Small Boat Navigation


In Canada, chart data is copyright of the Crown and sold through Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) in paper format (mostly printed on-demand) and downloadable electronic charts.

You are required to carry paper charts unless your boat has a ship-type Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) with backup computer and power supply, or if the master of a boat under 100 tons has adequate local knowledge (ref. Charts and Nautical Publications Regulations). But unless the plotter software automatically detects all dangers close to your planned route, you need to zoom in to examine it carefully, same as you would a route line on a paper chart.

South of the border, the U.S. considers chart data to be intellectual property belonging to taxpayers, so e-charts are free.

Electronic Navigation Systems

  1. GPS (Global Positioning System) is based on satellite transmitters. It is accurate to 10 metres and available around the world as well as at different elevations. GPS is vulnerable to jamming and other electronic interference, so a backup navigational system is recommended.
  2. Differential GPS (DGPS) will correct for errors where it is installed on shore. This system is less attractive since the improvement in GPS and WAAS, the newest satellite system.
  3. Loran C, an obsolete system based on land-based transmitters was retired in 2010.
  4. E-charts combine GPS equipment with a computer or special displays for the latest in electronic navigation. ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display Information Systems) is another development to help navigator's find their way. It combines special electronic charts with onboard navigation systems, such as GPS, autopilots and computers.
  5. Chart Plotting is a boating skill that will always be useful.