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Navigation: Lakes and Oceans

Triangulate, forge through wind, and learn the tides with these water-bound navigation tips.

Beware Erratic Tides
For a coastal hike, don’t rely solely on the tide table from the nearest harbor; the time and height of tides may vary dramatically along a coastline. And although most of the world’s tides are semidiurnal (two highs and two lows, about the same height, every 24 hours), some coastlines differ. Along Nootka Island in British Columbia, the two daily lows may vary by five feet or more. Inquire about local variations with the Coast Guard or marine outfitters, or download’s nifty iPhone app. 

Hug the Curves
In fast-moving water, stay to the inside corner on blind turns, to avoid getting washed into logs, trees, and other debris on the outside bend. The current also tends to be faster on the outer edge, assuming similar shorelines and uniform water depth across the channel at the turn. (If the water depth isn’t uniform, the current is typically slower in shallow water.) Need to dock? Look for back eddies, which will push you shoreward. They tend to form downstream of protuberances.

Forge Through Wind
If you’re paddling toward a landmark but wind or current keep pushing you off-course, try lining up one landmark with another visible object on shore, ideally one behind the other. Keep the two landmarks in the same relative position (to each other) to stay on track. Also, if traveling against prevailing winds, plan to paddle in the early morning or early evening, when winds are typically the calmest. Even a 10-knot wind can decrease your paddling speed by 20 percent.

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