It’s possible to pinpoint one’s location to within a kayak’s length anywhere in the world thanks, inadvertently, to those trigger–happy vodka–swilling Soviets.
The GPS system we use so commonly today was first made available by the US military to civilian markets in 1984 as a result of Russia and her henchmen’s illustrious history of shooting down civilian airliners.
Each time it happened the Russians would claim the airliners had strayed off route and, being mistaken for military planes, were a perceived threat to national security.
Russia’s illustrious history
– Shot down: 1955 El Al Flight 402 Lockheed Constellation from London to Lod
– Shot down: 1978 Korean Flight KAL902 Boeing 707. Paris to Seoul via Anchorage
– Shot down: 1983 Korean Flight KAL007 Boeing 747 Jumbo. NY to Seoul via Anchorage
– Shot down: 2014 Malaysian Flight MH17 over the Ukraine
Russia’s illustrious present
Unfortunately the peacocking behaviour continues to this day with Malaysian airline MH17 being most recently shot down over the Ukraine in July 2014 by Russian made, supplied and controlled Surface to Air Missiles (SAM).
Thanks to the availability of GPS, no longer can a nation falsely and conveniently claim a civilian airliner has crossed a geopolitical line.
GPS gives latitude and longitude coordinates anywhere on the globe in any weather conditions, at night or day so long as the handset is in line of sight of the sky. The GPS system can also give speed, direction and altitude readings.
The joy of GPS is its telling the sea kayaker where he or she is going as opposed to just the course they are on.
Just because a kayakis following a bearing it does not mean it will end up at the intended destination because Speed Over Ground and Course Over Ground are both affected by wind, tide and current.
So long as your GPS handset is switched to the correct datum for the area in which you paddle (Ordnance Survey [OS] Datum for the UK), coordinates can be given to contacts onshore so they may know your location.
Batteries not included
It is important to remember that electronic systems fail.
A GPS handset should not be relied upon as a sole means of navigation – a boat compass, a sea chart, a land map and a good understanding of local tides, currents and weather is a must for kayaking at sea.
However, as much as I love studying a good map, GPS is a wonderful gadget — thank you Russia.