Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Case for Paper

April 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

the case for paper 1

Photo Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard District 5


My marina neighbor boasted to me that the only paper he had aboard was “a roll in the head.” Really? With all of those shiny electronic navigation gadgets lighting up the bridge like a Christmas tree, what would my boater buddy do if a key component, such as a chart plotter, went down?

Unless you only venture yards from shore in a kayak or on a paddleboard, there’s still a commonsense role in the marine environment for paper. Despite our best efforts to go paperless on land, a nautical chart is a key piece of safety equipment on a boat. It informs you as to where you came from, where you are now, and where you will be, while disclosing depths, harbor channels, rocks, and the type of bottom you’d encounter if anchoring. Of course, all this information (and more) can be found on electronic charts, but technology has a rebellious streak — it conks out at those times you need it most. That’s when a paper chart will get you safely home.

On crowded waterways, paper often saves the day even when electronics are functioning. It’s a matter of scale; most electronic charts are displayed on a screen of 12 inches or smaller, so a lot of details are lost. If you are trying to grasp everything that can guide or affect you, it’s a challenge to note beacons, private buoys, small streams, coves, sand bars, rocks, radio towers, water towers, church spires, and other local landmarks. When you need the big picture, look at the big picture a chart provides.

You can also write directly on a paper chart, too. Found something not noted on a chart? Now it’s on yours. Discovered your boat’s approach is so much easier by doing A and B before C? Jot it down and you’ll save yourself time and possibly aggravation on your next visit to the same waters.

Though recreational boaters are not required to carry charts aboard, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is no longer in the business of printing charts, private companies will custom print any NOAA chart on demand. Buy the waterproof versions as they last longer (but don’t overlook updates). I prefer individual charts to books covering an entire region, as books are heavy and the paper can’t be folded.

Along with charts, I have the printed operating and trouble-shooting manuals of every piece of electrical and mechanical equipment aboard. I find a phone app or a tablet usually can’t provide adequate visual images, and paper manuals are never out-of-range or low on batteries when I need information the most. I like to write notes in the margin; most of my fix-up books are dotted with oil-smeared notes collected over the years.

Ownership and registration documentation must be readily available in paper form. Should law enforcement board your craft, they are not going to be receptive to an excuse about a waterlogged laptop. Copies of your boat’s ownership, registration, and insurance paperwork should be stowed in a waterproof pouch.

I have some more paper aboard my boat. I keep basic nautical books, a ship’s log, and a paper list of important telephone numbers. I don’t know about you, but most people don’t memorize numbers anymore. Instead, they rely on their phones. But what happens if the phone battery dies and you want to dock and dine at that really delicious coastal restaurant whose name you can’t recall? You can ask a passenger to dial it up for you because you wrote it down after your last visit. Paper to the rescue!

By William C. Winslow

The author is the Division 5 – Staff Officer Public Affairs, First District Southern Region, for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the all-volunteer, non-military arm of the Coast Guard, teaching boating safety education and conducting search and rescue operations. Visit to join the Auxiliary or for class information.


is Division 5 – Staff Officer Public Affairs, First District Southern Region, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and a freelance writer for marine publications. His work has appeared in Sailing, Wooden Boat, and Good Old Boat; he is also the author of Cat Boat Tales.

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