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Methods of Position Plotting.

This article offers an overview of common methods of coastal position plotting. A navigation manual should be consulted for in depth analysis of the procedures. Any coastal feature that can be seen by the navigator, can be used for position finding. The conscientious seafarer should practice these methods whenever opportunity arises, as the value of any method depends on being able to determine position promptly. The Cross Bearing Fix is probably the most common for position finding at greater distances from shore, when smaller coastal features are indiscernable. Other methods will be more appropriate under varying circumstances. Click on each for details.

Cross Bearing Fix. Bearing and Loom. Position Lines. Running Fix. Running Fix on Two Objects. Doubling the Angle on the Bow. Bearing and Depth. Course to Steer in Advance.

Cross Bearing Fix. The small craft fixed magnetic compass is essential for navigation, and while it can be used to get an approximate line of sight bearing on a fixed object, the hand held magnetic compass, or hand held electronic type is essential for accuracy. Bearing sights on at least 3 fixed objects should be taken over the widest arc and over the shortest period of time to obtain a position fix. Try to take the bearing most abeam of the vessel, last. Write down the sights taken (compass bearings) and convert to true bearings by applying variation and deviation. Remember that because we are converting from compass to true, the mathematics will be opposite to converting from true to compass. If these are East, then add the corrections. If West, subtract the corrections. Apply the true sightings to the chart as follows. Remember that deviation is for the vessels heading, not for the bearing of the object. a. For each true bearing obtained, set the parallel rule on a compass rose, step the 'sight' to pass through the observed point, and lay off a line at the approximate vessel position. Repeat for the other 'sights'. b. Alternatively use the square protractor, centering it on each observed point, to lay off each line of sight. The vessel is on all lines of sight and therefore must be at the point of intersection of the three lines. Due to unavoidable errors the resulting diagram will be in the form of a triangle or cocked hat. If the cocked hat is small, its centre may be taken as being the position of the vessel. However, to err on the side of caution, the point of the triangle closest to danger should be taken as the position of the vessel. Often, a consistently large triangle indicates an error in the hand bearing compass, possibly due to unsuspected deviation. Take bearings well away from any possible ship board magnetic influence.

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Bearing and Loom. This accurate fix can be used only when an object is on the horizon. Most bearings of this type would be taken of the light of a lighthouse breaking the horizon line. Land just visible on the horizon could be just as useful during the day, although not as accurate. Determine the loom ( glare ) of the suspected charted light. At the moment the light breaks the horizon, take its bearing and note the time. Correct for compass error, and plot on the chart and label. From the chart, note the height of the light, and determine the height of your eye during the observation. Determine the distance of the light from the | Height - Distance Tables. | Mark your actual position on the chart with the time. See also | Distance to Horizon. |
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Position Lines. Fixes involve the use of position lines. A position line may be defined as a line on some point of which, a vessel can be presumed to be located, as a result of measurement or observation. e.g. If a vessel is approaching the Gladstone Fairway beacon at night, on the leads, it is holding a course of 224 deg. 15' true, and is on a position line. Another position line could be plotted by compass bearing on the adjacent Clews Point or East Point lights. The intersection of these lines ' fixes' the position of the vessel.

Aligning two objects on shore with the vessel gives an accurate position line called a transit. If a single compass bearing is taken on another object as the vessel transits, the intersection of the line and the transit line gives the vessel position. In all cases, plot the position and note the time. Position lines can be obtained from : Transits. Position circles from horizontal or vertical sextant angles. By range finder. Compass bearings of charted objects. Relative bearings. Bearings by Radio Direction Finder. Horizon ranges. Lines of soundings. Return to top.

Running Fix. The most widely used method of obtaining a fix, where there is only one prominent object in sight. Take the bearing of the object. Correct for compass error, plot, and note the time and speed log reading accurately. Maintain and note the true heading. After a suitable elapsed time, take a second bearing on the object, and note the log. Correct for compass error, plot, and find the distance run for the period between bearings. From the point where the first bearing line and course line intersects, lay off the distance run along the true course line - point A, the dead reckoned position. Place the parallel rules along the first bearing line and transfer it through point A. Where the transfered bearing line cuts the second bearing line is the fix or actual position of the vessel. Any difference between this position and point A is due to set/leeway.

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Running Fix on Two Objects. Sometimes it is not possible to take two bearings on the same navigation mark. The running fix can be adapted by transfering the first bearing taken of an object, to a second bearing taken of another object, to obtain a fix. Take the bearing of an object. Correct for compass error, plot, and note the time and speed log reading accurately. Maintain and note the true heading. After a suitable elapsed time, take a second bearing of another object, and note the distance run. Correct for compass error, plot, and find the distance run for the period between bearings. Plot the true course line so that it intersects both bearing lines. Mark the point where the course line intersects the first bearing line as A. Measure and mark the distance travelled between bearings at B. Transfer the first bearing line to pass through B. This intersection with the second bearing line is the fix or actual position. Again, any difference between the fix and point B is due to set/leeway.

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Doubling the Angle on the Bow. Similar to the running fix, but the geometry involves a simple isosceles triangle, i.e. the distance run will equal the distance from the object. It is a handy way of determining distance off when it is difficult to consult a chart. Take the bearing of an object and read the speed log accurately.

Calculate the relative bearing of the object, i.e the angle between the true heading and the bearing line. When the relative bearing is exactly double or half the first, note the log again. The distance run is the distance off the object on the second bearing.

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Bearing and Depth. Although not a particularly accurate fix, it can be useful when shore objects are scarce, or visibility is poor. Soundings and contour lines need to be clearly marked on the chart. Take the bearing of an object. Correct for compass error, plot, and label on the chart. Determine the depth of water, and transpose to the chart. N.B. allow for state of the tide above datum, and attempt to have the bearing line and depth contour line intersect close to 90 deg. Finding a Course to Steer in Advance. Clearing a known danger is an example of when it is essential to make good a given course, being mindful of tidal or current influences. A known hazard can be considered as being surrounded by a circle of danger, which the navigator must clear. Plot the intended track so the known danger is clearly avoided, line AC. From an origin point A, lay off the tide set to scale for one hour ( or a suitable time period ), to point B. With dividers, and center B, set one hour of boat speed, Sw, to cut the intended track at C. BC is the true heading to counteract the current. Convert to compass course and closely monitor vessel progress.

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