Boating Technology Versus Seamanship

Does using gadgets infer low expertise?

Joystick Docking Tips
Joystick DockingMercury Marine

I like to steer boats by the compass. That is to say, I read the course off the GPS and then swing the wheel until the compass card and lubber line match what the screen says. (I’ve worked up a deviation table for my boat’s compass and pretty much have it committed to memory.) That done, I look ahead for a handy water tower, lighthouse, cliff or cloud and head for it. If it’s a long leg, I’ll mentally adjust for wind and current. Periodically, I check the GPS and correct the course, if needed. I find this procedure lets me, personally, keep a straighter wake than when I steer by looking at the boat-shaped icon on the screen and trying to keep it as close as possible to the magenta line drawn by the plotter.

Am I a Luddite? No. I wouldn’t trade my GPS for a barrel of monkeys’ fists. But that doesn’t mean I have to be a slave to technology. The gizmos are just tools in my arsenal. I use them as needed, when needed, and in cold blood. That is to say with neither prejudice nor veneration.

That treatment of technology as tools extends well beyond GPS. If you read my boat test of the MJM Yachts 35z on page 48, you’ll discover that I laud the installation of Mercury Marine’s Active Trim system aboard that boat. I state how the system trims the boat as well as I can trim it manually; that I cannot beat it. In fact, I have run dozens of boats with Active Trim and have rarely seen an instance where manually trimming the drives or outboards proved more effective than letting the technology do it.

Now, at risk of sounding self-aggrandizing, I run dozens of different boats per year and have been doing that for over 20 years. And that’s just for work; I’m not counting my personal boating adventures. It’s safe to say that I know how to run a boat. Using Active Trim, therefore, is not a concession to my failure to master the trim switch. Rather, it’s simply a convenience I choose to use most of the time, when it is available to me.

The same goes for the autopilot (I know how to steer), power steering (I have strength in my arms), depth sounder (I could use a lead line), and fuel gauge (I could use a dipstick). Getting my point? Is anyone still advocating a return to engines that need to be choked manually or the RDF? (Google it!)

Radar and AIS are a bit different. I cannot see in the dark or through fog, and I certainly can’t read the name of a vessel a mile away so that I can hail it on the VHF. Well, if I used my binoculars, I probably could.