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Cowichan Bay
Cowichan Bay

Mandarte Island
Mandarte Island

Carmanah Valley

Fishing at Bamfield
Tyee Salmon

Humpback Whales
Humpback Whale Tail

vhf radio

Boat Purchase
Bow of boat

Hornby Island

Fisherman's Wharf

BC Ferries

Beacon Hill Park

Uniden Atlantis 250
The Uniden Atlantis 250 VHF Radio

GPSmap 76CSx
GPSmap 76CSx handheld GPS unit

Bayliner steering wheel
Bayliner dashboard

Bayliner dashboard
Garmin GPS unit. Notice the lanyard looped around the compass just in case it slides off.

MapSource Screenshot
A screenshot of a route - the faint yellow line.

A print of the route
A printout of the route done on a laser printer. The route starts by my thumb and ends at the top right at the tip of the island.

A printout of the direction sheet
A printout of the direction sheet.
GPS VHF - April 14, 2008
Now that I have a boat my next concern is navigating the waters around the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Twenty years ago I got by with a few charts. I didn't really need more since most of my boating was confined to Becher Bay and Bamfield. Both regions are fairly easy to navigate as opposed to the Gulf Islands where there are many islands and channels.
I used to go to Bamfield in August and at that time of year fog was a fairly regular event. Quite often we would need to follow a reverse compass heading back. Sometimes the fog would be thick enough that we would not be able to identify the section of shore we had arrived at. Was the mouth to the harbour left or right? We had spent many hours going up and down the coast, so before long an identifiable section of shoreline would emerge and we could tell if we were headed the right way.
That was then and this is now. I have since taken the Power Squadron Course, and would highly recommend anyone into boating to do the same. They touch on pretty much everything in the beginner boating course which goes a long way to making boating a lot safer for you and your family.
I have all the gear in the boat required by law plus more. I added amongst other items a VHF radio and a GPS, if an emergency occurs you will want to be able to call for help and give a position. In both cases I chose hand held units, it seemed a better choice for my size of boat. There are some disadvantages to handheld to consider, in the case of the VHF radio the range is reduced due to the limitations of the antennae. In the GPS the disadvantage is the small size of the screen. There are advantages as well, handhelds can be a real plus if you become separated from the vessel you're in, for instance, like when it is on the way to the bottom and you want to call someone and let them know where you are and that you could use a lift.
I purchased the Garmin GPSmap 76CSx and the Uniden Atlantis 250. The GPS is water proof, floats and comes with a flash memory card of 128 megabytes. The VHF is water resistant for 30 seconds to a depth of one meter and it does not float. So as long as I only drop it in 3 feet of water and retrieve it in less than 30 seconds I will be fine.
My initial concern about the small size of the screen on the handheld GPS was unwarranted, don't get me wrong I believe bigger would be better but it was not as limiting as I thought it would be. If you're in a location where more detail is needed you just zoom in which lets you see your position more precisely. One of the best things about a handheld is you can take it with you, I used mine in the house for the first week to get used to navigating around all the menus and familiarizing myself with all the features. With WAAS enabled I am able to get a location within plus or minus of 20ft. WAAS is short for Wide Area Augmentation System. This system utilizes ground stations in addition to satellites to increase the accuracy. Most new GPS units have this capability mine was not turned on by default.
Even though the unit gives an accuracy reading of + or - 20ft in reality it is even closer. One of the first things I did with it was check my location by entering my coordinates into Google Earth. I pushed enter and the World turned and zoomed in, the cross hairs ended up dead centre on the peak of my house, I was very impressed. I also tested it by taking it with me on a walk. I recorded the track as I went, on the way back I used the track back feature and purposely walked about 3ft to the right of my original path. I could see this different but parallel path represented on the screen, amazing.
For nautical use you will need to obtain charts for your area of boating. I purchased a block of charts for mine that includes everything from Port Renfrew on the west coast of Vancouver Island, around the southern tip and up to the north end of the island. Unfortunately Barkley sound and the rest of the west coast of Vancouver Island was not included. I will probably purchase those charts at some point as well.
The Garmin MapSource software works quite well and is easy to use. I found it quite easy to draw a route on the chart print it off and download the route to the GPS via the USB port. You can save the route on your computer as well, just in case you delete it off the GPS you can reload it again. You can draw any route you want on the computer and then use the GPS to follow the trail. I like to make the course logical by picking tracks that are aimed at a visual point of reference making it easy to keep on course without continually looking down at the GPS. I usually print off the route and the direction sheet to go along with it. If for some reason the GPS failed you could use the map and direction sheet to navigate by.
The GPS unit really is a very cool piece of equipment. You can confidently head into areas you are not familiar with which is what I plan on doing.