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Navigation and trip planning

Navigation is the process of planning, reading and manoeuvring your boat safely from one place to another. All navigational techniques involve locating the navigator's position in relation to known locations or landmarks.

It is recommended that you take a Coastguard Boating Education course to help you learn about navigation.

Coastguard Boating Education course [Coastguard Boating Education]


A brief overview of the key aspects of safe navigation follows:

Nautical charts – essential tools for marine navigation

Magnetic compass , GPS and other instruments

The “rules of the road on the water”

Radio warnings and weather forecasts


Nautical charts – essential tools for marine navigation

Nautical charts are essential tools for marine navigation. All responsible skippers should carry an appropriate chart for the area where they go boating.

Nautical charting may take the form of charts printed on paper or computerised electronic navigation charts. Being able to understand the symbols and how to make best use of the chart is an essential part of safe navigation.

A chart is a graphic representation of a maritime area and coast. Depending on the scale of the chart, it may show depths of water and heights of land, natural features of the seabed, details of the coastline, navigational hazards, locations of natural and man-made aids to navigation, information on tides and currents, local details of the earth's magnetic field, and man-made structures, such as harbours, buildings and bridges.

Magnetic compass, GPS and other instruments

The magnetic compass tells you the direction you are heading. A Global Positioning System (GPS) gives your position and your speed and direction over the ground (seabed). A compass is essential equipment on even short voyages.

Other instruments include a depth sounder and radar. Understanding how to use the instruments on board is vital to safety. Used incorrectly, aids to navigation have resulted in many accidents.

The “rules of the road on the water”

It is the skipper’s responsibility to know and understand the maritime rules, which are in brief:

  • keep a proper lookout at all times
  • travel at a safe speed
  • know how to avoid collisions.

For more detailed information about the “rules of the road” on the water check out:

Skipper responsibilities

Tips about boating safety – sticker [PDF: 43Kb, 1 page]

Safer Boating: an essential guide – booklet [PDF: 1.8Mb, 45 pages]

Request copies of the sticker and/or booklet by emailing:

View or download these rules:

Maritime Rules Part 91: Navigation Safety

Maritime Rules Part 22: Collision Prevention

Radio warnings and weather forecasts

At regular intervals any known navigation safety hazard in your area (eg weather-related, or a container or log floating just below the surface) will be broadcast for your safety. To hear these warnings you need to have on board a marine VHF radio.

Regular weather forecasts are broadcast on VHF radio, along with reports of wind strength and direction at many places round our harbours and coasts. Wind warnings and predicted gales are also transmitted as soon as they are identified. Your VHF radio is also your primary means of seeking assistance should the unexpected happen.

Marine weather forecasts

Using the maritime radio service