We have just returned from a trip to New Caledonia. The entire island is surrounded by a big reef and there are lots of little reefs inside that.
Navigation is ok here, as the charts are really well marked, there are nice suggested tracks to follow and lots of cardinal and lateral marks and lighthouses all over the place. However lots of islands in the Pacific aren’t as well marked.
Here are a few tips we picked up in regards to navigation in this part of the world and how to avoid hitting a reef.
- Get some good polarised glasses. These make a huge difference to being able to see what is under the water
2. Have a passage plan – identify your route on the chart before you set off, check the cruising guide for tips, check the tide and weather conditions, and take note of any marks or lights along the way. Zoom right in on your chart to get the extra detail. Don’t just rely on your GPS, use your eyes as well. Beware of breaking water and currents in passes. Take notes and have them handy at the helm.
3. Navigate with the sun overhead or astern. Head in westerly directions in the morning and easterly directions in the afternoon. Travel only when the sun is high enough that the reefs are visible.
4. Approach any shallow passage on the rising tide
5. Put someone on the bow and have a clear hand signal system – point towards the clear passage (not at the danger)
6. If you are unsure on the best way to proceed, perhaps send someone ahead with a dinghy and hand held GPS to plot the best course.
8. Get to know the colour of the water. Deep bits are darker until you get in shallow, then the dark areas become the coral bits! Lighter areas are the sandy patches.
Do you have any other great tips for navigating in reefy areas?