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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For the first time in over 360 years, compasses at Greenwich are set to point true north. But what does this mean - and haven't compasses always pointed 'north'? 


A theodolite is a surveying instrument with a telescope for measuring horizontal and vertical angles.

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Ever seen naval officers in movies looking through one of these? Find out why.


Our next item of the month is the Isolario of Bartolomeo ‘Dalli Sonetti’.

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Francisco Saez de Adana, who recently completed a research internship at the Museum, has been looking into the post-war politics surrounding Spain’s attempts to acquire marine radar. 


The National Maritime Museum holds a unique collection of around 100,000 historical sea charts and maps. 


Our collection focuses on three key areas: precision marine timekeeping for navigators, precision timekeeping for astronomers and the broader area of domestic timekeeping and time distribution.

The National Maritime Museum’s 2014 Ships, Clocks & Stars exhibition told the extraordinary story of the race to determine longitude at sea.

Between April 2014 and January 2015, Royal Observatory Greenwich was taken over by steampunk artists inspired by the 18th-century race for longitude.