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Kayak Navigation - Using Landmarks

If we can see where we're headed, it's usually easier to use our transit than our bearing. In this example, the tide is flowing strongly in this direction. This line shows the bearing I'm trying to follow. If I stick to that bearing, making no allowance for the tide, it pushes me well off course. My bearing is unchanged, but I'm going to end up in a different place. In this case with land behind, it's much easier to use our transit, also called our range.

The transit in its simplest form would take a bearing of the compass in what we're aiming for, set the boat up heading towards that, and then pick something in the background that's easily-identifiable. We'd have two things lining up: The thing we're aiming for and something in the background. If we start to drift, then the relative position of these two moves. The thing in the background moves the same direction that we've been drifting.

This time, I've lined up the end of the island where I'm heading, with the white house on the far shore; I could also have used the red buoy. These two points are a visual reference of my bearing, shown by the blue line. I'm trying to keep the two points lined up while I kayak across a now more powerful tidal stream. To keep on transit, I have to turn the bow into the flow, which means my compass no longer shows my bearing. By keeping the transits in line, I'm straying very little from my course. I know when I've been drifted and I can climb back on course.

On a different piece of coastline, you can see this from a kayaker's perspective. I paddled here by keeping the end of the island in line with the white building behind. Now if I allow my kayak to drift to the left, the more distant transit also appears to drift to the left. My kayak is off course in the direction to which the far transit appears to move.

Transits are very useful for coastal sea kayaking and can be applied in all sorts of ways without a compass; for example, knowing when you're in a shipping channel. One way of telling whether we're in the shipping channel or not, because there's no lines drawn on the water, is if we look at the red buoy down here, and then the bridge is the red mark on the bridge there on the left-hand side. If we hold our paddle up in front of us and line up one end of the buoy, and then the other end with the mark on the bridge; if the paddle's in front of us, then we're not in the channel yet. If you've lined up those marks, the red buoy, the mark on the bridge, if the paddle's in front of us, we're out of the channel. As soon as it gets really close, then we're getting close to it. As soon as we can't actually line the two up in front of us, we're definitely in the channel.

The video clip shown above is a segment taken from the DVD: "Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown: Volume 3."

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