GPS units are great. Use one. Be proficient with your particular unit. If thru-paddling the CT, reference the trail data book or use Google Earth to find the GPS coordinates of every significant landmark, campsite, resupply point, fresh water source, et cetera along your route and load these into your GPS unit as waypoints before the trip starts, and then mark these waypoints on paper maps!
GPS units have batteries that die, software that crashes, watertight designs that fail, and a propensity to sink if they fall overboard. Do not rely solely on a GPS unit to navigate. Instead, use one in tandem with old-fashioned nautical charts and maps printed on paper.
For trips on Florida’s coasts, use nautical charts from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. The charts in 1:40,000 scale are great for kayaking, but are not available for
the entire coastline. When 1:40,000 is not available, use the next size up: 1:80,000 scale.
Rather than having descriptive names, NOAA charts are identified by numbers. You can find these at boating stores like West Marine and online. I used the following NOAA charts during my circumnavigation:
Pensacola to Big Bend Big Bend to New Port Richey
N.P. Richey to Everglades & Keys Lower Keys Miami to Jacksonville
11411 11445 11489
11425 11446 11485
While electronic versions of these maps are available online, it is important to have paper copies during your trip. I bought my copies online: 20 maps @ $19.96 each = $399.20. Yikes. That's a
lot of money, right? Yes, and it’s worth it. Do not rely on the free trail maps from the Circumnavigational Trail website. They are not detailed enough.
When I was preparing for my circumnavigational trip, the biggest task I undertook was the mapping of every waypoint for every stop, landmark, and navigational aid along the route. It involved finding locations using Google Earth, then copying and pasting the GPS coordinates into a Word document. That document became my data book, a quick-reference mileage chart that I laminated and kept in my deck bag. It listed almost 500 sites along the coastline, what services were available (water, groceries, hotel, camping, et cetera), the mileage between each site, and the GPS coordinates. I then pre-programmed my GPS unit with these 500 waypoints.
There is now a data book available from the state. Download the PDF here. I recommend laminating a copy and keeping it in your deck bag.
Thru-paddle alumnus Warren Johnson has created a Google Earth map of the trail, complete with waypoints, which is available at http://lifeat2mph.com/gm/fct/
GPS coordinates come in three formats:
For example, these coordinates are written differently, but refer to the same campsite at the north end of Anclote Key on Florida's Gulf Coast:
The formatting of coordinates in Google Earth can be changed by going to Tools and then Options. To change the formatting in your handheld GPS unit, refer to its user's manual. If for some reason you need to translate coordinates from one format to another manually, click on the calculator icon above to use the Latitude & Longitude Coordinate Converter.
The official circumnavigational guide from the state uses the Decimal Degrees format. For my Suwanee River data book, I used Degrees, Minutes, & Seconds. Either way, when entering waypoints from a data book into your GPS unit, simply select the correct format from your GPS's menu, then copy and paste the coordinates.
At the moment, there is no CT paddling guidebook that provides information about services located within walking distance of beaches and riverfronts. These kinds of guidebooks exist for thru-hikers on the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails—like the classic Wingfoot AT guide. They provide small maps of trail towns, locate the businesses and services relevant to the thru-hiker, provide the phone numbers, websites, hours of operation, pet restrictions, et cetera for each business/service, and even provide reviews about how “hiker-friendly” each establishment is.
However, the State of Florida's circumnavigational guide will never include this information because the Florida government wants to avoid the appearance of endorsement or favoritism toward
certain businesses. I cannot maintain this kind of information on this site because that would be a full-time job and I run this site as a hobby. So it’s up to you to do the research and make the
maps yourself (see below).
But Mike, I have an iPhone. I’ll just pull up Google maps when I get into a town.
Not if the battery is dead. Not if it’s raining. Not if you don’t get a signal -- which will happen more often than you’d expect, even in town. Not if your wet hands have frozen stiff. Not if you need to know something out on the water while waves are slapping you in the face. Not if the wind is so strong you can’t stop paddling without being blown 100 yards in the wrong direction…
You get my point.
There are other practical considerations too. Sitting in your tent on a beach at night, you need to be able to spread multiple town maps out and compare quickly, at a glance, the services in various upcoming towns. The next two towns may have hotels but only a food mart, aka a gas station, rather than a full-service grocery. How tired are you? Should you stop and rest or try to push on to the town with a grocery? These kind of logistical questions are best made slowly, thoughtfully, with multiple pages of information present simultaneously—not possible when using a smart phone that's losing battery power every minute.
What follows below is an explanation of my solution to this dilemma:
The wonderful consequence of Florida’s settlement history means the oldest part of town is usually closest to the water, while new development is farther inland. So near the beaches, towns are neat and compact and easy to get around on foot.
To the right is an example of what I did for each coastal town on the CT. I printed a Google map and annotated it with information relevant to the thru-paddler, which includes:
- hotels - grocery stores
- hostels - post offices
- marinas - libraries
- bars - laundromats
- internet cafes - places of interest
Once I had finished this task, I paired printouts and glued them together to create double-sided pages. I then trimmed the upper left corners of these pages and had them laminated at a local copy store. I used a hole punch to place a hole in the corner where the page had been trimmed and because the paper had been trimmed, the laminate remained intact and watertight. Then to create a book, I threaded each of the laminated pages together with a key ring.
Do this, and you will have a waterproof, quick-reference book that you can keep in your deck bag.
You should also print out, annotate, and laminate campground maps. Often you will spend the night at state, local, or private campgrounds that have designated tent sites and charge a fee. Since tenting will be by the water but the park office where they take your money is at the entrance road, having a site map in hand allows you to find a tent site, set up, then go pay, rather than wander all over the park confused.
The file available for download to the right is a 101-page set of PDF maps for all the campgrounds, parks, and towns along the CT. You will have to annotate them yourself, however.