Last Updated on September 29, 2023
Since the time of our ancestors, navigation has been playing a key role in the history of humanity. From the early seafarers of Polynesia who navigated the vast oceans with the guidance of the stars to modern-day astronauts who explored the infinite universe with breakthrough technology, humans have been using different tools to find their way around the world.
This article delves into the evolution of maritime technology, from the beginnings of the modest sextants to the rise of powerful and all-encompassing satellites.
The Humble Sextants
Sextants are navigational tools used to identify the angle between two objects, commonly a celestial object like a star or the sun and the horizon. These tools were developed for the first time during the early 18th century, quickly becoming a critical tool to navigate the oceans.
Using Sextants in the Maritime Industry
It takes both practice and skill to use a sextant. The navigator who uses a sextant starts by measuring the angle between the celestial object and the horizon. The measurement they get from this will then be used with some other calculations to know their latitude.
Although sextants are no longer as commonly used as they were back then, they remain essential for navigators and sailors who wish to learn traditional navigation techniques.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Sextants
Sextants dramatically improved from the earlier navigation tools, including the astrolabe and the quadrant. They allowed sailors to identify their latitudes with better accuracy, which was necessary for long-distance ocean and sea voyages.
But as expected, sextants also had several limitations. For one, these tools are still determining longitude. An accurate reading will also be possible only if the horizon is visible and the skies are clear.
The Game-Changing Chronometer
Chronometers are highly accurate clocks that determine longitude by measuring the difference in time between a known location and the ship’s location. It was initially developed during the 18th century, playing a crucial role in maritime navigation.
Using Chronometer in the Maritime Industry
It would be best if you were precise and skilled to use a chronometer correctly. The navigator should set the clock first to the specific time at the known location, like a port. The watch will then be used to identify the time at the current location of the navigator. The navigator can calculate their current longitude by comparing these two times.
Although sailors no longer use chronometers as their primary navigation tool, some navigators continue using them today, especially those who appreciate their accuracy and significance in history.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Chronometers
The chronometer changed the game for ocean navigation. Thanks to this tool, sailors could identify their longitude with better accuracy. This was imperative, especially for long-distance trips.
The only downside was that chronometers needed regular maintenance. They were also expensive, making them an impractical choice for most sailors.
The Nifty Radio Navigation
The method of radio navigation uses radio signals to determine the position of a ship or an aircraft. This was first introduced during the early 20th century and was helpful during the Second World War.
Using Radio Navigation in the Maritime Industry
Specialized training and equipment are necessary to use radio navigation. The navigator will use the radio signals from the network of stations based on the ground to identify their position.
Although it’s been some time since radio navigation was used as the primary navigation method for most pilots and sailors alike, those who appreciate its ease of use and reliability continue to use the tool even today.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Radio Navigation
Sailors and pilots could pinpoint their position with improved accuracy with the help of radio navigation, even during poor weather conditions.
But despite this, radio navigation has its own set of limitations. There is always the risk of radio signals getting disrupted or jammed. On top of that, the system was accurate only within a specific range.
The Revolutionary GPS Navigation
Global Positioning System or GPS is a navigation system that uses satellites and provides time and location data no matter where you are. The United States Department of Defense developed the GPS during the 70s before civilians were allowed to use it during the 80s.
Using GPS Navigation in the Maritime Industry
It’s intuitive and easy-to-use GPS navigation. The navigation needs to turn the GPS receiver on and wait for a signal from the GPS satellite system. After the receiver acquires a call, this can already give the user their exact location, direction, and travel speed.
The introduction of GPS navigation changed how humanity navigates the world, and today, it has become the most widely used tool for navigation among drivers, pilots, and sailors alike.
Strengths and Weaknesses of GPS Navigation
GPS navigation’s incredible accuracy and reliability made it the official go-to tool for drivers, pilots, and sailors.
But despite its advancement, trees, buildings, and other similar obstacles can still disrupt GPS signals. The system also uses a network of satellites that can be prone to attacks.
The Bottom Line
The navigational tools used in the maritime industry have come a long way ever since sextants were developed. These days, people have instant access to incredibly reliable and accurate devices such as GPS that have changed how humanity navigates the world.
But even with all these developments, it’s still critical to remember and commemorate the skill and ingenuity of the early navigators who only relied on the stars alone combined with their wits and skills to find their way across the vastness of the ocean waters.
Whether you’re a seasoned sailor or a beginner doesn’t matter. Knowing the history and evolution of maritime technology can help you understand and appreciate the fantastic progress this critical field has seen through the years.