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Navigator's Checklist: Part 2

Mark Chisnell shares the second part of his tried and tested navigator's checklist

Check the electronics - equipment manuals and spares

The navigator is often responsible for the operation and maintenance of the electronics. It pays to be ready to do the job without the electronics, or to be able to fix it – or both. Even if the repair requires an engineer, it still pays to have a full understanding of the system – as the more information there is about a problem the faster a fix will be.

 The spares and manuals carried onboard will depend on the length of the race, the size of the boat and the electronic engineering talent of the navigator or other crew members.

 I always switch everything on as soon as I get to the boat before racing, and then I check that all the sensors are sending data that makes sense – particularly GPS, compass heading, boat speed, wind speed and direction – and that everything that should be networked is still networked.

Calibrate everything

 Calibration is to instrument systems what location, location, location is to real estate investment – critical. Read the manuals, learn how it all works, set it up carefully and keep checking it. If this is all new, then I can do some log-rolling here for my own book, written in conjunction with B&G:


I like ones with an internal compass to get a bearing on distant objects without juggling binoculars and hand bearing compass.

Hand bearing compass

The navigator should carry one of these all the time, they are the single most useful object on the boat for measuring performance against the opposition. They’ll also provide a useful visual back-up to the chart plotter on progress against a cross-current, position relative to a layline and a dozen other things.

 One tip for buying a hand bearer is what I call the ‘settle test’; start with the hand bearer around the neck, pick it up and look down the sight line and time how long it takes for it to settle on a steady bearing. In general, the faster the better although it will make it harder to get a steady bearing in a rough sea state.

Polar table and target speeds

It’s a good idea to have a set of target speeds and a polar table onboard. The boat’s designer can often provide a good starting point for both, and ideally the team would have a programme to update them (see Data logging below).

 When racing inshore on windward/leeward courses there is a high premium on target boat speeds for VMG (velocity made good) sailing. Offshore, the polar table becomes king.

 These numbers need to be displayed where the driver and trimmers can see them; that’s usually either programmed into the instrument system or chart plotter so they can be put on a display, or on a waterproofed card, or both. It’s still useful for the navigator to have their own hard copy on deck.

Data logging

On bigger boats, more and more crews are tackling some form of data logging and performance analysis to maintain and update the polar table, target speeds and sail cross-overs. It might be as simple as wet-notes and a pencil. Or it might be a full-blown data logging and analytics package like B&G’s Deckman. Whatever the boat uses, make sure it’s onboard and online before leaving the dock.

‘What If?’ calculator, tables or race app

The minimum requirement is some means of calculating the true wind speeds and angles for an upcoming reach, or the upwind and downwind headings on each tack for any wind direction and current. Apart from the last part – tidal compensation – this is not particularly hard mental arithmetic for those with a talent for it, but it can get tougher at the end of a long day.

 B&G’s Zeus and Vulcan chart plotters provide everything required to help with the more complex stuff. For long distance racing, weather routing software like B&G’s Deckman is also well worth investing the time and money in, along with the training to use it well.

Sailing Instructions and Notice of Race

 While it’s largely the tactician’s job to make sure the boat doesn’t break any rules, it’s not a bad idea to have their back by making sure that there is a waterproofed copy of this on-deck and to hand, to recover those moments of brain fade – like, er, what colour was the finish line buoy again?

Protest and penalty flags, protest and declaration forms and a rule book

 The same goes for all of the above – we’d all prefer not to get involved in an incident and spend the evening in the protest room, but at least having the right flags, a rule book and the paperwork onboard will reduce the stress as much as possible.

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