US Navy Revives Ancient Navigation


The Naval Academy stopped teaching celestial navigation in the late 1990s, deeming the hard-to-learn skill irrelevant in an era when satellites can relay a ship's location with remarkable ease and precision.

But satellites and GPS are vulnerable to cyber attack. The tools of yesteryear -- sextants, nautical almanacs, volumes of tables -- are not. With that in mind, the academy is reinstating celestial navigation into its curriculum. Wooden boxes with decades-old instruments will be dusted off and opened, and students will once again learn to chart a course by measuring the angles of stars.

As it rebuilds the program, the Navy is getting help from the US Merchant Marine Academy, which never stopped teaching celestial navigation.

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19 Responses:

  1. KC Crowell says:

    Sort of non-news, since most every other maritime academy still teaches sextant navigation. As far as I know the USGC still has celestial navigation questions on their master's exam as well. You'd be an idiot to pursue any seagoing maritime career and not know how to use a sextant (I'm still learning myself).

  2. David Konerding says:

    Basically we should be training everybody to reconstruct modern civilization from scratch, starting from everything that's required to build a lathe, because once you have that, everything else kind of falls out naturally.

  3. Nice. Last I knew, the USPS also still taught celestial navigation; partly for this "emergency backup" reason, and I think partly for the "we're a priesthood" reason.

    One of the classic textbooks, "The American Practical Navigator," (usually known by it's author's name "Bowditch"), written in the late 1800s, was based on the premise that if a Navy ship were so injured that a midshipman or senior seaman found himself in charge, he could read this book and figure out how to sail the ship back to port.