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The Navigator's Checklist: Part 1

Mark Chisnell shares the contents of his Navigator's Bag


Race course charts

 If the boat is racing somewhere familiar, then this should be an easy start to getting organised. The boat will already have all the necessary charts loaded in the chart plotter onboard.

 If it’s a new venue, then the time to check whether or not the charts are installed is not ten minutes before the first race. It might be possible to update them online, but it may also be necessary to buy the charts on a card and get them mailed the old-fashioned way. 

 If there is no chart plotter on-board then it’s always smart to buy a paper chart. Even if it’s windward/leeward courses in safe water, a paper chart can provide so much information about the race course; where the shallow water is for tidal relief, where the wind might bend around high ground and so on.

 Get the charts early from a supplier like Book Harbour

 Then there will be plenty of time to get familiar with the race course and its local geography.

Tide and current information

It is essential to know which way and at what speed the water will be flowing over the course during the race. Even if there’s no tide, there might be wind-blown current, or the influence of a large-scale effect like the Gulf Stream.

 The boat’s chart plotter might have this information, depending on the specification and chart package. If not, then a tidal atlas is the best source of tidal rates and directions - if one exists for the race venue:

If not, then it’s sometimes possible to get information from a local almanac:

  And failing that, an email or phone call to the sailing club running the racing might provide some local insight.

 Make sure all the information is onboard before the boat leaves for the race course, including day-specific information (like the time and height of high water) that’s required to use a tidal atlas. And then make sure that everyone who needs to know is aware of what the current or tide will be doing during the day, before the boat gets to the race course.

Waypoint list

If the venue publishes a list of racing marks then make sure it’s programmed into any chartplotter, GPS or navigation aid that’s onboard. Personally, I still like to have a paper back-up - a list of all the rounding marks, with a latitude and longitude and physical description. It can be very useful to quickly check a light characteristic or re-enter an accidentally deleted or altered waypoint into the GPS or chart plotter.

Any Special Regulations navigation requirements

If the notice of race imposes a World Sailing Offshore Special Regulations (OSR) category, then it’s essential to check well in advance that the boat has everything that is required of it. For instance, OSR Category 3 still requires the boat to have “Navigational charts (not solely electronic), light list and chart plotting equipment” – so don’t forget the paper chart, parallel rule, dividers and pencils – and while we’re talking about pencils…

Paper and pencil

There are dozens of things that need to be kept track off from wind readings, to line bias, calibrations, tide times, courses and job lists – and writing them down is the one way to make sure nothing gets forgotten.


Handheld VHF

Radio communications are often an integral part of regatta management, so it’s useful to be able to listen to a radio both above and below deck if that’s an option. It’s also important to make sure that it has the right channels if the venue is a new one. And don’t forget to check that any hand-held devices are charged and on-board ready for the day’s racing.

The latest weather forecast

There are a multitude of sources for weather forecasts – from the tv and radio to specialist racing meteorologists and websites. These are a few that might already be familiar:  

 Whatever source is being used, make sure the forecast is onboard and has been read and discussed, or talked through at the crew briefing before racing.

On-board weather forecast updates

The rules will likely limit the boat to publicly available weather information during the racing. A 4G smartphone, or a laptop with a USB SIM card will be the best way to access this data; make sure that all the best links are favourited. There are many sites that will provide useful real-time information and google will find most of them. A couple of examples are:

which provides access to live radar and satellite images alongside a lot, lot more.

 And something more local, like the legendary Bramblemet, which provides real-time wind data from a weather station on the Brambles Post in the middle of the Solent.

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