Route Planning The A to Z Challenge

R is for Route Planning: Our Top 8 Resources

Thursday, April 21, 2016S.V. CAMBRIA


During the month of April, we're participating in the Blogging From A to Z Challenge where every day (excluding Sundays) we'll be posting to the blog . . . alphabetically. The overall theme we've chosen to tie all the entries together is living aboard a boat and cruising – things we've learned along the way: our thoughts, reflections, and tips for those just starting out or who are interested in this lifestyle.





One of the most exciting decisions you can make on a boat is where to go: The countless possibilities. The discovery of the unknown. The world, or at least a small portion of it, at your stern. Once the decision is made, the excitement continues as you pull out the cruising guides to start researching the possibilities. It’s at this stage that the trip starts to take shape and becomes real. There’s a sense of romance in planning a passage. To me, choosing where to go is one of the most exciting decisions you can make on a boat:  It’s where the dream of cruising starts to take on a life of its own. Where anticipation takes root and begins to grow.  And as frustrating as the process can be sometimes, it’s where the fun begins.

How do we choose which anchorages to visit?  We look for good protection first and “amenities” second.  Both David and I are fairly conservative when it comes to cruising and seek out all-weather anchorages with good holding – we’ve done our share of “roadsteads” in the past and prefer a good night’s sleep to location.  Because we have a dog aboard, going to shore safely is a priority – if there’s a place to take a walk, even better.  We prefer isolated anchorages but, every now and again, it’s necessary to rejoin society to buy provisions and do laundry, so we take that into consideration as well.  

Resources

Route planning is a personal thing. What works for us, may not necessarily work for another boat and vice versa. But there are some basic resources that are fundamental to a safe and enjoyable trip.


Cruising guides provide up-to-date information on anchorages, hazards to navigation, GPS waypoints, history, marinas, planning tips and more for designated areas. For our PNW cruising, we rely on Fine Edge Publishing. (Best Anchorages for the Inside Passage, Waggoners and the Douglass series. We do have some of the Dreamspeaker guides aboard, but only use them as a last resort and don’t rely on the information which hasn’t always been realistically represented by them.

Paper charts are a good way to view the area as a whole when planning and essential to navigation when cruising. Many countries require you to carry traditional charts aboard when in their waters, so it’s important to know each country’s carriage requirements before setting out. You can get by with small-scale charts which cover large areas and are low on detail, but we carry a full complement of charts with us at all times. Why? Because they’re not susceptible to electronic failures.    


Planning maps help us get a clear picture of the area we want to cruise. The Inside Passage is an intricate maze of inlets, channels and islands and it’s easy to get lost in all the possibilities. The maps give us a visual on the overall area that regular charts and chart plotters can’t provide.

Chart plotters integrate GPS with an electronic chart, allowing you to track your position in real time. We have three aboard: Our primary plotter is a computer program called C-Map, which we use mainly in Canada. When we’re in the US, we use a program called Coastal Explorer that allows you to use downloaded NOAA charts. And we purchased the Navionics application for our iPad. All three are handy ways to quickly measure distances between anchorages when planning. And although we use the plotter when we’re under way, we always have a paper chart at hand.


Tide and current tables provide tide heights and current flows for a designated area. Here in the PNW, areas can see flows up to 16 knots and timing really is everything and an integral part of route planning.

Current weather information, while not essential to planning a route, is crucial to safe passage making (to see a list of our weather sources, click here).

Online sailing blogs and articles are great places to read about first-hand accounts and opinions about areas you plan to visit.

Google Earth provides a bird’s eye view of shorelines, hazards and anchorages.

Happy planning!

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10 comments

  1. Sixteen knots of tidal current? Wow! I can't even visualize that; would love to see it some time. We get 4 knots running through our marina at max ebb and everyone thinks it's a big deal ... well, it is for this part of the world. Now I'm off to google tidal range in PNW.

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    1. The tidal range in the Seattle area is around 3 metres, but it increases with latitude (we saw 8 to 9 metres in Alaska). We have a lot of narrow, shallow passes (usually between two islands) where the current creates rapids. One of them, Skookumchuck Narrows, is known for its standing waves and kayakers come from all over the world to ride it -- it really is something to see.

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  2. "Rejoining society to do laundry" - I bet it's a really weird experience to re-join society after being in such secluded anchorages. It must be jarring! - Lucy

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    1. It definitely can be. I think the biggest adjustment we've had to make is the year we were alone at anchor watching a bear forage along the shore one day and in the middle of Vancouver city the next -- talk about culture shock!

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  3. We love to dream about where we might go during the boating season. Yes, route planning is pretty fun stuff. I agree with your impression of the Dreamspeak series. We have not found them to be useful and no longer carry them on board. Also the currents are remarkable up here, yes. What's the best way to tell a sailboat's captain has paid no attention to the currents? They are moving backwards through a tight channel. That's never a good thing! We've seen that on a number of occasions and are always relieve when they come out the other side without hitting something. Our biggest culture shock after a cruise is getting back in the car. My god! We drive so fast on land! It's hair raising.

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    1. That's so true! Sometimes I think we give the rapids a little too much consideration but then I ended up in washing machine conditions last year going through Upper Rapids, so I guess it's not such a bad idea to wait that extra 30 minutes. At least I was going with the current!

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  4. Great tips! It's so exciting discovering new places. I make pencil notes in my cruising guides about each place we visit. What the holding was like in various wind conditions. It's a good reference if we go back and need to choose a sheltered spot.

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    1. I do that too! I also have all of our anchor spots marked on Navionics. I can't tell you how disappointed I was when I learned they limit the number of markers you can save.

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  5. There are sooo many resources these days that it is overwhelming! And, the amount of blogs, compared to ten years ago! There truly is something for everyone. While we always had paper charts complimenting our electronic ones in the Caribbean, once in the South Pacific, we only had electronic ones. And, the knowledge of other cruisers who had been in these places.

    Liesbet @ Roaming About – A Life Less Ordinary

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  6. I love to read through cruising guides and daydream about where we might go. It's half the fun :-)

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