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the navigational instruments

the art of knowing where you are

Finding your way is easy these days, thanks to satellite navigation. In olden times, navigation was much more difficult - especially at sea. The Navigational Instruments will give you an idea of how inventive the sailors of yesteryear were.

Up until the last century, ships still depended on the sun, moon and stars to navigate the seas. Sailors used the earliest navigational instruments - the astrolabe, the cross-staff and the back-staff - to determine how far North or South they were from their point of departure. All instruments worked with the same principle: they measured the angle of the sun (or star) against the horizon.

As seafaring became increasingly important, sailors needed more precise methods to determine their position. They developed new instruments, such as the octant and sextant. The new instruments worked according to the same principle, but gave much more precise readings than their predecessors.

The National Maritime Museum has a stunning collection of navigational instruments, including depth gauges, speed indicators and of course compasses. They are things of beauty and they fire the imagination.

  • Colophon