A Curmudgeon’s Cynical Look at Digital Boating

Publish date:
Updated on

What has happened to us? Paper charts, dead reckoning, and basic navigational methods and skills are fast becoming obsolete due to computerized GPS plotters. Every day I watch boaters attempt to drive a boat looking at a computer screen when visual aids marking a channel are clearly visible 20 feet away.

Heck, I’ve only met one boater in the past few years who knew how to properly cleat a line, the most basic element of seamanship, and he’s retired Merchant Marine. There was a point, in my lifetime, when the tidiness of dock lines and proper cleating of a vessel represented an owner’s or captain’s respect and affection for his/her vessel and neighbor.

Okay, call me Capt. Curmudgeon, but y’all know this is true. Things have changed with the digital age; I’m a late-model baby boomer born in the analog era trying to chart my way through the digital world! I can do it, but do I really want to?

From 2006 to 2010, I worked for a small yacht company that was an early utilizer of computerized joystick technology. We had a home base in Essex, Connecticut, an adorable, quaint New England village that I fell totally, absoltuely, completely in love with, except for the huge annual climate change. I spent my first day in Essex, strolling around absorbing the New England smells of spring, taking in all the town of Essex has to offer, a very enjoyable day.

Upon reporting for work the next morning, I was asked what I thought about this quaint little place on the river. “It’s great, I love it. It reminds me of the waterfront and river towns around South Alabama, not a whole lot different.”


“Yeah, we have delightful little coffee shops, bistros, cafés, gift shops, galleries, marinas, and pubs, same as here. The biggest difference I noticed is the doctors.”

“Really, what do you mean?”

“Well, according to the signage, doctors here seem to specialize a lot in therapy; therapy this, therapy that. In South Alabama, doctors specialize in fish-hook removal, snake bites, gunshot and stab wounds. You see, we all seem to have similar issues; we just deal with them differently in the South, maybe we’re not as digital yet.”

Y’all come back, ya hea’!