Written by Captains Chris & Alyse Caldwell

Every boater knows that the Captain is the master of the vessel, leading the crew which often consists of one more key position, that of the Navigator. While we are usually less formal with titles in the pleasure boat world, these two skilled positions are key to a successful cruise. Both Captain and Crew may even have taken some classes and feel fairly confident with helm and navigation skills. Well, let us now introduce you to a different sort of boater- the Naviguesser.

The naviguesser is a navigator who is unsure of their skills. Sound like someone you know? The stark reality in today’s boating world is that more of us are guessers rather than gators. But don’t be worried if this title fits you or someone you know. Modern electronics and well written guide books nicely supplement the paper charts of yesteryear. While no replacement for actual how-to knowledge, these tools offer a great deal of support to the unskilled boater, allowing practice time to perfect their navigation ability.

Let’s start with the Intracoastal Waterway or as most of us call it, the ICW. This channel connects man-made canals with natural bodies of water and is marked in five mile increments starting with zero in Norfolk VA and moving south toward Miami FL, about 1200 miles away. This is noted on a chart or GPS as St M 0 at Norfolk or St M 1200 meaning it is 1200 Statute Miles away from Norfolk.  Finding these statute mile indicators every 5 miles on the chart makes it easy to quickly plan for a 50 mile or 100 mile cruise. The Gulf of Mexico ICW is similarly marked starting from New Orleans Mile 0 then moving both east and westbound of the Harvey Locks.

Here is an example which will make it simple to follow along: we live in Vero Beach, FL at St M 955. That means we are 955 statute miles from Norfolk VA as the ICW zigs and zags up the coast. If we want to cruise to Fort Lauderdale (St M 1065) we would be in for a 110 mile day!

If you are venturing out into larger bodies of water like a sound, bay or deep and wide river, just be sure you have the newest paper chart or GPS chart chip and many of the more popular routes will already have waypoints selected and course headings plotted out for you to follow. How nice to have the answers right there!

Before you balk and think we are promoting blind faith in following preplanned routes in chart books or in your electronics, take a moment to remember…it is much easier to study for a test when you have the correct answers to check against.  First, try to  do your trip planning the evening before on paper, then transfer it to your vessel electronics and compare. If you were waaaaaaay off then go back to the drawing board and try again. Got it right? Then go cruising!
Now you can even do all that pre planning on computer and blue tooth the notes directly into your onboard navigation systems.

But don’t get lazy. Naviguesser should be like an introductory position…Keep your gator teeth sharp as you never know when you need to sink your jaws into plotting a course or finding home port using dead reckoning…Yes, I have a gray beard and prefer to have paper charts and hand written notes, no batteries required.

Captains Chris & Alyse Caldwell are USCG 100 ton Masters and Cruising Coaches who offer Personal Boat Training Online or Onboard your boat anywhere! The Caldwell’s help build your cruising confidence with hands-on training and with their training videos filled with tons of tips for the boater who loves learning. If you have additional questions for Captain Chris or Captain Alyse, please email them at