— June 2003
By Ben Ellison
CD Summer School
|Part 2: There is always more to learn|
Similarly, David Burch is super qualified to create the several CD training products I tried from his Starpath School of Navigation. The man has 60,000 sea miles, 20,000 students, and nine navigation books in his wake and holds a PhD in physics to boot. His enormous expertise, along with a willingness to try many available teaching technologies, comes through loud and clear in these products. In fact, to a certain extent, the Weather and Chart Trainers may be too much for some more novice navigators. Rather than employing the succinct and linear voice-over technique of Bessmer, Burch packs massive amounts of information on his CDs along with multiple ways to access it. For instance, Chart Trainer not only has all the symbols annotated, and sometimes photographically depicted, but also includes animations of light characteristics and abbreviations in 26 languages. And it ships with an online copy of NOAA's lengthy Chart Reading Manual.
Some aspiring navigators might get lost in these products, but you can find out for yourself by checking out Starpath's excellent online product demos. If you find yourself looking for a more basic, paper-based course in using charts--which, remember, is the foundation you need to really attain proficiency with electronic navigation--one that I find particularly well done is BoatSafe's Coastal Navigation Course (www.boatsafe.com). But don't miss Starpath's Radar Trainer 3, which is a well-designed simulator that can be as useful to the inquisitive novice as it is to commercial operators. I don't think that there's anything comparable for understanding the confusing dynamics of radar imagery, excepting the wonderful bridge-size simulators I've seen in action at maritime academies (and which regrettably have megayacht-size price tags).
Radar Trainer 3 costs $159 and lets you experience fairly realistic collision-avoidance scenarios while also (unrealistically) watching the same action play out on a chart. Thus you can quickly learn that normal radar screens do not describe other vessels' true motions very well. Better still is to print out one of the chartlets and then flip the trainer over to the all-scope view and see if you can negotiate Puget Sound or the coast of England in zero visibility without damage! It's instructive and rather fun. You'll have most essential radar functions at hand as well as control of your vessel's speed and heading. You can even jump over to the other guy's screens and see how things look, build your own simulations, control subtleties like sea state, and more. And of course, in Starpath fashion, all sorts of reference and tutorial materials are included.
Now modern advances like radar/chart split displays, overlay, and automatic tracking are all helping to make low-visibility navigation more relaxed, but again a good grasp of the basics really helps you to understand and best use on even the fanciest machines. Besides, I'm convinced that one of boating's many seductive qualities is that there is always more to learn. And if you responded that the fast development of modern, sometimes dauntingly complicated electronics has forced the issue, I wouldn't argue. So consider lugging a laptop down to the boat on a slow summer day and spending some time with a training CD created by someone who knows what he is doing. It can be rewarding, even pleasurable.
Course Line PC Navigation Phone: (503) 998-2304. www.courselinepc.com.
Starpath School of Navigation Phone: (206)-783-1414. www.starpath.com.
This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.