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EscapeArtist 06-06-2002 09:37 AM

Celestial Navigation? Forget it!
Today, Sailnet posted an article by Liza Copeland about the hazards of cruising.

The first third of the article was about navigation, wherein she declared that it was dangerous to "rely solely on electronic navigation." This is about the thousandth time I''ve heard this over the past few years.

In 20 years sextants will be rarer on boats than lubber lines are today. The reason: learning celestial navigation is a waste of time and money.

I have three GPSs on my boat. I didn''t buy three GPSs on purpose, but they''ve accumulated over the years. They never seem to fail, and the space required for the spares and spare batteries is tiny.

The problems with CN are: a it requires considerable skill and continuous practice to use it. It requires an extraordinarily expensive piece of optics to get even the fuzziest of fixes, it depends on a complex set of calculations, and -- here''s the topper -- a sextant is just as vulnerable -- in its own way as a piece of electronics. I''ve dropped my GPSs dozens of times (I guess eventually I''ll kill one); I wonder how many drops a sextant could take and still get a fix withing 1000 miles of position? If you drop it overboard, I guess the number of drops is 1. How many people can keep a spare $1500 sextant on board?

So, sorry to everyone that spent time mastering CN, and have dropped a lot of money on sextants. Your skills are no longer required. They might be needed some day, in some rare situation, and then you''ll be vindicated. But probably not. You''ll carry the damn thing around with you from now on, and keep looking at your GPS when you want to know where you are.

OK, all you grizzled sextant-totin'' old salts out there, let me have it. I can take it.

Jeff_H 06-06-2002 03:17 PM

Celestial Navigation? Forget it!
And are you trying to say that this is not intended as a troll?

-While at some level I agree that for what most sailors do, which is primarily coastal in nature, Celestial Navigation has no place at all, and,
-while I agree that if not practiced can be quickly fogotten,(I for one doubt that I could still do celestial naviagtion without a refresher and some serious practice),
-While I agree that the sextant, reference books and forms are expensive,

I still think that celestial navicagtion is not that hard to learn, can provide a valuable back-up in the case of the kind of total electrical system melt downs that do happen at sea and should be there as a back up.


elfexor 06-07-2002 04:59 AM

Celestial Navigation? Forget it!
Although I do not get to sail as often as I would like (especially during the last 6 years) as I am curently driving an 18-wheeler around the country. I still keep up with my CN skills by periodically using a sextant I picked up in a pawn shop over 25 years ago.

Navigation has gotten far easier over the years but it is not quite idiot-proof yet. GPS''s are great and wonderful tools, but batteries go bad electronics do break and if you are in the middle of the Atlantic or Pacific when things go South it is nice to know that you can figure out where you are.

When I eventually do get to follow my dream of circumnavigation you can bet that I will have my old sextant on board and another plastic one in my ditch-kit because one never knows when Murphy may try and board.


tsenator 06-07-2002 10:49 AM

Celestial Navigation? Forget it!

I agree with you on most points with the whole thing about using sextants and CN. Especially if you are doing Coastal Cruising. But if I was going world cruising I think I would have a Sextant, a book on its use with calculation #''s and maybe a brief course before I go out on that long cruise. But you are right, the odds of needing it are slim. BUT you never know and what if something happens to all your GPS''s or Batteries or The Satelites...(I know.,...unlikely). But it would be nice to have a fall back, especially if your boat took a roll and flooded everything in the boat and the GPS''s failed. Don''t think this can never happen, because on a nasty day navigating home my Garmin 48 "bit the dust" (Of course it was a nasty, foggy and rainy day....those are the days when you really need it) So I had to "Dead Reckon" the rest of the way home, which wasn''t too much of a problem.

But that is the whole point. My fear is that too many boaters are going out there with no knowledge at all of navigation. Some don''t even have charts, all the have is chartplotters and use the thing like a AAA roadmap. Now I am not putting down electronics or chartplotters...I LOVE THEM. I have a full color Raytheon RL70CRC and it greatly enhances my sailing pleasure and lessens the stress. But you know what. If I lost all my electronics I could home fine with just my charts and the compass, even in nasty weather. Yeah, it would be a pain, especially relative to what I do now, but I could do it.

But how many people can do that. Even though electronics are wonderful they are not infallible and maybe *that* is why Liza Copeland wrote that it was dangerous to "rely solely on electronic navigation." A skipper should be able to verify what the electronics "say" to what the eyes are telling you, he should constantly be able have that "warm & fuzzy" feeling that what he see''s electronically matches what he actually see''s and if they don''t match up he should figure out why.

True story. July 3rd, 2000 sailing from Long Island Sound to NY Harbor to see the OP Sails Tall Ships Parade. I had my GPS on and it was sometimes giving me readings of 1/2 mile off. It was easy to see because I was 40 yards off of the "Stepping Stones Light" but that is NOT what the GPS said. It was easy to see that my GPS was giving readings outside of the "normal". I had come to learn that because of all the Navy Ships that will be in the Harbour and I think the President the next day, that the government was inducing errors into the GPS. It wasn''t a problem for me, because I was able to "see" where I was going. But what about those boaters that are relying exclusively on electronics to get them where they are going. There is a good chance once in a while that its going to be off and that will put them in a lot of trouble....BTW even with WAAS, the government can induce errors.

So remember sextants are not always needed for boaters but some OTHER NON_ELECTRONIC means of navigating and the skills required are necessary. (Coastal Navigation, Dead Reckoning in cases of limited visibilty, etc?)

928frenzy 06-07-2002 11:34 AM

Celestial Navigation? Forget it!
Even though I have a very nice GPS, I still dust off the ole sextant once a month. I do it mostly for mental exersice, but it''s nice to know that in a pinch I could still find my way around.

BTW, the military still controls the signals sent by all navigational satilites. In an emergency situation, they can render all non-military GPS systems completely useless.

Murphy may not need to get on board, he can be thrust upon you. As far as I know, the military has not yet figured out how to control the Sun, Moon, and Stars. ;^)

~ Happy sails to you ~

MaryBeth 06-08-2002 12:57 AM

Celestial Navigation? Forget it!

I am 38 years old. You calling me old? LOL

You don''t have to plop down a lot of money on a dusty sextant to have one. I have one, land-locked tho I am at the moment, that was a second to a friend of mine. And yes, I will have a sextant onboard any time I am at sea. I do not consider the time spent "wasted", especially since I learned the ''whole bunch of crap'' before I found out there are calculators that will take your readings and do the calculations for you. The calculators are nice to have, but - what if there are no batteries, no electricity? What happens if, God forbid, you are at sea and the powers that be shut down the satellites, or there is an electromagnetic pulse to render the electricity useless? You gonna blow around trying to dead reckon 3,000 miles out?

Never ridicule anyone for their knowledge just because you can''t do the same. Instead, try to learn the same and not brag about what you can pay for. If batteries are worthless, what good is your money?

And, last of all, if everyone drops everything overboard and all the equipment sinks, who will be better able to figure where they are - someone who has been looking at a screen (which is no longer there at all), or someone who has been looking to the skies - which remain unchanged?


Snap 06-08-2002 06:11 AM

Celestial Navigation? Forget it!
Total electrical failures possible? Even with 9+ levels of electrical redundancy aboard modern day aircraft and their magical glass cockpits you still find a needle, ball and airspeed. Wonder if the engineers were thinking that they''d just throw them in for nostalgia''s sake or they thought that maybe there was a possibility that electricity really could fail - totally. If you''re gonna take your frail human body into areas where survival depends upon your skill at using what''s at hand I think it would be prudent to back yourself up by having as many things ''at hand'' as you feel you have the skill to use. If not a sextant there are other "back-ups" as mentioned in previous posts that will help keep you a self-sufficient and safe seaman.


Dana125 06-10-2002 07:07 AM

Celestial Navigation? Forget it!
I agree with the premise that sole reliance on electronic navigation equipment is a dangerous (and foolish) approach to seamanship.

Jeff & Tsenator are right on.

The gov''t isn''t about to announce in advance when it''s going to degrade the GPS signal.

For coastal cruising, familiarity and basic competency with chart reading and plotting, compasses, tidal analyis and dead reckoning are some of the hallmarks of sound seamanship. Being comfortable without a GPS on board should be the goal.

CN fits into the picture for offshore passagemaking. I sure would want someone on board who is competent at CN.

gnorbury 06-12-2002 10:45 AM

Celestial Navigation? Forget it!
On a very recent Saturday morning (Memorial Day weekend I think), both of my onboard GPS units refused fix because they had 0% signal strength for ALL satellites.

Since I''ve never seen this happen before, I can only assume I was either right underneath a huge cloud sucking the life out of the sateliite transmissions, or the military were making some "adjustments" to their signal.


MaryBeth 06-12-2002 09:43 PM

Celestial Navigation? Forget it!

I notice no other posts from EscapeArtist. Perhaps he/she is either a GPS or sextant salesperson in disguise?


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