The only people that still talk about why Celestial Navigation is needed are grizzled old sailors, and us. We still talk about it because, the old tried and true method of navigation can’t let you down. It is a great way to learn and enjoy a new skill while sailing and gives you a backup plan in the worst case scenario.
The first argument that comes to mind is, what if your GPS fails? This is a reality that cannot be ignored. Saltwater and electronics get along like pigs in mud. On a boat we marry expensive electronics and saltwater together. Not only do you need to worry about keeping your equipment dry and clean, you also need to make sure they stay charged. If your generator or engine stops working due to bad fuel, lack of compression, electrical gremlins or any other myriad of reasons, you lose access to your GPS. Now what?
At this point you might be thinking ‘Yeah well I don’t have time to learn about Celestial Navigation’. Celestial Navigation is easier to learn and understand than most people think. You need a pencil, paper, a sextant, an Almanac, and a watch. And of course, your pick of celestial bodies. Dive in and learn a skill that helped old world conquerors cross oceans without any electronic guidance. Just a belief that the sun, moon, and stars would guide them safely home. As a sailor, you chose to avoid commercialized ways of travel, to get away from it all. So why not jump in all the way and really escape it? Learn a technique that will make you more confident on the seas, but also put you in the upper echelon of sailors! How many sailors do you really know that can whip out a sextant and plot your course? At worst you’ll learn a beautiful new skill, at best you’ll save your boat and crew from disaster someday.
Finally, the worst-case scenario. Your GPS is hacked or spoofed. I know this may seem like an out of this world problem, but it is happening with more and more frequency. Just this year, a flight from Hong Kong to Manila lost their GPS systems and the pilots were told to find the runway with their eyes (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gps-is-easy-to-hack-and-the-u-s-has-no-backup/). Do you think you could find land without destroying your boat if you didn’t have GPS? There have been over 50 cases of jammed GPS signals at Manila airport alone. So why does everyone rely on a system that can be so easily overridden? Even the US Navy has gone back to teaching Celestial Navigation to it’s cadets (http://www.astronomy.com/news/2016/09/celestial-navigation-is-returning-to-the-naval-academy-cirriculum). Take a page from the Navy’s book and learn to have a backup. Any prudent sailor should always make sure to collect and learn all the possible resources needed to make their journey a safe one.
Check out our video below on the basics of time and how important it becomes when navigating using celestial bodies
Learn more about Celestial Navigation with Victoria Sailing School’s ASA107 (Celestial Navigation) and ASA117 (Celestial Endorsement) classes. Our online classes can be taken from anywhere, at any time. We have live webinars starting in February every year, but students can also follow the course on their own time any time of year.