Basic Navigation Tools: What Every Vessel Should Have

No matter your experience level or if you are driving a small runabout or piloting an 80′ yacht, keeping a safe distance from others on the water is important. Navigational tools can help you accomplish this by providing information about nearby vessels and their identification. A quick look at the chart of waters where you will be operating can also give you important information about what kinds of traffic to expect for that area, such as commercial traffic, fishing boat, shrimpers, police boats, etc. This can help you plan your operation and stay within the regulations and best practices.


The compass is the simplest and most basic navigation tool. It’s a small magnetized needle that points to the magnetic north pole, which is different from the true north. The difference between the two is called variation. The variation depends on where you are in the world and how far away you are from magnetic north.

Always check your compass for accuracy before heading out on the water if you’re using GPS or another electronic navigation system.


A GPS, or global positioning system, uses satellites to determine your position. It’s a navigation tool that is typically used in cars and trucks but can also be used for boats. The device will allow you to see your location and navigate around obstacles.

There are three types of GPS systems: active, passive, and differential. Active GPS requires an active source of power to operate; passive does not. Differential GPS uses signals from multiple satellites to determine your position more accurately than an active system can by itself.

A typical marine-grade GPS receiver includes a touchscreen display with an interface that is easy to use while wearing gloves or operating the vessel in rough weather conditions. The screen may also include maps of surrounding areas so you can see where you are going before arriving there. You can get these navigation tools and Boat Parts from PartsVu!

Depth Sounders

You can find depth sounders in the cockpit of many boats and on the bow. They’re typically used to measure water depth but can also measure water temperature and salinity.

Depth Sounders are typically mounted on an arm or pole that extends out over the water so that they can be used to read depths without getting wet. They often use a cable or wire to connect with other instruments, such as a compass or a  GPS.

Depth Sounders are essential for marine navigation because they allow you to read water depth accurately and quickly. With this information, you can make sure your boat stays in shallow enough waters so that it doesn’t run aground on rocks or sandbars; this is especially important if you’re navigating in shallow waters where there may be strong currents pushing against your boat.


A radar is a navigation tool that uses electromagnetic waves to detect the proximity of other objects and to measure the speed and direction of objects to the boat. In addition to providing information on other boats, radar can also detect land features, such as shorelines or buoys.

The radar display shows the distance and relative bearing from the boat to other objects in the water, as well as their speeds. The size and shape of these symbols vary depending on the range of your boat.

VHF Radio

The VHF radio is a vital tool for navigation. It allows you to communicate with other vessels and receive weather information. The VHF radio also has a digital display that can show the waypoints of your route and the position of other boats in your area.

Horn or Whistle

A horn or whistle is another vital tool in your navigation arsenal. You can use it to signal other boats, especially when no other visual cues are available.

Visual Signals

While using sound signals is common and recommended, visual signals are a great way to communicate with other vessels when the sounds of your engine can’t be heard. The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) require that all vessels carry an international code flag. Still, you can use many other types of visual signals on your boat.

A Chartplotter

A Chartplotter displays information on a map, including water depth and other area features. It can also include information on nearby marinas, other boats, their movement, and weather patterns. You can use this tool to plan your route before you go out on the water.

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