharges, supply lines for generators or engines, and hydraulic systems. You should also replace dry, loose or cracked gaskets. In addition, swap out worn, corroded or burned-out navigation lights and repair small scratches in the gel coat. 

5. Passenger amenities

Your boat passengers now appreciate some of the amenities they’ve come to expect in road vehicles. Some of the most popular are more cup holders and coolers, more USB charging ports and added trash cans. Most of these upgrades come as easy add-ons that can be snapped or plugged into place. 

6. Repairs or upgrades to essential accessories

Paying attention to the basics and making sure they are updated and in working order will reward you with enhanced safety and no surprises. These essentials are life jackets, flotation throw cushions, first aid kits, fire extinguishers, dock lines, anchors and fenders. Don’t forget to upgrade flares, air horns, a basic tool kit and flashlights and always be prepared with the latest nautical chart. Also, you may want to upgrade your battery jump pack and dry box seals.

7. Worn carpet and upholstery swap-outs

Nothing degrades carpet and upholstery more than salt air and direct sun. Boat interiors take a beating from more than the weather and environment. For example, passengers sit with wet clothes and suntan lotion on, neither of which is good for leather. An upgrade with newer, more durable fabrics and non-skid flooring options will spiff your skiff. Short of that, cleaning and protecting surfaces will give them added life.

Tending to your boat in the offseason can be fun and rewarding as you anticipate next season. Even with a low budget, some of these upgrades will make boating safer and more comfortable.


Fighting Off Small Craft Pirates (Yes, they’re back again!)

November 4, 2021

As if an increase in cyclones and a global pandemic aren’t enough to pester mariners, now pirate attacks of small craft are trending up since 2016. 

Pirates!? Yes, the ICC International Maritime Bureau reports about 200 incidents for all size craft in 2020, with about 60% involving yachts and other small craft.

Worst hotspots: the coasts off Nigeria and the Horn of Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia and the South China Sea, along with significant but fewer incidents near Venezuela and Peru. Small craft have even been targeted on the Danube River through Serbia and Romania. It could happen anywhere, particularly with pleasure craft, because they are expensive, in high demand, and easy to board.

The worst pirate areas for the Coast Guard to patrol are along territorial borders, where jurisdiction can change suddenly. When during a pursuit pirates cross from one country’s water to another, governments give up the chase rather than risk an international incident.

Today’s pirates are sophisticated. They no longer dress like Johnny Depp, have a long sword and a parrot on their shoulder, or make you walk the plank. They’re poor and angry criminals with a speedboat and armaments. They’ll often wear night vision goggles and be heavily armed with rocket launchers and automatic weapons, using advanced GPS devices to locate you. 

Modern pirates who attack private yachts and cruise ships go after personal belongings of crew and passengers. Worse, if you’re from a wealthy family, they will figure that out quickly and you may become hostage bait. Pirates don’t want your craft and they don’t want to harm you (although they’ll maroon you on a beach if you irritate them). Rather, they seek valuables they can sell for cash where there is no tracing. Usually, they intimidate you to get what they want. 

Protecting yourself from a pirate attack: it’s all about equipment

Ready to fend off pirates? The first rule is don’t try to outrun them. Most superyachts reach a maximum speed of 17 knots. Pirate skiffs can reach 35 to 40 knots. The best defense isn’t to try to avoid pirates, but rather to make their life miserable when they get too close to you.

There are some high-tech solutions and some old-fashioned ones, too:

Dazzle Gun. While it’s against the law to shoot a pirate (unless they fire on you first), you can use a dazzle gun, which temporarily blinds them with a nonlethal laser beam. Another version fires a sharp electrode with 950,000 volts, available on Amazon for only $38. A more expensive weapon option is a long-range acoustic device (L-RAD, at $20,000), delivering ear-splitting acoustics in a tight beam.

Security Guards. It may be too expensive to add a security guard to your crew, but a strong defense against piracy is to dock your craft in a marina with a full-time security guard. Many attacks occur at night at dock.

Wireless Gadgets. Just as with a home, your boat when moored can be armed with alarms, motion detectors, lights, security cameras, door-locking sensors, collapsible electric fencing and underwater sonar, all connected to your smartphone. 

Once you have defenses, then have a plan

Michael Schueler, a yacht captain who fended off a pirate attack, said the best defense is to have a plan and practice it. “Drill, drill, drill with the crew,” he says. His preferred approach to safety is to have barbed wire readily available, flare guns to shoot into the pirate boat hull and line launchers that ensnare the propellers of the approaching skiff.

He also suggests periodically broadcasting “Armed Security Detail on Board” on your Automatic Identification System (AIS). Pirates often use AIS.

Don’t let fear rule your dreams

Your chances of running into pirates are slim (but never zero), particularly if you stay away from West Africa, the Horn of Africa and the South China Sea. 

Sailing and cruising the high seas is a dream come true for most of us and a doorway to sun, ocean breezes and adventure. Sailors are, by definition, creative, bold and self-sufficient. Even if you take some of the precautions mentioned above, your chances for worry-free travel are high.


Preparing Your Craft for Winter Storage

October 29, 2021

Boaters in northern climates, particularly where the water freezes or storms rage, store their crafts for the season. But proper storage brings lots of questions. We’ll answer some here:

What’s better: wet storage vs. dry storage

Wet storage, or keeping your boat in the water, requires safe dockage away from storms that could gash your boat against the dock or, worse, throw the craft onshore. You have to be in a climate where the water can’t freeze, which would crack the hull. The hull needs to be impervious to water, so the hull material doesn’t blister. You’ll be paying dock fees all year, but you will avoid transport and storage fees.

Wet storage has its downsides. In saltwater, barnacles and seaweed can grow on the hull and damage the surface, but most marinas offer sophisticated cleaning services. 

Most boaters prefer dry storage either in sheds, on racks or even in the open air on lots. Dry storage allows for inspection of the hull and gaskets, cleaning and repainting. Fees depend on the size of the boat, but many facilities can stack (one atop the other on racks) for boats up to 80 feet in length.

The critical issue in dry storage is structural support. Either custom cradles or boat stands should be crafted to support engines, bulkheads and the keel. 

Make equipment inspection part of the annual storage process

End-of-season, before placing your boat in storage, check all your equipment. Replace fire extinguishers and flares that are past their expiration dates and dispose of them at hazardous-waste materials sites. Update the first-aid kit, throwable flotation devices and life jackets. 

Replace worn or chafed docking lines and fenders. Replace dysfunctional VHF radios and navigation electronics. Inspect and replace all boat cushions that are worn, stained or mildewed. 

Winterizing checklists mainly remove harmful water

Once your boat is out of the water, the challenge is to remove water still in the boat! The engine, electrical, interior and plumbing must be prepared for the freezing months. Here’s a top-level checklist in part from Discover Boating:

  1. Drain and remove water from your engine
  2. Replace spark plugs
  3. Apply corrosion protection to the engine
  4. Coat internal engine parts with fogging oil
  5. Add a fuel stabilizer
  6. Replace fuel filters and fuel/water separators
  7. Drain all freshwater plumbing from sinks, heads and tanks
  8. Remove water from raw water washdowns, live wells, and bilge pumps
  9. Add antifreeze to all plumbing systems
  10. Remove all drain plugs
  11. Keep hatches and drawers open for ventilation
  12. Lubricate door hinges and clasps
  13. Clean all limber holes and drainage pathways to prevent ponding
  14. Plug all exhaust outlets to keep critters out

Shrink-wrapping vs. custom cover: the choice depends

Boaters who cover their boats in the winter typically use either custom covers or shrink-wrap (plastic). The general argument about which is a better choice (shrink-wrap vs. custom cover) usually depends on how long you plan to own the boat. If you expect to own the boat over several years, the more expensive custom cover may be cheaper in the long run. If you are planning to own the boat from one to three years, shrink-wrapping each year is cheaper than a custom cover.

After the boat has been thoroughly cleaned and dried, the covering is put in place. Allow for vents or zippered access to allow moisture to continue to escape. Slow-release mold/mildew packs should be placed inside. At best they last three months and need to be replaced during longer storage.

The pros and cons of each storage option

Arguments can be made for the many benefits of professional storage, out of the water and in a closed building. Although you will be giving up ready access to the boat for use on a sudden, ideal weekend, dry storage in a secure building prevents theft, weather disasters and insurance issues. Often it is well worth the costs.

Storing your craft on your driveway at home (where practical) may seem more economical, but opens the craft to weather damage, hull damage, theft, vandalism and pests. Storing your boat in the water (where the water doesn’t freeze) offers the best possible hull support, but can involve year-round dock fees, cleaning costs, potential theft and vandalism.

Ultimately, the decision of how to store a boat off season depends on the climate, whether you are boating in fresh or saltwater, how much of the work you want to do yourself, the distance from your home to the water access and the fee structure of marina services.


Five Charts for Head-Turning Adventure

September 30, 2021

If you’re into conversation pieces, these five charts have their own story to tell. Each is worth pondering in awe or, if you’re into adventure, using to plot your next high-seas trip of a lifetime.

1. The Bering Strait (NGA Chart 96036)

When you cross the Bering Strait , the gap between the U.S. and Russia is only 85 kilometers. You can see both countries at once and might even spot a nuclear submarine on patrol. This is ground zero between two superpowers, and a sight to see. Animals include fur seals and sea otters, several whale species and plenty of salmon, herring, cod, flounder and halibut. But don’t sail there expecting a cushy passage. The Bering Sea is an intense patch of ocean, with strong winds, freezing temperatures and 30-foot swells. The sediment, some 50 meters down, is rumored to be rich in gold. As you sail along, imagine that only 18,000 years ago, people walked over a land bridge on this very spot between the two countries.

2. Turkey’s Turquoise Coast (NGA Chart 302, Mediterranean Sea, Eastern Part)

The big bend along Turkey’s southwest shore is a little-known gem of the Mediterranean Sea, with turquoise bays and the Oludeniz lagoon. The area isn’t known as the Turkish Riviera for nothing. Here you can sail warm seas, swim off beautiful beaches, and enjoy mountainous scenery.  Two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum of Maussollos and the Temple of Artemis, await you. If you’d rather leave your craft at home, you can buy a week’s passage on a local gulet schooner. No less than Marc Antony picked the Turkish Riviera as a wedding gift for Cleopatra. Santa Claus is said to have been born there, too.

3. Goa and Kerala, India (NGA Chart 63005, Bombay to Cochin)

Stretching from Goa to near India’s southern tip, the fabled Malabar Coast was once renowned for its fabulous riches and wealthy seaports. Now, seafarers come for sun-splashed beaches, to cruise the coastal canals in luxury houseboats or slumber in the posh oceanfront resorts of Goa and Kerala. Calangute Beach, with its golden shimmering sand, is filled with seafood shacks. South Goa has the most secluded beaches, such as Butterfly Beach. Kerala has hundreds of beaches, known for surfing and shops. If you want a retreat, Marari Beach includes a big resort of the same name, filled with coconut groves and lotus ponds.

4. Skeleton Coast, Namibia (NGA Chart 203, Ascension Island and Luanda to Walvis Bay)

Pull your craft along the northern reaches of Walvis Bay, keeping your distance from shore, for a view of elephants thundering down the beach! The bay itself is a deep, safe haven, protected by Pelican Point, the only natural harbor along the Namibian coast. Where else can you see southern right and humpback whales and then look off toward shore and see huge sand dunes? Go ashore at night to visit one of two soccer stadiums, where you can watch matches for Eleven Arrows F.C. or Blue Waters F.C. Walvis Bay is a jumping off point for wildlife safaris, too.

5. Beagle Channel, Chile and Argentina (NGA Chart 609, Valparaiso to Islas Diego Ramirez)

CNN’s travel writers say it best: “Named after the Royal Navy ship that took Charles Darwin on his global voyage of discovery, the channel runs 240 kilometers along the south side of Tierra del Fuego island. Flanked by snow-capped peaks, thick sub-polar forest, and tidewater glaciers tumbling down from the Cordillera Darwin ice field, the largely uninhabited shore offers a glimpse of planet Earth the way it must have been before mankind.” Sailing among this strange hot and cold habitat, imagine the earliest inhabitants, the Yamanas, who lived in these temperate and sometimes cold and wet islands without clothes!


It’s Fall in North America, but Summer Sailing Awaits You in Patagonia

September 17, 2021

About the time North Americans are hunkering down for the long winter months, basting turkeys and hanging holiday ornaments, the magical spring sailing season has begun in Patagonia.

Want to be there? If so, start your planning now, in September, so you can be boating in Patagonia at the start of the spring sailing season in November. You’ll find yourself off the southern tip of South America, taking your bearings by the Summer Cross, gliding across the clean and deep waters from Puerto Natales to points north or south, along the western spine of Chile and among the thousands of islands of Patagonia.

Start your planning with a navigational chart

OceanGrafix has nautical charts covering both coasts of South America. The Patagonia chart includes a big chunk of the west coast of Chile.

Here are some pointers about sailing these waters:

Marinas

Due to Patagonia’s underdeveloped yachting industry, marinas can’t handle vessels longer than 50 to 80 ft.

Navigation

Most channels and fjords are navigable. In the South American summer, they’re unfrozen and deep (328 ft. or more).

Anchorage

Welcome to paradise, where you’ll find literally thousands of unexplored coves and fjords, calm water and safe anchorage. However, as in any coastal area with mountains, sudden squalls are frequent. Don’t get too close to the glaciers abutting the water. If they calve, tidal-size waves could swamp your craft.

The rewards are breathtaking

Where else but in Patagonia can you cruise the inlets or even Magellan Straight to Cape Horn, guided by warm sea breezes as you gaze up at lush green meadows capped by glaciers and mountains. It’s all there in one place, waiting to be discovered.

No matter which path you take, you can’t go wrong. Travel north from Puerto Natales for a glance at the rugged mountains of the Chilean Andes and Torres del Paine. Travel south of Puerto Natales to either Puerto Williams or Ushuaia. There you’ll see the lush forests and tidewater glaciers of the southern tip of South America.

At anchor, you can explore the coast in a kayak among the company of sea lions, blue whales and black dolphins. Trails lead into rain forests and up to waterfalls, where tropical vegetation carpets the path to a series of hot springs.

Depending on your level of adventure, you can navigate you own craft, or you can crew on a fully outfitted sailboat from Puerto Williams to Cape Horn and the Darwin Range.

Meticulous preparation is a must for a safe journey. While full of alluring beauty, Patagonia is also full of surprises (weather, navigation, etc.) and dangers. A safe journey begins with lots of discussions with local boaters who know the waters and know best how to navigate them.

If you’re looking for an unconventional experience during the fall and winter holidays, start planning that Patagonia adventure now.


Shopping for Charts: Will that be Paper or Digital?

September 7, 2021

As information has become widely available in digital formats, people and companies have been turning away from print media. When it comes to navigational charts, boaters may be opting for electronic charts instead of paper. Before making that important choice, consider the pros and cons of the two formats

Benefits of Digital Charts 

  • Access to Up-to-Date Data: With an electronic charting system, there is a vast amount of data available at your fingertips that can be immediately updated. 
  • Customization: With the right app, this information can be customizable, even marking your location in real time, which can be indispensable when you have drifted off course. 

Drawbacks of Digital Charts 

This technology is alluring. But there are some drawbacks. 

  • Screen-Size: Regardless of the equipment you choose, the view screen will be relatively small, and although you can zoom-in on a location, when you go for the wider view, you will have a small image.
  • Cost: The initial cost of the device is also a factor, which can be compounded by the rate of technological advances that may render the system obsolete in a short span. 
  • Updates: In addition, like smart phones, electronic chart systems require app updates, but unlike the apps on your smart phone, your device may not send you update notifications, so you may forget to check for updates and be sailing with out-of-date charts.
  • Lost Service: If you have ever used a phone or GPS system when traveling on land, you have likely found yourself losing the service signal or having calls drop. On the water, your electronic chart system will be susceptible to the same issues and, unlike travel on land, you aren’t going to be able to stop somewhere to get directions or log onto someone’s guest WIFI. In emergency situations, you might find yourself without power or backup batteries. Loss of connectivity or power will render your electronic charts useless.

Benefits of Paper Charts

Paper charts from OceanGrafix have a number of advantages over an electronic charting system. 

  • Readability: The large size of each chart allows you greater readability than a small screen, and it gives you a wider perspective of your course than an electronic device. 
  • Easy to Store: Each chart can be folded into a manageable size for both viewing a small area and stowing when not in use. 
  • Waterproof: Because paper charts are available in a waterproof format, you can be sure your charts will weather the cruise.

Drawbacks of Paper Charts 

The main drawback of paper charts is that the sea is ever-changing. 

  • Updates: With paper charts, you don’t have the in-the-moment access to every chart and the up-to-the-minute data and location services of a digital system. Nevertheless, when you order charts from OceanGrafix, your charts are printed on demand from the most recent updates from NOAA. Ordering charts just prior to your voyage ensures your charts are current and reliable. 

But aren’t NOAA’s paper charts going away? Actually, no.

When considering paper charts, you may be apprehensive if you’ve heard that NOAA is phasing out raster nautical charts (RNCs) over the next five years. NOAA currently manages two databases: RNC and ENC (electronic navigational charts). Moving forward, NOAA will transition to ENC as the master database. Rest assured, this does not mean an end to paper charts. It is simply a change in the database from which nautical charts are printed.

OceanGrafix is working with NOAA on an ongoing basis to help evolve paper chart production. While some chart elements in ENC-derived charts could have a slightly different appearance than those produced from RNC data, we know that NOAA’s goal is to have the symbology look as similar as possible to existing charts. In some cases, the next iteration of charts will look slightly different; in other cases, they may have even more information than they contain now. The text placement may change in some areas, but the goal is to maintain all of the critical information on each chart.


Electronic and paper charts each have distinct advantages. Because the bottom line is being protected and prepared to make a safe return to port, the best choice a boater can make is carrying on-demand paper charts with an updated digital counterpart. So, when asked, “paper or digital,” the answer is an overwhelming “both.” 


Fall Cruising On Norway’s Coasts Is Heaven On Earth

September 1, 2021

Boating Norway’s coasts September through October offers stunning fall colors, clear blue skies, first snows on the peaks and nighttime views of the Northern Lights.

Yet the seas remain calm ahead of the November heavy storms.

Timing is everything

Most boaters ply the rocky coasts and peak-lined fjords of Norway in the summer. Turns out, the most magical time is after the tourists have departed, in the fall. Daytime temperatures remain above 50° to 60°, not far from the summer highs of 70°. Nights are longer, affording glimpses of both the Northern Lights and Ursa Minor.

The harbors from Oslo and Stavanger, Bergen and Trondheim offer boating paradise, with safe mooring, access to world-class restaurants and, on those land-lubber days, hikes into the coastal mountains.

Autumn is peak harvest time. Hearty boating appetites are easily satisfied with farikal (mutton stew with cabbage), lobster (just beginning in late October), deer garnished with apple, berries and mushrooms, jams and pies.

Fjords without tourists

Sailors and boaters love the popular Norwegian fjords, like Naeroyfjord (a branch of the Sognefjord), where mountains rise 6,000 ft. above the water. Most fjords are quiet in the fall, stripped of frequent cruise lines and passengers. 

The Hardangerfjord, south of Bergen, is one of Norway’s longest, peppered with orchards teeming with fall fruits and berries. 

If you’re looking for stunning waterfalls, the Geirangerfjord, a UNESCO world heritage site, won’t disappoint. Hanging above the rock walls of the fjord are the Seven Sisters, Bridal Veil and Suitor waterfalls.

Want to escape the cruise ships (and just about everybody else)? Then the narrow Trollfjord, only 300 ft. wide at its entry, is fit only for smaller boats. The water is deep, and the fjord is surrounded by 3,300 ft. high jagged peaks. Plus, you’re above the Artic Circle! 

Norway’s convoluted coast requires good charts, navigation skills

Norway’s coastline is one of the longest in the world, stretching 50,000 miles, with hundreds of fjords and 150,000 islands and inlets, most of which are uninhabited. The further north you navigate, the more shoals and reefs impede the way.

While the east coast of Norway offers some warmer currents, the burly west coast can be stung by jets and squalls and sudden downdrafts from the coastal mountains. 

Exacting nautical charts are critical. OceanGrafix offers hundreds of Norwegian Hydrographic Service (NHS) charts from Oslo in the east to Hornsund in the islanded north.

Maps show depth, coast detail and navigation. This chart, of Trondheim Harbor, points out shoals, inland waterways and smaller breakwaters.

Come prepared

Mariners generally are some of the most detail-oriented people around. Besides good navigational charts, bring a range of clothing, including lots of wool and waterproof, as conditions can change quickly on any ocean voyage and, in particular, along Norway’s coasts in the fall. 

But the rewards are waiting for you: stunning red and yellow hillsides reaching up to fresh snowy peaks, fewer crowds and the hearty foods of fall harvest.