Commentary: The End of Paper Charts?

C&K Editor Jeff Moag says trust your skills, not your batteries


Photo by Paul Villecourt

Photo by Paul Villecourt

By Jeff Moag

My buddy Duane said it best: "I'd never trust my life to something that runs on batteries." But that's where the digital revolution is taking us.

Last night, NOAA announced that it will stop printing nautical charts on paper.

Don't panic. You will still be able to print out the digital charts yourself, and you should. But here's what is troubling to me: One of the agencies most responsible for ensuring our safety at sea thinks we should depend on electronic aids rather than our own knowledge.

That's fine in the bridge of a supertanker, with its redundant systems and layers of plate glass separating the navigation computers from the elements. It's quite another in a kayak.

I'll confess that I rely on a GPS more than I should. I've got a bad habit of tucking the thing under a bungee on my deck and leaving it turned on. I check how fast I'm going, how far I've gone, the distance and direction to my next destination.

I still can't program waypoints worth a damn, but playing with my GPS has taught me one thing for sure–nothing burns through batteries faster than a GPS.

And that brings me back to Duane's point. If your GPS gets wet, or its batteries go flat, or a Great White eats it for lunch you still need to find your way home. If you don't have a compass and a nautical chart, and a good working knowledge of how to use them, you have no business being on the water. Period.

Jeff Moag is the editor of Canoe & Kayak

Photo by Paul Villecourt

Photo by Paul Villecourt