History of navigation

From mapping the stars to the quest to determine longtitude, read all about the astronomical and horological methods used throughout history to aid navigation. Plus, read about the evolution of compass design and discover how charts were used to map the world. 

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Where ‘left’ and ‘right’ could lead to confusion, ‘port’ and ‘starboard’ are perfectly clear and unambiguous to a seafarer.

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Who was John Harrison, and how did his clocks help to solve the problem of finding longitude at sea?

The log-reel, line, log-ship and sand-glass were used for determining a ship’s speed.

How did ships know where they were before seamen could get an accurate reading of their east/west location?

'Sir Cloudisly Shovel in the Association with the Eagle, Rumney and the Firebrand, Lost on the Rocks of Scilly, October 22, 1707'

Why did most of the great European powers offer huge rewards for a way to determine longitude at sea?

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Compasses are mainly navigation aids in the West, but Asian and Middle Eastern cultures have also used them for spiritual guidance. 

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Polaris is the brightest star in the Ursa Minor constellation, and has been used by sailors for navigating at sea.


John Dee (1527–1608/9) was a brilliant mathematician, antiquary and astrologer, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.