Great website, I find it really helpful.

I have very little boating experience, having just bought an 18.5 foot open bow runabout. In August we are taking a week’s vacation on Hornby Island in the Strait of Georgia. I plan to trailer the boat there and use it around the island, finding small beaches and generally having fun. Me, the wife and 2 kids under 10.

My question: Do I need to buy charts etc. if I am not venturing far from the island? I do have concerns about rocks, but am not sure if charts will help me out with this. Do you know if Hornby and/or Denman are dangerous waters as far as rocks etc go? (That might be a stupid question.) We only plan to stay near the coast and use the boat for getting to beaches.

Any advice on things we need to consider is really appreciated.



Hi, Simeon,

Yes, you definitely need at least large-scale Chart 3527, Baynes Sound. Not only is there a lot of rock surrounding Hornby Island, but throughout the area there are drying shoals you should be aware of. Chart 3527 also shows Comox Harbour and the channel that leads to Courtenay, where the amazing Courtenay & District Museum, with its paleontology exhibit, is located. You and the kids can see the reconstructed skeleton of a 40-foot-long, 80-million-year-old elasmosaur that was excavated from the banks of the nearby Puntlege River. The skeleton hangs from the ceiling, and it’s really quite remarkable.

I would also buy small-scale Chart 3513, Strait of Georgia, Northern Portion, for perspective. You wouldn’t use it very much, but for an added sense of place it would be useful. Judging from your e-mail address you’re in the U.S. Canadian charts are $20 apiece.

To help you understand what the charts mean, buy a copy of the Canadian Chart 1 (Chart No. 1 in the U.S.). All the symbols are explained. You’ll find, for example, that rocks are shown at least three different ways: rocks that dry to a certain height at zero tide; rocks awash at zero tide; and rocks 2 meters (or 6 feet) or less beneath the surface at zero tide. Chart 1 is $9.95 U.S.

You definitely need a tide and current book. Currents won’t be important where you’ll be, but the times and heights of high and low tide will be critical. You won’t want to beach the boat at high tide and an hour later find yourself marooned because the tide has gone out. Conversely, you won’t want to beach the boat at low tide and find it inaccessible or even floating way when the tide comes in. Strait of Georgia tides are based on Point Atkinson, which will give you close-enough times for high and low. The privately-produced Ports & Passes tide book shows corrected times and heights for Comox Harbour as well. Comox Harbour heights are a little different than those shown for Point Atkinson.

If your boat isn’t fitted with a VHF radio, at least buy and carry a hand-held VHF radio. If you get in trouble, the VHF radio is how you’ll call for help, including the Coast Guard. You’ll also use it to monitor the weather predictions, updated several times daily. Wind is the enemy, as is fog.

I assume your boat has a compass. I would urge that you have it adjusted by a compass adjuster, such as Island Marine Instrument. Unadjusted compasses can be off by quite a lot.

If you don’t already have a copy of the Waggoner, by all means get one. It will help you with all kinds of useful information about the area.

There’s a lot to this navigation business. Boats from small to large are advertised and sold as fun-filled, carefree toys, but remember that the skipper is fully and absolutely responsible for the welfare and safety of the vessel and crew. That’s an easy task on a calm sunny afternoon, but if the wind comes up and suddenly the water no longer is friendly, the kids will be scared and the wife will have that look on her face. If fog develops, you will be astonished at how lost you suddenly are. You do not want to say you didn’t think you’d need charts or a radio, or guidance to someplace to run for cover. Don’t think that because your boat is small or you’ll be using it for only a week that it – and you – don’t need charts, radio, life jackets and the other requirements for safe and responsible operation. Storms aside, most calls for help come from ill-equipped and ill-run small boats on nice summer days.

Bob Hale

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