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Kayak Navigation Basics

In this guide we will cover plotting a course, calculating distance and finding compass headings for paddling a route around Lake Union in Seattle.


The first step to plotting a course is to pick a proper map for what you are doing and where you are going. Ideally the map will have not only the physical shapes and characteristics of the area you are planning on paddling but also have a scale in nautical miles as well as a compass rose for finding compass headings. Many maps also have information on where you can launch and land your kayak.  The above pictures are both maps of Lake Union but they contain a vastly different amount of relevant navigational information.


With an appropriate map picked out, it's time to collect the other things needed to plot a course. First a spare piece of paper for making a nautical mile ruler we can move around our map to find paddling distances between points. To find compass headings we will need a parallel ruler.

Using the edge of a piece of paper, a pencil, and the Nautical Mile scale in the bottom right of the Lake Union map start by making a Nautical Mile ruler you can move over the map, when complete it should look like this:

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