Hi George – interesting article, and very valid comments on all sides. I teach piloting, coastal nav, celestial nav and electronic nav, and have used all on numerous passages. However, we primarily use GPS – and keep a plot on paper and on MFDs. (paper charts is yet another discussion)
Some say that keeping a sextant onboard in case the GPS constellation dies is like keeping a horse in the garage in case the gasoline supply dries up.
– IF that constellation fails, it probably means global warfare – then you’ve likely got higher priorities than making a passage.
– Don’t forget that many mariners wear an electronic watch that relies on GPS signals for accurate timekeeping… essential for celestial navigation. If you’re relying on sextant vs GPS, then be sure to have a stand-alone chronometer.
It’s ironic that many people take sights with a sextant, then plug the readings into an app on their iPhone for the solution.
The more likely scenario (to GPS constellation failure) is a loss of power onboard, or malfunction of the MFD. In that case, you’ll probably have numerous other GPS-enabled devices onboard from which to derive a position (which may need to be plotted on paper, if an e-chart isn’t on one of those devices). Redundancy in power supply is essential then – battery packs and/or solar chargers for GPS devices, even in a liferaft.
I am an advocate of learning celestial navigation, not “in case the GPS fails”, but for the ability to master an ancient craft, learn the constellations, and have more to look forward to on watch.
A similar question might be posed, “ why do people like wooden boats when fiberglass or aluminum is more practical?” Perhaps it’s as simple as enjoying the classics – like celestial navigation.
All the best, Lisa
Hi George, I too have done a lot of celestial navigating, and I too carry extra plotters as backup. I actually miss the process. That said, it’s all technology: celestial was state of the art in its day and requires an accurate sextant, timepiece, skill, current books, and good weather. It may be traditional, but it’s by no means infallible technology. Is it a good backup? Probably.
Celestial Navigation is a skill, and like any skill it needs to be practiced. If not practiced regularly, can it really be trusted?
Call it like golf, you can’t play twice per year and expect to break 80. But playing twice per year and shooting 100 won’t put you on a reef.
Who is honestly going to practice these skills regularly with all the electronic resources at your command? My sextant hasn’t been out of a box in the basement in 20 years…..
Oak Brook, IL