If you're lucky enough to live to 100, the years between 50 & 75 are your third quarter. That segment in life could be the waning of your physically agile years, so it's a good idea to stay active. It's also a good time to challenge your brain to keep things limber up there - by mastering something new. We decided to go sailing, and this is a chronicle of our journey.


US Coast Guard Auxiliary Classes: Navigation (paper & GPS)

Two phones, the same compass app, in the same location, with different readings.
Last weekend, I took a Navigation course at the US Coast Guard Auxiliary in Oxnard, CA. Up until a few months ago, I had no idea the Coast Guard offered affordable and comprehensive boating courses to the public.  For two days, my brain was marinated in latitudes & longitudes, fathoms, soundings, range bearings, magnetic vs true compass readings, GPS, Radar and plotting courses with a parallel rule, dividers and a pencil on paper, etc. It was excellent. Challenging, for sure, especially for my math-phobic gray-matter, but I learned so much.

Electronic chart (Nobeltec) showing the shipping lanes in Santa Barbara Channel
Taking a class on navigation has equipped me with a full course back up plan, and a side dish of confidence.  If GPS goes out while we're floating somewhere in the sea in a fog bank, due to electrical failure, a lightening strike, military activity, or this summer's predicted solar flare GPS failures, I can figure out where we are, and where we need to be, and how to get there with a chart, a rule, a compass & a pencil.  That peace of mind is a good thing.  (I don't know how to use a sextant yet, but just you wait.) 

The first weekend in June, Don and I took a USCG course on Boating Skills and Seamanship, which included ID of buoy systems, ATONs, understanding light & horn communication from other vessels, and rules & regulations on the water, etc.  That course was also excellent, and the quality of the curriculum and instruction was confirmed when I saw many of the same people we met in that first class attending the Navigation course.  

Buoy Rest Stop for Sea Lions
Each of the Coast Guard classes cost us $40 apiece, which pays for the in-depth book on the course subject, so if two people take the course and share one book, it's $40. (And if you insure your vessel with BoatUS, they'll give you a 10% discount refund check on your insurance for completing the course.)  The instructors are members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and they come from a variety of backgrounds with a broad range of interests and specialties.  If you're new-ish to boating, have a look at taking a course through your local Coast Guard Auxiliary. Most of the other attendees in the Navigation class were seasoned boaters, and they all agreed that they learned a lot and it was well-worth the time. Since the US Coast Guard has been on the water since 1790,  I like to think about the breadth & depth of knowledge they have. That's an abundant well to draw from.

The book used in the Navigation Course - it's excellent.

The instructors and fellow attendees shared useful resources on a variety of boating topics.... here are a few:


National Weather Service Brochures, Publications and Pamphlets

Annual Boating Accident Statistics

Free download; USCG ATONs (Aids to Navigation) Manual, including buoy markers, beacons & symbols

Details on compliance for a safe vessel, and complimentary vessel safety checks from USCG

s/v Florian headed back to Ventura CA 


Neophyte Cruiser said...

USCGA classes have been offered for decades (I completed my first 'Small Boat and Seamanship' class in 1958. They're affordable, comprehensive introductory classes that continue to be of value to the general boating public. Thanks for taking the time to include these classes in your blog.

Belinda Del Pesco said...

@Peter - You're way ahead of me on the sailing & navigation skills. :) But I'm working hard to catch up. I'm glad to share the availability of USCGA classes for any other newbies out there who might not know about them. Thanks for backing me up on the good things they have to offer.

william mccoy said...

Yup, just took my first course in March of this year and helped resolve some informational issues I had had floating in my grey matter.

Belinda Del Pesco said...

@william, I am familiar with those informational issues floating in grey matter; I resolved a bucket of them in class too. It's nice to ask an expert. And it's great to have the books now as part of our reference library, in case my grey matter has a hiccup. :)

LittleCunningPlan.com said...

What a timely post! We just got back from three weeks on the boat where the boat's compass, the handheld GPS, our computer software GPS, and the new autopilot all had different compass readings. It drove me crazy since I could not understand how one heading could have 4 wildly different readings. Mike tried to explain but it was a no go. The idea that we could set a course heading and wind up somewhere 30 degrees off drove me crazy, especially considering the amount of fog we ran into. I decided I need to take a class, so this is a great and timely post! Thanks!

Belinda Del Pesco said...

@Melissa - I'm with you on the Need to Understand. The USCGAux course on Navigation that was offered here in CA is just a portion of their usual curriculum. I had 14 hours over a weekend, but the Coasties take 48 hours of Navigation classes. I'm hopeful that by reading the textbook, and putting the chart plotting to practice, I'll gain a deeper understanding of To and From, foggy or not. (The fog here is thick, fast & frequent.) At this point, I plan to use paper & pencil & parallel rules first, and check it against the GPS. I'll report later on how that goes. Please do the same so we can compare notes. Good luck!