Marine Navigational Equipment: The Sextant

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Is the sextant a carthorse in the 21st century?

The purpose of this report is to decide whether the sextant is outdated and effectively useless in the modern age or whether it still has a use in modern navigation. To decide this I explored modern navigation techniques, which is mostly done by global positioning systems, I researched the way that these work and the methodology behind the use of a sextant. The conclusion that I came to was that modern day sextant use is rare unless practicing for an emergency. Since its release GPS has dominated and is now the main source of navigation on most vessels (big or small). The reason for this dominance is the reliability and effectiveness of the GPS system. So unless there is a major problem it leaves the sextant as a practically useless device aboard a ship. This means that fewer people are learning how to use a sextant and are carrying spare GPS as a backup device rather than the sextant. However the sextant has been used for centuries as it is a reliable device but takes skill and knowledge to use which is dying out of modern sailing.


There are many different ways of navigating whilst at sea most of them involve taking a bearing from a landmark that you can see and then plotting that bearing on a chart and triangulating your position using landmarks. However this becomes hard when you are out in open water and cannot see any noticeable landmarks. This then requires another method of positioning such as a sextant or GPS system. The sextant has been used for century's and is one of the oldest and most reliable forms of navigation. This essay is about the differences and modern day relevance that the sextant has on current navigation techniques.

The sextant
The sextant was developed in 1760 by a man called John Hadley (Ifland 1998). He first developed a device that he called the Octant that is the basic design of the sextant. Until this point sailors had used several...
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