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Whether you’re on big water or small, freshwater or saltwater, boating fun and safety starts with practicing good seamanship. And that means knowing your bearings and knowing the rules of the road. After all, if you can’t get to the fish, you won’t catch any.
Many recreational boaters in small boats don’t think it’s important to have charts onboard. Bad idea, even if you’re just operating on your local lake. Perhaps you’re not yet a navigator, but a chart onboard allows you to compare what you are seeing with what you should be seeing and can help you keep your bearings.

Nautical charts are different from maps in that they specifically depict water areas, while maps concentrate on land area, roads, landmarks, etc. Land areas and features on charts are sketchy and are noted only for their interest to the boater. Unlike maps, the nautical chart conveys more information specifically designed to assist in safely navigating the area that the chart covers.
Important tips:

  • Study your chart thoroughly.
  • Look at the position from which you will start and visually follow along the course you want to take.
  • Look for visual cues: water depths, obstructions (especially under water), bridges, power lines or any other unusual items that may be a hazard to your progress.
  • Make a note of each of these on a separate piece of paper.
  • Make note of all buoys and markers you may pass in the order they will appear. This will give you a documented picture of your route and what you should expect to see without having to try to find a small marker on the chart.
  • Look for visual objects featured on your chart that you should be able to observe and identify to confirm your position.
  • Always check the weather before departing.

For more information, including a step-by-step demonstration, read Charting 101 on
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