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Thread: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

  1. #36
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    The locks on the Mississippi need to be contacted on VHF so if I ever want to travel farther than the closest dams up- and downstream then I'm going to need a VHF. For a little open sail and oar boat I think that I want one on my person and a second fixed unit in the cockpit doesn't seem necessary. The ICOM M25 is going on the Christmas list!

    As far as GPS goes, the market on used Garmin handhelds seems very soft, so if I get one on eBay for $20-$40 then I feel fine bringing it along to find out if I feel like turning it on.

    I will probably have my flip phone with me if I needed it to call for help or let my family know what is going on.

    Thanks again everyone for the great discussion, it's a real treat to hear the wide range of opinions and think about what lands for me in this very particular sailing situation. Keep it coming if there's anything left to say.

    -Neil

  2. #37
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    Here's the piece of water that first beguiled me into thinking I could sail near here if I had a shallow enough draft. I'd say that the water gets near two miles wide and there's probably only two gas stations in that whole area.

    Screenshot_20211117-215243.jpg

    And caltopo is awesome!

    I don't think I would trust any depths on a chart of this, except the Army Corps of Engineers who mark the 9 foot depth contour around the shipping channel and then everything else is just marked different levels of shallow and scary shallow.
    Last edited by NeilMB; 11-17-2021 at 11:02 PM.

  3. #38
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    Don’t waste you money on a handheld GPS get the Navionics app for phone or tablet it’s only $20 something a year and works great. As far as handheld VHFs I’ve tried a few and the Standard Horizon HX400 is the best one for the money in my opinion. I work marine construction and it seems to hold up the best and has a great battery life lasts a 12 hour shift no problem. Get the orange noise canceling mic for it (the one with the orange writing the says “submersible”) on the front. Almost everyone at work has tried different radios and ended up with the 400 also.

  4. #39
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    I wonder if that last bit from post #21--"You don't have to use the GPS, but if you need it it's there"--is really true in practice. I'd worry that, having it aboard, I'd use it all the time. Look at smart phones for an example of how having technology available tends to lead to constant use, even in situations where you never previously felt the need for it.

    Risk tolerance is highly variable. It may be that choosing to go without gadgets that (arguably) increase safety, with features like the one-button mayday call mentioned above, might encourage you to be more careful, and avoid potentially dangerous situations because you are not relying on instant access to help. But other people may feel more comfortable with that instant access to help (in theory).

    Even in 2021, it's possible to prioritize self-reliance rather than technology. Whether doing so is advisable is a philosophical debate more than anything. But pointing out that other options exist is worthwhile, I think.

    Tom
    You don't have to be prepared as long as you're willing to suffer the consequences.

    www.tompamperin.com

  5. #40
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    Quote Originally Posted by NeilMB View Post
    Here's the piece of water that first beguiled me into thinking I could sail near here if I had a shallow enough draft. I'd say that the water gets near two miles wide and there's probably only two gas stations in that whole area.

    Screenshot_20211117-215243.jpg

    And caltopo is awesome!

    I don't think I would trust any depths on a chart of this, except the Army Corps of Engineers who mark the 9 foot depth contour around the shipping channel and then everything else is just marked different levels of shallow and scary shallow.
    Yep, that's just like my backyard cruising grounds--I've been doing more on the Mississippi since the Canadian border is closed. Wonderful stuff. I find it's really useful to have a boat that allows sleeping aboard, as dry land isn't always available. But you can almost always find a quiet corner of the river to tie up unnoticed.

    The December issue of Small Boats will be running an article about one of my Mississippi River trips in case you're interested.

    You're absolutely correct about not relying on charted depths. Water levels fluctuate wildly outside the commercial channels. But with a 7" draft and a max speed of a few knots, there's not much need to worry about all that.

    I'll check out caltopo--thanks for the heads up on that.

    Tom
    You don't have to be prepared as long as you're willing to suffer the consequences.

    www.tompamperin.com

  6. #41
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    By the way, you don't need a VHF to transit locks on the Mississippi:

    Upon approach to the lock, you can contact the lockmaster via channel 14 on your VHF marine radio or simply pull the signal cord on the lock approach wall.
    Source

    Tom
    You don't have to be prepared as long as you're willing to suffer the consequences.

    www.tompamperin.com

  7. #42
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    I've had several handheld VHFs over my 25 years of sea kayaking and sailing. I think the more features they include the less useful they become—at least to me. The controls and menus become more complex, and then I forget how to do even some simple things, like adjust the squelch.

    The one feature I really appreciate on the one I use now is its constant GPS readout of lat and long coordinates. If I ever were to need help right now, I wouldn't have to waste seconds referring to my iPhone or separate GPS.

  8. #43
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    I wonder if that last bit from post #21--"You don't have to use the GPS, but if you need it it's there"--is really true in practice. I'd worry that, having it aboard, I'd use it all the time. Look at smart phones for an example of how having technology available tends to lead to constant use, even in situations where you never previously felt the need for it.

    Risk tolerance is highly variable. It may be that choosing to go without gadgets that (arguably) increase safety, with features like the one-button mayday call mentioned above, might encourage you to be more careful, and avoid potentially dangerous situations because you are not relying on instant access to help. But other people may feel more comfortable with that instant access to help (in theory).

    Even in 2021, it's possible to prioritize self-reliance rather than technology. Whether doing so is advisable is a philosophical debate more than anything. But pointing out that other options exist is worthwhile, I think.

    Tom
    Getting way off topic here, but this risk tolerance debate includes more than just the person out on the adventure. I carry a cell phone and take precautions because my wife would worry if she did not know I was safe. If I was a solitary hermit I might not try to sail an 11 foot boat around Cape Horn, but I would take a lot more risk for the sake of adventure than I do. The tradeoff is more than worth it IMO.

    I feel that I owe it to rescue folk to make their job easier too. Unless I was absolutely going to take the consequences, including death, quietly and alone I should try to avoid getting in trouble first and make it easy to find me second.

    Even the best prepared can need help at times. Once out on the Delta, near the reeds along the shore, I heard shots fired and bullets in the reeds nearby. I bugged out and the shots stopped. A warning, a mistake? I did not call that time, but stuff happens.

    Rick

  9. #44
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    If the issue is navigating, I recently installed a Garmin fishfinder, which incorporate charting that covers most of North America within a couple of hundred yards or so, links to other systems including an autopilot link
    that will start and maneuver in a sailboat race without touching the helm. Problem is the VHS, since several standard marine services don't like cell phones. The average bass fisherman can get a fishfinder that approximates the systems on a nuclear submarine for $500 or so. A handheld VHF adds another $100 or so.

  10. #45
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    If you don't get a GPS for Xmas, send me a PM. I have an old yellow Garmin I can give you.

  11. #46
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    old fart check-in: My family sailed Lake Michigan and Huron from when I was 9 onward (1959). "BACK IN THE DAY" you could buy a Radio Direction Finder at the marine supply, with it you could get a bearing on any radio signal, not just the marine ones, but also AM radio playing Chuck Berry, airport radio beacons, etc. All radio towers were plotted on airplane navigation charts and many on marine charts. Also the foghorns were synchronized with the radio beacons from the lighthouses, so you could get bearing and distance (with a stopwatch) anywhere there was a foghorn. The beauty and redundancy of all this included an incredible teaching moment for a young kid: There was a real-world urgency to plotting angles on a chart with regional magnetic deviation, and boat-specific compass error correction, etc, etc. We used all this along with visual hand bearing compass, Log, Lead, (yes, the lead kind), Lookout, all of it! Now either the GPS works or it doesn't and the world is a poorer place for it in terms of a kid being involved with navigation, and any related so-called "Stem" topics.

    Ken

  12. #47
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    Quote Originally Posted by kbowen View Post
    old fart check-in: My family sailed Lake Michigan and Huron from when I was 9 onward (1959). "BACK IN THE DAY" you could buy a Radio Direction Finder at the marine supply, with it you could get a bearing on any radio signal, not just the marine ones, but also AM radio playing Chuck Berry, airport radio beacons, etc. All radio towers were plotted on airplane navigation charts and many on marine charts. Also the foghorns were synchronized with the radio beacons from the lighthouses, so you could get bearing and distance (with a stopwatch) anywhere there was a foghorn. The beauty and redundancy of all this included an incredible teaching moment for a young kid: There was a real-world urgency to plotting angles on a chart with regional magnetic deviation, and boat-specific compass error correction, etc, etc. We used all this along with visual hand bearing compass, Log, Lead, (yes, the lead kind), Lookout, all of it! Now either the GPS works or it doesn't and the world is a poorer place for it in terms of a kid being involved with navigation, and any related so-called "Stem" topics.

    Ken
    There is always a tendency for peeps to look for the electronics nowadays. I am a bit with Tom, spent most of my sailing with no electronics. I now have a Garmin 72, bought new a 'few' years ago and a SH VHF. But, since I grew up without any of this, apart from trying Consol.. I manage OK on coastal sailing. Pre electronics, I managed to get from Sardinia to St Tropez with a school atlas and a compass. Hit my target after five days on the nose.
    On a river, even a wide one, I really don't see the need for a GPS, just the charts and a compass. Communication with loved ones is fine with a basic phone.

  13. #48
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    Quote Originally Posted by kbowen View Post
    old fart check-in: My family sailed Lake Michigan and Huron from when I was 9 onward (1959). "BACK IN THE DAY" you could buy a Radio Direction Finder at the marine supply, with it you could get a bearing on any radio signal, not just the marine ones, but also AM radio playing Chuck Berry, airport radio beacons, etc. All radio towers were plotted on airplane navigation charts and many on marine charts. Also the foghorns were synchronized with the radio beacons from the lighthouses, so you could get bearing and distance (with a stopwatch) anywhere there was a foghorn. The beauty and redundancy of all this included an incredible teaching moment for a young kid: There was a real-world urgency to plotting angles on a chart with regional magnetic deviation, and boat-specific compass error correction, etc, etc. We used all this along with visual hand bearing compass, Log, Lead, (yes, the lead kind), Lookout, all of it! Now either the GPS works or it doesn't and the world is a poorer place for it in terms of a kid being involved with navigation, and any related so-called "Stem" topics.

    Ken
    Somewhere in the basement there is a sextant. Od fashioned navigation skills are fun, but their is one-word answer to why the modern stuff is far superior: fog.

  14. #49
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan McCosh View Post
    Somewhere in the basement there is a sextant. Od fashioned navigation skills are fun, but their is one-word answer to why the modern stuff is far superior: fog.
    Yes, I have been in Great Lakes fog where the "lookout" couldn't see the backstay if he turned around in a 30' boat. But at the time we used what we had, and the radio beacons from the lighthouses were synchronized with the diaphone so you could get bearing and range. Of course none of this lowered the skippers blood pressure when a ship was close enough that you could hear their prop splashing but not see them. Still, it was a formative experience for me.
    Ken

  15. #50
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    Well, it's worth noting that you might well be better off learning to locate yourself on printed charts without a GPS...

    Not to be snarky, but going non-electronic is a perfectly viable option. Sadly, though, it's an option that can be hard to keep in mind when bombarded with a relentless pressure to get the latest gadget or digital subscription.

    As for using a GPS to plot tracks: I get it, that we're in a culture that likes to record ourselves. I've posted plenty of stuff, and written stuff, so I'm equally involved in all that.

    But really, you don't need a GPS. Sometimes that needs to be said out loud (so to speak) to put the option on the table.

    You'll be fine without one. And you'll probably develop better navigation and charting skills. And you won't have to spend the money, or take care of the thing. And you might just discover that you're happier that way.

    Give it a shot--you've got nothing to lose. Buy a simple hand compass and whatever charts you need.

    Tom
    Thanks for saying that out loud. Like many of us older folks, I sailed for years in the late 70's and through the 80's here in Puget Sound and the Canadian Gulf Islands before there was GPS. I had only a depth sounder, and of course charts and compass. I did get confused occasionally but no harm done, and it added to the adventure. GPS is a great convenience and I guess VHF is important. But essential for modest inland and coastal sailing in benign waters? I think not.

  16. #51
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    The biggest bit is knowing where you are. Dispite my years of chancing it, GPS does give a firm fix.

  17. #52
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    Quote Originally Posted by kbowen View Post
    Yes, I have been in Great Lakes fog where the "lookout" couldn't see the backstay if he turned around in a 30' boat. But at the time we used what we had, and the radio beacons from the lighthouses were synchronized with the diaphone so you could get bearing and range. Of course none of this lowered the skippers blood pressure when a ship was close enough that you could hear their prop splashing but not see them. Still, it was a formative experience for me.
    Ken
    Been in that situation several times, and I hailed the freighter on the VHF. They responded that they had me on their radar. AIS today is pretty much standard on VHF radios, which gives you both commercial shipping position and tracking, plus a backup GPS. The AIS/VHF is a great comfort for those of us who tend to travel in shipping lanes and offshore, although for small-boat navigation simplicity it is tough to beat a smart phone, loaded with a charting system. A plastic bag waterproofs it. One problem with traditional charts is that they are quite hard to stow and keep dry, particularly in a small boat, let alone finding a place to lay one out to plot a course. The charts we carry are so old now they look like pirate treasure maps, brown on the edges.

  18. #53
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    Maybe not obvious to newer boaters, so thought I'd also mention the depth sounder as a nav device, either to follow a fathom line and stay a known distance offshore, or to follow a channel. Charted depths are often at odds with actual depths, especially in tidal or river channels.

    An aside, but no longer having deeper draft boats, it's a big relief not having that nagging concern about how much water is under the keel.

  19. #54
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    The depth sounder for navigation was the main reason we installed one years ago. The reason we bought the "fish finder" recently was to use as a depth sounder, as there aren't many dedicated sounders available today. Might note that it has a depth range of about 800 feet--which is what you need to pick up fathom lines off shore around here. I was fascinated about a modern sounder's capabilities. Three dimension imagery, forward-facing imaging; depths to 2,500 feet. It does beat a lead line, although the latter is handier if you use tallow on the lead to see if the bottom is sand or clay.

  20. #55
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan McCosh View Post
    The depth sounder for navigation was the main reason we installed one years ago. The reason we bought the "fish finder" recently was to use as a depth sounder, as there aren't many dedicated sounders available today. Might note that it has a depth range of about 800 feet--which is what you need to pick up fathom lines off shore around here. I was fascinated about a modern sounder's capabilities. Three dimension imagery, forward-facing imaging; depths to 2,500 feet. It does beat a lead line, although the latter is handier if you use tallow on the lead to see if the bottom is sand or clay.
    I went to a fishfinder 20+ years ago & find it far more useful than simply seeing a number. Only issue I've had is dolphins swimming under the keel & setting off the alarm. Someone on the northern Mississippi likely won't have that problem...

    The new forward facing FFs are even more better!
    "If it ain't broke, you're not trying." - Red Green

  21. #56
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    Default Re: I know nothing: VHF, GPS or VHF/GPS?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan McCosh View Post
    for small-boat navigation simplicity it is tough to beat a smart phone, loaded with a charting system. A plastic bag waterproofs it.
    A plastic bag also waterproofs a chart...

    Folded to a useful size, I find a gallon Ziploc or slightly larger bag works pretty well.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan McCosh View Post
    One problem with traditional charts is that they are quite hard to stow and keep dry, particularly in a small boat, let alone finding a place to lay one out to plot a course.
    For the OP's purposes--inland sailing, specifically the Mississippi River--there's no call to plot courses or plot LOPs and fixes. This is all going to be eyeball navigation, where all you need is a chart and some basic terrain association. Maybe a compass bearing now and then, but even that level of sophistical will only rarely necessary.

    Tom
    You don't have to be prepared as long as you're willing to suffer the consequences.

    www.tompamperin.com

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