All captains need to know how to navigate a boat, and in this day and age that also means mastering basic chartplotter navigation. Okay, you old salts - go ahead and tune out. You probably already know how to get from Point A to Point B with a minimum number of button-presses. But relatively new boaters may have a tough time figuring out how to use that chartplotter. For you folks, we shot this How-To Special on basic chartplotter navigation.


Of course, all chartplotters are a bit different. Yours may work like the chartplotter we showed here, or it may require a slightly different use of the controls. But no matter how simple or how advanced your chartplotter may be, the basics remain the same: create a waypoint, get the machine into nav mode, and follow it there. When you want to do a multi-leg route, create a route consisting of multiple waypoints. You say you're a competent navigator, and you've stayed with us this far to see if you could learn anything new? Here are a few more advanced chart-plotting tips:

1. When you're navigating in close-quarters, such as when trying to find a small wreck or lump or hole to fish over, zoom in as far as your chartplotter will allow. Otherwise, the boat icon on-screen can be deceiving, because it doesn't change scale as you change the chartplotter. In other words, if you remain zoomed out it will look like you're directly over the wreck, when you're not.

chartplotter navigation basics

Chartplotters are great tools, and here are some basic directions to help get you from here to there.

2. When navigating for long distances over open water, don't forget to account for set and drift. If a strong breeze is constantly shoving you off to port by a few degrees, steer to starboard of your waypoint by an equal amount.

3. Even though you know how to use a chartplotter, never leave the dock without a compass onboard - and a basic understanding of how to use it. One rule of modern electronics is that sooner or later, they will fail. And when they do, you'd better have a back-up plan for getting home.

Editor's note: this article was updated in June of 2017.

Written by: Lenny Rudow
With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld,, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.