A Lesson In Having Navigational Gear Close At Hand

While my son and I were fishing on the Angelina River near Jasper, Texas, I learned a lesson on having navigational gear close at hand. What happened was, we followed a slough until it came to a main waterway.

Evinrude 30 HP outboard motor on the Neches River near Jasper, Texas

There were a couple of issues:

  • The waterway was overgrown with lily pads.
  • There were several connecting paths.
  • We needed a certain path to get back to the boat launch.
  • Using Google Earth I knew we needed to head East.
  • The time was 1:00 pm and shadows were straight down.
  • Neither my backpack, or the boat survival kit had a compass.
  • All I needed was a simple compass to know which direction was East.

My son and I were at an intersection with around five routes we could take. Due to the lily pads the boat had limited mobility. The motor had to be pulled up every few minutes to clean the lily pads off.

What we ended up doing was driving the boat in one direction, then checking Google earth with my phone.  Eventually I was put on the correct path and back to the boat launch we went.

Navigational Gear

The bad thing, I have dozens of cheap compasses bought off Ebay.  I also have TOPO maps of the entire area.

We could have turned around and took the slough back to where we came.  However, that would have added two hours to our day.   Working our way through the intersection was much faster, even if it took a few minutes to get our bearings.

Pocket Compass

To be perfectly honest, I thought all of my main backpacks had a compass on them.  Awhile back several pocket compasses were ordered off Ebay.  Over the past few months a pocket compass was used to go hiking with the dogs.

All of my packs were supposed to have either a pocket compass, or a map compass, or maybe even both.  However, for some reason the backpack taken on the boat did not have a compass, which means it did not have basic navigational gear.

Boat Survival Kit

Then there is the issue of the boat survival kit.  This kit contains basic tools and parts to work on the boat.  This means:

  • Wire cutters
  • Electrical tape
  • Pliers
  • Fuel line bulb
  • Fuel line replacement fittings
  • Hose clamps, including high pressure hose clamps
  • Screw drivers
  • Lighter
  • Chemlight
  • Cord
  • Insect repellent

There are a few other odds and ends in the survival kit, but the reader should get the gist of things.   The most common problem with outboard engines is the fuel line.  Either the fittings will lose their seal, the hose will burst, or the bulb will stop working.

Most of the items in the boat survival kit is based on fuel line repair.

If the fuel line can not be repaired, then hopefully the battery has enough juice to run the trolling motor.

As a last ditch resort, and the boater has to make land, then the survival kit has the basics to build a fire.

The one thing the boat survival kit did not have that I needed today, was a navigational gear.  Even a 50 cent pocket compass would have been nice.

Final Thoughts

I went on the boating trip today with a sense of complacency. I thought I knew the area, and I thought I knew it well. However, when my son and I ventured off into a slough I had never been through, my mental map was of little help.

Bee Tree slough on the Angelina River near Jasper, Texas

Rather than having a real TOPO map on hand and using it, I was forced to use a phone and Google Earth.

This has been a humbling experience which I hope will not be repeated.  Next time I venture off into an unknown area, I will have all of my navigational aids with me.