It feels a bit silly to be writing this, because I keep thinking everyone knows how great Google Earth is as a basic navigation tool when you’re planning a cruise. But when I mention it to a lot of my experienced powerboating and sailing friends, they give me a blank stare.
After all, most of them have invested in good chartplotters and integrated nav systems and all that. Well, so have I, but I have to say it’s hard to beat sitting at my desk with a big monitor, loading up Google Earth, and plotting a complete cruise with the best satellite imagery in the civilian world and really simple, intuitive screen tools. For free.
In case you haven’t tried it yet, here’s what to do:
1. Click on the little ruler icon above the image. Choose Nautical Miles from the pull-down menu, and the Path tab on top.
2. Left-click your mouse on your starting point, then create a path to your destination, clicking intermediate points around turns, bends in the river, etc. The mileage will add up in the Rule dialogue box. If you mess something up you can drag the intermediate points around. It’s as simple as that. And your latitude and longitude are shown wherever your cursor tip is.
3. Toggle on and off the points of interest in Google Earth’s Layers menu bar. (Turn off Borders and Labels to declutter the screen.) The Ocean submenu shows Shipwrecks, Marine Protected Areas, Animal Tracking, dive sites, weather buoy data– all sorts of cool stuff.
4. Cross-reference with Google Search and Google Maps. Because Google Maps is integrated with Google Earth, you can enter a street address — for instance the address for a dockside restaurant in the next state that you’ve been meaning to visit by boat — and mouse-navigate to or from there.
You definitely should not rely on Google Earth as a primary nav tool. For that you need a good GPS/plotter/sounder system and all the dedicated marine data it comes with — but when you’re at home or in the office with a good-sized monitor, a comfortable chair, and a notepad next to you, you can get a lot of cruise planning done with Google Earth.