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Any sea voyage needs a certain amount of planning before it is undertaken. It makes sense to think about where you are going, how you will get there and what factors might influence your plan. Planning the route itself is also critical. One of the essential parts of modern navigation is the use of waypoints.

The use of waypoints

A waypoint is a geographical position defined by its precise latitude and longitude, usually associated with electronic navigation.  Waypoints are used to define the points along a route where there are alterations of course, so in other words they are turning marks.  A navigator can plot a course using a series of waypoints which are entered into a chart plotter.

Waypoints are likely to be in two main locations: off headlands that are turning points along the route, or at buoys that may mark dangers or form part of a buoyed channel.

The exact steps for loading waypoints into a GPS or chart plotter may vary depending on the specific device and software being used. In some instances you have to enter the waypoint positions manually, while in others you just pinpoint the chosen spot with a cursor and the electronics do the rest.

It is important that the navigator chooses waypoints with care and checks them after a route is plotted. It is very easy to make mistakes when loading waypoints into a plotter.

How to prevent errors when loading waypoints

Here are some ways to prevent errors when navigating with waypoints:
  • Check accuracy. Verify that the latitude and longitude coordinates for each waypoint are accurate.
  • Review route. Review the planned route to ensure that it makes sense and that the waypoints are in the correct order.
  • Cross-check charts. Cross-check the waypoints against a nautical chart to make sure that they match up.
  • Use updated charts. Use the most up-to-date charts available, as underwater hazards and other obstacles can change over time.
  • Test GPS. Test the GPS regularly to ensure that it is working properly and that waypoints are being displayed correctly.
  • Monitor progress. Regularly monitor the vessel’s progress and adjust the course as needed to stay on track.
  • Backup plan. Have a backup plan in case the GPS fails or the waypoints are incorrect. This could include having a paper chart and compass on board, as well as a basic understanding of navigation principles.

By following these steps, you can help reduce the risk of errors when working with waypoints and ensure a successful navigation experience.

The pros and cons of navigating by waypoints

Here are some advantages of navigating by waypoints compared to traditional navigation methods:
  • Ease of use. Waypoints are easy to set and follow, and they allow the vessel to navigate to a specific location with great accuracy.
  • Improved efficiency. Navigating by waypoints can be faster and more efficient than traditional navigation methods, as the vessel can follow a direct course to the destination.
  • Better situational awareness. By using waypoints, the skipper can track the vessel’s progress and adjust the course as necessary to stay on track, improving situational awareness.
  • Increased safety. Navigating by waypoints can reduce the risk of running aground or hitting hazards, as the skipper can see exactly where the vessel is in relation to the planned route.
  • Integration with other systems. Waypoints can be integrated with other navigation and vessel systems, such as AIS, radar, and autopilot, to provide a more complete and accurate picture of the vessel’s position and progress.
  • Reduced workload. By using waypoints, the skipper can reduce the workload associated with traditional navigation methods, freeing up time and energy for other tasks.
Here are some limitations of using waypoints for navigation:
  • Reliance on technology. Waypoints rely on GPS and other technology, which can be subject to errors or failures.
  • Limited ability to account for changes. While waypoints can help navigate to a specific location, they do not always account for changes in weather, tides, currents, and other conditions that can impact the vessel’s progress.
  • Over-reliance on technology. Relying too heavily on waypoints can lead to a lack of basic navigation skills, and in the event of technology failure, the crew may be unable to navigate effectively.
  • Difficulty in adjusting course. If the vessel strays from the planned route, it can be difficult to adjust the course and return to the original plan.
  • Lack of situational awareness. While waypoints provide information about the vessel’s position, they do not always give a complete picture of the surrounding environment, such as nearby hazards.
  • Need for up-to-date charts. To navigate effectively using waypoints, it is necessary to have up-to-date charts and accurate waypoint data.


It is always a good idea to have a crew member double-check your work, especially when navigating. Having a second pair of eyes can help catch any mistakes and provide a second opinion on the planned route. This can improve safety and increase confidence in the navigation plan.

In summary, while waypoints offer many advantages for navigation, they are not without limitations, including the need for technology and up-to-date information, the potential for over reliance on technology, and a limited ability to account for changes in conditions.

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