Introduction to Navigation Part 3 Definitions

The following navigation terms are used in most recognized navigational texts. Learning and understanding what they mean will give you a head start on the information that is to be presented in later chapters. Don’t worry about memorizing all these at this time. You will get plenty of exposure to these terms as you advance through the course.

These basics are covered in the online Nautical Know How Coastal Navigation  Course at .

Piloting is defined as the determination of the position and the direction of the movements of a vessel. This involves frequent or continuous reference to landmarks, aids to navigation, and depth sounding.

Direction is the orientation of an imaginary line joining one point to another without regard to the distance between them. Direction is measured in angular units of arc, measured in degrees, from a common reference whether it be true north or magnetic north. The usual reference is true north. The division of the degree may be either minutes and seconds or decimal fractions. Direction is written with three digits as in 000°.

Distance is the separation between two points without regard to direction. In navigation it is measured by the length of a line on the surface of the earth from one point to the other. It may be measured in units of yards, nautical miles or kilometers. The nautical mile is commonly used by navigators. The international nautical mile is 6076.12 feet. This is approximately 1.15 longer than the statute mile used on land.

Time is written as four digits in a 24 hour system; four minutes after midnight is 0004, 9:32 AM would be written as 0932 and 1:16 PM would be written as 1316.

Speed is defined as the rate of movement, and in navigation is usually measured in nautical miles per hour, or knots. The time element is included in the definition of “knot”; the use of knots (kts) per hour is incorrect. Speed is represented on your chart as “S”. Example S = 7.5 kts.

Dead Reckoning (DR) is the projection of a present position to an anticipated future position. This is done by using a previous known position and applying known direction, speed and distance covered. The term comes from deduced reckoning which was abbreviated ded reckoning. DR plots are done at a minimum of every hour or when ever you change course or speed. A new DR plot line is started each time a new “known position” is found.

Course is the direction of travel through the water or the direction a vessel is to be steered or is being steered. The course may be designated as true (T), magnetic (M), or compass (C). Course is always written in three digits and is followed by the abbreviation of its source. Example C = 090° T

Bearing is the direction of any place or object from a given point. It may be designated as true (T), magnetic (M), compass (C) or relative (R). It is always written in three digits and is followed by the abbreviation of its source. Example B = 270° T

Heading is the direction the vessel points or heads at any instant as read from your compass. It is always written in three digits. Example HDG = 270°

Fix is a known location at a specific time based on verifiable information and carrying a high degree of accuracy. Example:  0900

Running Fix is a known location at a specific time, with a lesser degree of accuracy than a fix. It is based on information obtained from a single event at two different times and plotted as a common time. Example:  R Fix 0900

Electronic Fix is a fix obtained from one or more electronic devices. Example:  0900

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