To be a good navigator, you need the right tools.
A magnetic compass contains a compass card (the compass card has the letters and numbers on it) that moves freely within the compass housing to indicate magnetic north. Magnetic compasses work well, but are easily influenced by electronic devices (radios, speakers) and wiring harness placed near them.
Electronic fluxgate compasses determine the orientation of the Earth’s magnetic fields by using information gathered from the power of the magnetic fields traveling through a pair of wire coils in the unit. An electronic compass is sensitive to nearby magnetic influences, but the compass’s internal circuitry can compensate for a great deal of outside interference.
Navigational charts are maps for the water that show various characteristics of the waterway (depth, bottom contours, hazards, markers), as well as important details of the landmasses near the water (contour elevations, radio and water towers, inlets, bays).
Unless you do all of your boating on a farm pond, you really should have navigational charts on board for whatever body of water you plan to spend time on. Familiarize yourself with the chart’s terminology and symbols before you hit the open sea, to save confusion later on.
If you want to try your hand at navigating by the stars, you’ll need to pick up an instrument called a ‘sextant’. Sextants are available in metal or plastic, and many new sextants incorporate LED illumination to make it easier to read the scales in the dark.
Although this method of navigation’s been used for centuries, it’s a lot harder than it looks—a good challenge for the hardcore seafarer.
Accessories & Education
Before you run out and buy a bunch of expensive navigation equipment, we recommend that you take a while to learn the theories of finding your way on the water by reading one of the many excellent books on the subject. A good navigation book is the best navigation accessory you can own.