Category: sailing

Where the ocean meets the bay

I took this picture two days ago, while sailing on the waters of Raritan Bay/Lower New York Harbor. Below the image is an embedded Bing map with the approximate location of my position at the time I took the photo. We were headed east, and I was sitting on the starboard rail, facing south. The land mass on the horizon is Sandy Hook.

In this photo we see the edge where the brown Raritan Bay water, flowing east, meets the blue Lower New York Harbor water, flowing south.

Raritan Bay meets Lower New York Harbor
Raritan Bay meets Lower New York Harbor


Sailboat carnage

I frequently blog about sailing, about the great times my friends and I have on the water. Well, there’s another aspect to it. There’s loss — material, but also emotional. There’s sadness and sorrow.

Hurricane Sandy brought horrible devastation to New Jersey, to the local marinas, and to many of my friends’ boats. I can’t describe the boat carnage I saw the last couple of days, and I can’t stomach to post pictures of the wreckage. Below is the G version of what I saw today at one boat yard.

Boat yard carnage in the wake of hurricane Sandy
Boat yard carnage in the wake of hurricane Sandy

Raritan Yacht Club hosts 2012 annual Fall Series Regatta

Team Project Mayhem (sail 83214) took an overall second in the annual Fall Series Regatta hosted by the in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Pictured below is the start of race five. Photo by .

Raritan Yacht Club Fall Series Regatta day two race five start
Raritan Yacht Club Fall Series Regatta day two race five start

Whose responsibility is my safety? My own.

Everybody wants to babysit me

Yesterday US Open tournament referee Brian Earley between David Ferrer from Spain and Novak Djokovic from Serbia. The skies were clear and sunny. Why not keep playing? Because there was a tornado warning, and Mr. Earley wanted to make sure everybody in the audience could get safely to their cars or to the train before the tornado hit. How nice of him. (As it turns out, the tornado never hit, and the players could have kept playing for a while before the rain came).

I have been an amateur competitive sailor for over 20 years. For every amateur sailing race there is an amateur , whose job is to set the course, start and finish the race, and announce the winner. But every once in a while the race committee would decide that the weather conditions are not safe for sailing, and cancel the race. How nice of them.

In the above examples the event coordinators exceed their mandate, seemingly “for the common good.” The tournament referee is concerned with the spectators’ safety; the race committee is concerned with the sailors’ safety. But is that a good thing? I say no. As an adult, my safety is my own responsibility. There’s a tornado warning? There’s a thunderstorm coming? Make an announcement. But let me decide. You do your thing, and I’ll do mine.

Mr. Earley: Your job is to administer a tennis match; do that. Race committee: Your job is to administer a sailing race; do that. Allow the participants and spectators to make their own decisions. It is their responsibility, not yours.

PS It is a centuries-old maritime tradition that . This has found its way into modern-day sailing instructions, which expressly declare that the decision whether to race or not is solely the skipper’s responsibility, thus exonerating the race committee from any consequences.

Can I use an iPhone/Android phone for marine navigation?

Short answer: No

Longer answer: It depends

Full answer: Glad you asked

I spend a lot of time on the water – at least once a week from May to October. Years ago we used to navigate using paper nautical charts and analog compasses. Later handheld GPSs became ubiquitous. In the last few years, with an iPhone in every pocket, friends keep asking me: “Why can’t we ditch the altogether? I have GPS on my iPhone, and I just installed this pretty navigation app I bought from the App Store. Let’s use that instead.” Here’s why they should not.

Smart phones are not GPS devices

A “Global Navigation Satellite System” (GNSS) is a system of satellites that provide autonomous geo-spatial positioning with global coverage. It allows small electronic receivers to determine their location (longitude, latitude, and altitude) to within a few metres using time signals transmitted along a line-of-sight by radio from satellites. Receivers calculate the precise time as well as position. ()

The US-government-owned-and-operated GNSS is called GPS. GPS receivers are specially-designed devices that receive and process signals from the GPS satellites. Depending on the system and the process, GPS can yield from several meters to millimeters or better.

While modern smart phones have location capabilities, their – in the order of 30 meters, or 100 feet. Navigation apps for smart phones make navigation seem game-like easy, which is both deceiving, and (in my opinion) irresponsible. Smart phones have neither the positional accuracy nor the technological robustness required for a piece of navigation equipment. At best, they may be used as backup for a dedicated GPS unit, and then only to help visually locate a navigational marker.

I have been working with GPS since 1992, and I am well aware of the misconceptions surrounding the technology. The ubiquity of “GPS-enabled” smart phones has only widened and exacerbated the problem. Hardware and software vendors happily ride the wave of consumer ignorance, and do not do enough to alert consumers to the potential for misuse of the technology and the serious consequences thereof. Let’s hope it won’t take someone getting hurt for this issue to get more attention.


  1. Smart phones are good for listening to music and taking pictures, NOT for navigation.
  2. GPS is universally misunderstood. Here’s .
  3. Smart phones DO NOT have GPS
  4. Smart phones use location technology (“assisted GPS”) whose positional accuracy is 30 meters, or 100 feet.
  5. Smart phones should NEVER be used to “navigate by instruments”.

The illustration below shows a hypothetical situation over a real NOAA nautical chart. The water depth goes from 40’ to 3’ over a distance of 50’. Using an iPhone for navigation, the skipper can think they are safely in the channel and run aground.

Navigation chart iPhone GPS
Hypothetical situation over a real NOAA nautical chart. The water depth goes from 40’ to 3’ over a distance of 50’. Using an iPhone for navigation, the skipper can think they are safely in the channel and run aground.

Many thanks to the numerous Twitter friends who provided input and feedback for this entry.