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Emergency NavigationTitle: Emergency Navigation, second edition
Author: David Burch
Copyright: © 2008
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
ISBN-13: 978-0-07-148184-7

Relevance: Emergency Navigation is helpful for anyone who could conceivably be lost without a source of safe navigation likely while on the water. The book is helpful for any reporter covering safety, boating including sailing, as well as news stories entailing water rescues or sea disasters.

Review: Many of us on staff are keen boaters and active outdoor enthusiasts yet we have never seen a more detailed and helpful book concerned with maritime and, to a much less extent, land-based navigation than this book.

While it is true that many modern-day conveniences make navigation whether it’s involving familiar coastal waterways or ocean voyages seem much easier and safer, the reality as any reporter knows is that electronic devices can fail without warning and for the unprepared, without backup.

In a nutshell, this is author David Burch’s main thesis: that any safe sailor with a minimum of training and a few easily carried aids can navigate to safety, no matter what the situation, weather or other opposing factors.

A reviewer from Yachting Magazine said that “anyone venturing offshore should read this book thoroughly” and to this we would heartily agree. In fact, we would add it is far more useful to read and study the techniques described in Emergency Navigation well before the need to exercise the knowledge arises. Rather than blindly trusting your GPS or beacon-based distance locators, the skills and strategies described in Emergency Navigation can easily save your life and the lives of all the passengers on your boat should the worst case scenario unfold.

Burch describes twelve easy steps that form the basis of emergency navigation. Some of these suggestions are very basic: know where you are at all times to the best of your ability, and always wear a watch and keep track of the rate at which it gains or loses time. Burch points out quite rightly that a wristwatch is the most important piece of emergency navigation gear anyone can have onboard.

The author now sets forth a series of chapters that should be required reading for every skipper and first mate on any boat. These include finding your time and place at sea, directions (including choosing a route, compass checks and steering without a compass), and steering by wind and swells.

Next up, we have steering by the stars which is a fascinating look into how even basic astronomy can improve one’s chances of survival at sea (or indeed on land if in a similar situation) by simply understanding how the earth's celestial movements relate to the stars above. Consequently, Burch outlines strategies for steering by the North Star, how stars "move", the Summer Triangle, the Great Square of Pegasus, and steering by such well known objects as Orion, Gemini, Procyon, Scorpio, the Southern Cross, Overhead Stars, and by the Zenith Stars.

Steering by the Sun is up next including many tricks to figure out sunrise and sunset, morning sun and afternoon sun, and local apparent noon. For sailors in the tropics and those who keep their traveling to mostly equatorial latitudes, Burch often mentions helpful shortcuts for these regions.

We found the chapter titled, Steering by Other Things in the Sky particularly interesting. Besides the wind, stars and sun, these include the moon, close by planets, clouds, birds and even planes, and for those of us blessed with truly good vision, satellites. Burch does a very good job as well in describing various navigational strategies when conditions are adverse such as how to steer in fog or under cloudy skies and what to do with various types of ocean currents. Although every chapter could be a life saver, we found the chapters explaining dead reckoning, finding one’s latitude and longitude at sea as well as coastal piloting particularly useful.

We thought Emergency Navigation an extremely useful book and especially so if one takes the author’s advice to study the science and art of the subject before one needs it. We found Burch’s explanations as to the science of navigation involved very useful although it certainly would have helped to have additional examples for beginning sailors. As well, the book might have benefited from some quick emergency lists or tips for the mariners who weigh anchor without fully investing the hours (or days) required to read the book and study its contents. Highly recommended for any sailor, mariner, outdoors person or reporter who wants to know the various ways to survive at sea without apparent means of navigation and to understand what happens when one doesn’t have these skills.

End of Review

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