Boating Tips: Didn’t know you were a pilot, did you?

Published 2:16 pm Thursday, December 24, 2015

Pilot, piloting or to pilot: to lead, steer or guide. Piloting is determining the course or position of a ship, airplane or car by any of various navigational methods or devices. You pilot when you’re taking your car or boat from one point to another.

Essential in piloting is knowing your starting point as well as ending point. Next is knowing the path between the two along with obstacles to avoid along that path or course.

For example, going from Blounts Creek to Washington, logically you’d just go straight northwest. However, there are buildings, trees, open fields as well as the Pamlico River between the points. Even boating, you simply cannot steer a straight course northwest because of shallow water and obstacles such as Whichard’s Beach. An experienced driver follows a course, a series of roads using a road map. So does an experienced boater using a nautical map or chart.

Getting from one point to another may require a series of waypoints. First, go west on Old Blounts Creek Road to N.C. Highway 33, turn right or west. Next go to U.S. Highway 17 Business, turning right or north toward Washington. Identifying, then following those waypoints, piloting, guarantees that you arrive safely between points. It sounds so simple. Yet it isn’t simple for some people.

A friend of mine has no sense of direction, no concept of place or relative position or direction. Worse, he could not read a road map. His wife initially drove him to work. She pointed out reference points like a Shell gas station (way point) to turn and the direction to turn (course). Once during a detour, he became lost.

On the water, some people are out of their element, lost. Yet that does not have to be you. A basic boating course will start any boater toward understanding their relative position and place. They will also learn how to pilot or navigate between two points using reference or waypoints.

While no physical Shell station is on the water, it is a relative position on the water. The position to turn is a set of latitude and longitude coordinates on a chart or chart plotter. For example, at N 35 28′ 57.670″ W 076 59′ turn to 305 degrees is like turning left at the Shell station.

A piloting course refines navigational skills using various navigational methods — dead reckoning, chart, GPS, chart plotter, radar and depth sounder. A piloting course also employs navigational aids — lights, buoys and cans plus land structures under different conditions.

A winter piloting course is invaluable to safe long distance and open water cruising. Winter boating courses also keep you in a boating frame of mind.

If you found my article of interest, the Pamlico Sail & Power Squadron is offering a Piloting Course beginning Jan. 6, 2016. To register for this course, email or call Kelly at 252-561-6995. We would also like to invite you to go to our website for more local information on boating safety and education.

 Biff Matthews is a member of the Pamlico Sail & Power Squadron.