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Sea kayak

navigation Franco Ferrero

2nd edition

a Practical manual eSSeNTIAL kNOWLeDGe FOR finding your way at sea

Sea kayak

navigation Franco Ferrero

a Practical manual

First published 1999 Second edition 2007 Published in Great Britain 2007 by Pesda Press Unit 22, Galeri Doc Victoria Caernarfon Gwynedd LL55 1SQ Reprinted with minor corrections 2009 © Copyright 2007 Franco Ferrero ISBN:  978−1−906095−03−1 The Author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the Publisher. Printed and bound in Poland. www.polskabook.pl

the author Franco Ferrero

Franco began sea kayaking at the age of fifteen, and was lucky enough to be brought up in the Channel Islands. The small scattered islands, fast tidal streams and summer fogs ensured that navigation was a key skill learnt at an early age. In 1978 he was one of a team of three Jerseymen who completed the first circumnavigation of Ireland by sea kayak. In 1989, with Kevin Danforth, he made a record breaking unsupported crossing of the North Sea. Since then he has paddled in many parts of the world including Nepal, Scandinavia, the coast of Brittany in France, the European Alps, Peru and Western Canada. He is the managing director of Pesda Press and still occasionally manages to fit in some freelance coaching (as a BCU Level 5 Coach). He lives in Wales, escaping the office to go sea and whitewater kayaking, rock and ice climbing, and ski-mountaineering. His current passion is a twentynine foot yacht called ‘Firebird’.


introduction The aim of this book is to provide a concise manual of navigation aimed specifically at sea kayakers. In this respect this second edition is no different from the first. There is no glossary of terms

The devil is in the detail. Feedback from readers of the first edition

as things are explained as I go

has changed my views on ‘what sea kayakers need to know and

along. To compensate there is a comprehensive index.

are likely to use’. I have added to several topics, but have taken care to keep it short and simple.

Using the book Each chapter ends with a number of suggested exercises. Make use of them – they will help to ensure that what you have read is understood and remembered.

exerciSeS The ultimate test of whether or not the lessons have been abCheck your answers to

sorbed is the first time you plan and execute a trip relying on your

each of the exercises at:

own navigation. Be cautious; plan simple trips and aim for big


targets to start with. Ask someone more experienced to check your calculations the first few times. Get someone else on the trip to make independ-

The illustrations and diagrams throughout the

ent plans and compare your results. If they are a near match, carry on – if they disagree, start again!

book are available to download as a teaching

Always take into account the weather forecast, and base your

resource for use in your

planning on the abilities of the weakest members of your group.

slideshow presentations at pesdapress.com/

Build up slowly.


Enjoy the book and enjoy your paddling.


Acknowledgements I would like to thank Danny Finton, Danny Jones, Joan Ferrero, Trys Morris, Nigel Robinson, Olly Sanders and Bob Timms for their help with the first edition. For their help with the second edition, I would like to thank: Nigel Robinson for suggesting and giving examples of the exercises that are now to be found at the end of each chapter; Andy Stamp, with his impressive knowledge of both the theory and practice of navigating using GPS, who suggested numerous improvements to that chapter; Kevin Mansell, whose practical experience of GPS led to a number of improvements; Gordon Brown who, drawing on his vast experience, suggested numerous improvements throughout the book; Mike Mclure and Oisin Hallissey whose work on developing a BCU Coastal Navigation and Tidal Planning modules pointed out a couple of omissions. Peter Wood for help with the photography and the new design of this edition. Finally, a special thanks is due to Bill Ayles who introduced me to the delights of navigation theory and Dave Thelland who first helped me to use it for sea kayaking. Photographic Acknowledgements A special thank you is due to the people who allowed me to use their photographs. I’d also like to thank those people who sent photos that I didn’t end up using. Unless indicated below, all photos were taken by Franco Ferrero or Peter Wood. Jeff Allen p14; Doug Cooper, p51, p96 (title); Joan Ferrero p42; Derek Hairon p13; Laurie Bell iStockphoto.com p15; Howard Jeffs p96 (inset); Kevin Mansell p77; Mark Rainsley p36, Douglas Wilcox p29, p67, p90.


Contents 1 Keeping it Simple Handrails



Latitude & longitude


Eyeball navigation


Bearing & distance


2 Decktop Navigation


9 Predicting Tides


Passage planning


Tide tables




Tidal streams on charts


3 Tides


8 Position


Tidal stream atlases


Pilot books


High & low water


Sea kayaking guides


Flood & ebb


Eyeball MK1


Tidal movement


Tidal range


10 Allowing for Wind & Tide


Tidal stream behaviour


Allowing for tide


Correcting for tide


4 Maps & Charts


Allowing for wind




Correcting for wind


11 Handheld GPS






Symbols & abbreviations






5 Basic Navigation








Distance, speed, time taken




Keeping track of progress


Putting waypoints into your GPS 


On the water


6 Buoyage & Lights


Lateral buoys




Chart plotting GPS receivers


12 Open Crossings


Simple strategies


Cardinal marks


Other marks




7 The Compass


Correcting for tide over more than an hour  91

13 Poor Visibility


Magnetic variation


No chart work approach




Types of compass


Night vision


Chart work


Useful Tactics


GPS & poor visibility


Organisation & leadership


14 Planning a Trip


Following the coast and using obvious features to keep track of your position on the chart.


1 Keeping it Simple Ask yourself if you need to do any chart work. If you are paddling across to a small island that is out of sight, your chart work will need to be precise. On the other hand if you are 10 nautical miles out to sea off the west coast of the United States, it may be quite accurate enough to head due east (090°) until you sight land; and then work out precisely where you are when you get there.

Map & chart symbols


Maps and charts aimed at

Let’s not forget that “turn left and follow the coastline until you get

leisure users have a ‘legend’

there” is often quite appropriate! The coastline itself provides the

or ‘key’ that shows you

‘handrail’ for you to follow. Keeping track of your position is done

what symbols are used to

by simply ‘ticking off’ prominent features as you pass them by.

indicate various features.

These features are anything that is easy to recognise on the chart

We will look at maps and

and in the real world. They could be natural features such as sea

charts in detail in Chapter 4.

stacks, isolated rocks, inlets and prominent points, or man made features such as buoys, radio masts and prominent buildings.

judging Distance

A simple way to estimate distance is to gauge how much detail you can make out. Below is the resolvable detail method from Sea Kayak by Gordon Brown.

100 m

Can identify people by facial recognition.

200 m

Can make out faces and colours of clothing.

500 m

Can identify people by movement and mannerisms, small buoys are visible, paddle blades visible.

1 km

People are dots, can count individual windows on houses, large buoys can be seen.

1.5 km

Can count individual trees, can see ‘paddle flash’.

2 km

Can count individual houses, identify cars from bigger vehicles, almost at limit of kayak to kayak visibility.

3 km

Limit of kayak-to-kayak visibility, may see ‘paddle flash’, can separate trees from other greenery.


4 Maps & Charts An Ordnance Survey Landranger (1:50,000) map in use at sea;

In order to navigate in strange places and over large distances we need to use some form of map. The two choices are nautical charts or land maps.

note that I’ve added tidal information in pencil.

Charts Nautical charts only show the land detail that is visible from the sea. This is great when you are on the water, but useless when you have to make an unforeseen landing because of changing weather and are trying to find the quickest way back to your vehicle. They do, however, have several definite advantages:



They show the shape and depth of the seabed, which may enable you to make educated guesses about sea conditions or tides where there is not much information available.


They show the position of buoys and details of any lights (useful on night paddles, planned or accidental).


They give tidal information.

British Admiralty and US National Ocean Service charts are similarly colour coded which makes things easy. Yellow areas are dry land, green bits are covered in water at high tide and dry (or very shallow) at low tide. White and blue bits are always underwater. Yachtsmen’s charts produced

Standard charts for shipping are large and unfolded but there are

by firms such as Imray may

also more convenient ‘Leisure Series’ charts designed for use

differ in colour coding, but the

by yachtsmen. These are often in useful scales, so that you only

principles are the same.

need one chart instead of three or four overlapping charts, and they come in folded and unfolded versions.

Maps The main advantage of land maps is that many people are already familiar with them.

Land maps have the advantage of showing all land details, including such essentials as pubs, public toilets, access roads and paths. They show all coastal features, including anything that shows at low water. On the other hand, they don’t show buoys, lights (except lighthouses) or any features of the seabed (below the low water mark).

Scale U N I TS

Small Scale (1:1,000 where 1cm on the map = 1,000cm or 10m

A nautical mile (NM) is slightly

on the ground). A small ratio means lots of detail but you’ll need

greater than one land mile

an awful lot of maps. These are usually used to provide detail of

(1.15 to be precise), and is

harbours and are seldom of use to kayakers.

roughly equivalent to 2km. 1 knot (kn) = 1 nautical mile

Large Scale (1:1,000,000 where 1cm on the map = 1,000,000cm

per hour. It is easier to work

or 10km on the ground). A map of this scale would cover the

in nautical miles, rather

whole west coast of Ireland (great for planning, but no use for

than miles or kilometres,

day-to-day navigation).

because all tidal information is given in knots.

I find the most useful scales to be between these two extremes 1:50,000 or 1:100,000 for both charts and land maps.


Comparison of Ordnance Survey Landranger map and Admiralty Leisure Series chart styles (both 1:50,000 scale). OS maps also have a latitude scale along the outer edge of the sheet.



Blood & Sludge Bay




12 12





Blood & Sludge Bay

04 18

Port Gunge


Port Gunge



Port Gunge


43° 00´




S Sh

Port Epic


Port Epic 4 lighthouse

Well Settlements

00 24




Mouse Point






Measuring distance To measure a distance on a map or chart, I suggest either a pair of dividers (looks professional, especially the expensive brass ones, preserves mystique, are slightly more accurate and are easier to use on the kitchen table), or a piece of string (cheaper and easier to use when afloat). Simply open the dividers to the required distance and then measure off against the latitude scale which you will find at either edge of the chart.

1 minute (1’) of latitude = 1 nautical mile (NM) 1° = 60 minutes or 60NM A pair of dividers or a piece of string will be useful for taking measurements from the diagrams in this book.

Consequently, on the example chart opposite, the distance from Blood and Sludge Bay to Port Epic is 4NM (or 4’ of latitude).

LatItUde aNd LoNgItUde The earth is a sphere. (It’s actually slightly squashed at the poles but for the purposes of navigation we can ignore that). Lines of Latitude begin at 0°, bisecting the globe around the Equator and slice the globe into rings at regular intervals toward each of the poles. Degrees of latitude are measured from the centre of the Earth, north and south of the Equator. Lines of Longitude are drawn bisecting the globe from pole to pole at angles east or west of what is known as the Prime Meridian, or 0° of longitude (this could be anywhere but historically the line runs through the Greenwich Observatory, Great Britain). Lines of longitude converge at the poles (think of the segments of an orange). Thus a minute of longitude becomes progressively smaller in terms of distance as you go towards the poles. For this reason we do not use longitude for measuring distance.


Map projeCtIoNs In order to make a map, a 3D shape has to be projected onto a flat surface. Most maps and charts use one of the variants of the Mercator projection. The advantage of this map projection is that it preserves angles. A constant course heading is shown as a straight line. To keep the proportions needed to achieve this, minutes of latitude have to be drawn proportionally bigger as we move towards the poles. This is only really obvious on charts that cover large areas. The way we cope with this is to measure distances on the latitude scale as close to the latitude of the location we are measuring as possible. With problems towards the poles in the Mercator projection, map makers turn to one or other form of polar projection, which you may encounter when planning trips within the high arctic. For ocean crossing voyages, large scale gnomonic projection charts are used (find out more about this if you plan such a voyage!) You may encounter the gnomonic projection on some detailed charts of harbours but at such scales the differences between projections are negligible for the kayaker.

Symbols & abbreviations Maps and charts aimed at leisure users usually have a key (or legend) which show the symbols and abbreviations used. Booklets describing in detail all the symbols used on nautical charts are available. Admiralty charts are covered by the publication ‘Symbols and Abbreviations used on Admiralty Charts 5011’. US charts are covered by the pamphlet ‘Chart No 1, Nautical Chart Symbols and Abbreviations’. Any yacht chandlers will have these and publications listing all the charts that these agencies produce.

Chart No 1 (above right) is now out of print and available as a download only.



02´ 04´

45 S


Blood & For this section







Blood & Sludge Bay

Commonly used chart symbols and abbreviations

constantly refer to

Blood and Sludge Bay is marked with the abbreviation S. This

the chart on page 24.M

means that the 01´ bottom consists of sand. Port Gunge, however, is Port Gunge

03´ 02´ marked with an M which stands for mud so, although a useful


45 12 4 5


Sludge Bay

it is vital that you



Blood & Sludge Bay



escape route, Port Gunge is not a desirable landing place. Port Epic


S Sh

has the abbreviation S Sh, sand and shells, nice place for a picnic.


The shore between Blood and Sludge Bay and Port Gunge is 43°


Port Gunge 18

marked by a 00´symbol01´that indicates a rocky foreshore, whereas 02´



Port Gunge

between Port Gunge and Port Epic the symbols indicate cliffs.



Port Gunge is to the south of a rock islet that is always uncovered. The two crosses further out to sea represent rocks which

S Sh M


Port Epic 4




Port Gunge


Mouse Point

so they are marked by a buoy which is distinguished by its top


low, black, yellow. Buoyage is covered in detail in Chapter 6. For ∙128

58´ navigational purposes, in a kayak, all we need is to make sure we

Weekly ‘Notices to Mariners’


appear on the Hydrographic Port Epic


8 Office26´ website and should 27´ be 4


used to update your chart. For

S Sh

43° 00´


19 Well

or a buoy may be moved. Mouse Point


S Sh

Port Epic



another by 28´their colour, shape, or top mark. Important ones will also have a name or number painted on them. All this information

59´ 58´ a danger (or fun depending on your skill These rocks could be 59´

level) if a big swell is running, as the waves may build up and 27´ 28´ break over the submerged rocks (reef breaks). The point south of


Port Epic has a light at its end; the structure on which the light is


04´ raised is usually painted white so you can see it in daylight.

Mouse Point


e Point

∙128 26´






45 12 12




S Sh

Port Epic


have00´identified the right one. Buoys are distinguished from one

is on the chart.

example a light may change



a danger to00´ shipping, though not normally to kayakers,

mark, in this case two cones pointing inwards and coloured yel-




are always (but at low water only just) covered by water. These 01´

Port Gungerepresent




04 18

Blood & Sludge Bay



The figure ·128 tells us that the hill above Port Epic is 128 metres above sea level, (MHWS). 28´ The rock off Blood03´and Sludge Bay is coloured green and marked with a drying height. We are told that it is a drying height by the fact that the 4 is underlined. For a detailed explanation of the



difference between heights, drying heights and depths study the illustration below. The larger figure indicates metres and the smaller one by its side tenths of metres. So 4 5 indicates a drying height of 4.5 metres. This means it would be covered at high water 3 8

Sh but,M asS the tide went out, it would dry out, in this case when the


tide was 4.5 metres above chart datum. A mark like an asterisk

Heights and depths.

indicates a small isolated drying rock. The figures offshore tell us

Profile of the sea bed with

the depths below chart datum (the lowest possible tide).




inset of chart symbols.


• 2¡1









E x e r ci s e s


Find on a land map an example of as many of the symbols shown on the key (legend) as you can find.



Do the same for a chart that has a key.

Index 50/90 Rule 63, 64, 68

A aiming off 98 allowing for wind & tide 67 atmospheric pressure 21 attack point 99

B basic navigation distance, speed & time 30 orientating the map 29 bearings giving a position 53 laying-off 48 – 49 magnetic 50 true 50 Beaufort scale 74 bezel 47, 50 boat speed 68 British Admiralty 23, 61 British Summer Time 56

distance daily average 30 estimating 9 measuring 25 units of 23 drying height 28

E ebb 18, 59, 61 eddy 63, 102 Equator 25, 52 equinox 20 equipment 12, 97 adapting 11 charts & maps 12 compasses 46, 47 dividers or string 25 plotting instruments 13 estimated position 67 extended line recall 99 ‘eyeball’ navigation 10, 65, 66, 77


BST 56

fairway marks see safe water marks

buoyage & lights 27, 36, 37

ferry glide 71, 88, 90

buoys 37 – 39

fix 33, 34, 51, 67, 80

C cable 31 cardinal marks 37, 39 chart datum 19, 28, 56

flood 18, 59, 61 fog 46, 96 following sea 73


shaping a course 85 speed 82 using a computer 84, 88 waypoints 83, 86 GPS induced accidents 85 Greenwich Mean Time 56 Greenwich Meridian see Prime Meridian grid reference 53 ground speed 68 ground track 67

H handheld GPS 77 handrail navigation 8, 9, 80, 98 headwinds 73, 75 heat haze 96 high water 15, 19, 55, 57, 62, 63

I IALA 37 region A 37, 38, 40 region B 37, 38 International Association of Lighthouse Authorities see IALA interpolate 68 isolated danger marks 37, 39

K keeping it simple 9 knot 23

charts 22 colour coding 23, 27, 28 depth 19, 28 symbols 26 – 28, 37, 40, 41, 58, 59

Global Positioning System 77 gnomonic projection 26

Landranger 24

compass 42 – 50

GPS 77 boat speed & tidal rate 83 chart grid 52 chart plotting receivers 88 direction 82 distance 82 errors 81 Galileo 89 homing in 85, 90 mapping software 84 misuse 85 Navstar 89 on the water 84 operator error 81 plotting symbols 80 position 79 position format 78 routes 86 settings 78

lateral marks 37

counter current 63 course to steer 46, 47, 50 cross tides 69 Cross Track Error see XTE crosswinds 73, 75

D dead reckoning 31 – 33, 67 decktop navigation 11 degrees 25 depth 19, 27, 28 deviation 45 direction of buoyage 37, 38, 40

GMT 56


latitude 25, 52 laying-off 48, 49 leeway 73 leisure series 23, 44 lights flashing 40 isophase 41 occulting 41 very quick 40 local time 56 longitude 25, 52 lowest astronomical tide 19 low water 15, 19, 62, 63

M magnetic deviation see deviation magnetic variation see variation map datum 78

plotting 48, 49 less than one hour 70 more than one hour 72, 91, 92, 93 plotting symbols 33, 80

tidal diamond 68, 69 tidal drift 67, 68 tidal movement 18 tidal patterns 16

maps & charts 22 projections 26 scale 23 symbols 9, 26, 27, 28 units 23

poor visibility 80, 96 equipment 97 GPS 100 group control 100 preparation 96 useful tactics 98

mean neap range 57

port 38

tidal streams 18, 20, 55, 58 – 61, 66 calculating speed 63 interpolation of 60 set & rate 59, 60, 62

mean spring range 57

port marks 38

tide races 59

Mercator projection 26

position 51

minutes 25

predicting tides 21

tides 15 allowing for 67 anomalous 17, 65 average 58 correcting for 71, 91 diurnal 16 equinoctial 20 high & low water 15 interpolation of 68 mixed 16 oscillation 16, 18 predicting 55, 64 semi-diurnal 16, 17 weather conditions 21

N National Ocean Survey 23

Prime Meridian 25, 52


nautical almanacs 55, 57

ready reckoner 32

nautical charts 22, 55, 58

rescue services 53

nautical mile 23, 25, 31

resolvable detail method 9

neap tides 19, 20, 55, 57

Rule of Thirds 68

night-time navigation 96

Rule of Twelfths 64, 65

night vision 98 north compass 45 converting 44, 45 grid 43 magnetic 43, 44, 45 true 42, 43, 44, 45 Notices to Mariners 27, 81

O open crossings 90 GPS 90, 91, 92, 93, 94 simple strategies 90 timing 91 Ordnance Survey 24, 43, 53 overfalls 59

P passage planning 11, 31, 48 perches 36 pilot 55, 60 pilotage 10 pilots 61 planning a trip 102 planning sheet 102, 103 plotter 48, 49

S safe water marks 37, 39 secondary port 57 set 59, 62 shape a course 69, 71 shape a course for GPS 85 shipping channel 61 Silva 48 slack water 63 spars see perches special mark 37, 39 speed 68 average boat speed 82 boat speed 68 ground speed 68 knots 23 spiders web 80

tidal range 19 tidal set 59, 62

tide tables 56, 57 topmark 36, 37, 39 transit 33, 34, 35, 71, 75 true bearing 42

U US National Ocean Service 23

V variation 43, 44, 50

W wake 73 water track 33, 67, 104 waypoint 80, 83, 84 WGS 84 78, 79

standard port 57, 60

wind allowing for 67, 72 correcting for 75

starboard 38

wind over tide 59

starboard marks 38

working the tide 93

spring tides 19, 20, 55, 57

T tail winds 73, 75 tidal atlases 55, 57, 59 – 61, 68

X XTE 78, 87, 88, 90, 91, 94

Sea KayaK NavigaTioN TioN a Pr ac T ica l m a Nua l A short and simple explanation of how to find your way at sea, with practical tips for the kayaker.

PlaNNiNg a TriP charT work

This edition includes up to date information on the use of handheld GPS receivers – as well

The comPass

as other improvements throughout, such as exercises at the end of each chapter to help you test your knowledge. Recommended by the British Canoe Union as supporting material for their navigation courses

Buoys & lighTs TiDes & curreNTs PracTical gPs

– this book will be useful to everyone paddling on the sea, with a kayak or sit-on-top.

oPeN crossiNgs

The Bl ack a r T Dem ys T ifieD

ISBN 978-1-906095-03-1


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Profile for Pesda Press

Sea Kayak Navigation Sample  

A concise manual of navigation aimed specifically at sea kayakers.

Sea Kayak Navigation Sample  

A concise manual of navigation aimed specifically at sea kayakers.