Thursday, October 15, 2015


15 October 2015: For generations, off shore sailors, navigators, and even shore-bound explorers relied on the use of a sextant and the resulting mathematical (Trigonometry) calcutations to determine where on the surface of the earth, water or land, they might be at any given time.

Of course, if heavenly bodies (stars, moon, and sun) were not available, they used deduced reckoning (generally called "ded reckoning" NOT "dead" reckoning!) and hoped the clouds would dissipate before too long. The art, and yes, it was an art, faded into the background with the advent of modern GPS (global position satellites) and sophisticated electronics. Ultimately, the United States Naval Academy quit teach celestial navigation, taking it entirely out of their curriculum in the late '90's. (they had made it an elective course before they totally dropped it). And let's face it, the math and use of a sextant are both challenging and don't come easily to most. Good choice, dropping a difficult course, right? Maybe not!

Then someone woke up and thought, "OK, what happens if we lose electricity on the vessel or the bad guys take out our satellites? We could meander aimlessly around the seas with little or no idea of where we are." So, enter the lowly sextant and its required and inherent position finding skills called trigonometry ... again!

The use of tables required to reduce the angles found by the use of a sextant can neither be hacked nor put out of action by cyber attack, nor can the sextant. And, while the position rendered after many minutes (if you're good!) calculating is a good deal less accurate (inside a 1.5 mile circle is considered acceptable) just knowing pretty much where you are could save your life and that of your shipmates should the unthinkable happen. And until it does - if it does - the electronic forms of navigation will still be available to navigators.

Interestingly, the Naval Academy is looking to the United States Merchant Academy (Kings Point, NY) to help reinstate the celestial navigation program; the Merchant Marine Academy never quit teaching it.

So, future Naval Academy midshipmen, don't drop high school math; you're gonna need it beginning with the class of 2017! And besides, what's saltier than using a sextant to find your position in the middle of the ocean!

Until next time, (and we figure out where we are!)

                                    Fair winds!
                                        Old Salt

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