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Old 04-20-2013, 10:17 AM   #29
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I too had to join this site to say thanks a lot for this thread. I know it started in 2009 but it’s still helping newbees like me.


My first time out on a friend’s boat all we had was a road map and lick & stick compass from the car, made it quite a long way down the coast across main shipping lanes with no drama (more dumb luck than judgement). I decided to get a GPS and paper charts when I got my own Boat but find losing signal a bit scary. That was fine as I learn to sail my little cruiser. Now I know the area I sail (south east coast UK) but when I get more out there I don't want to have to trust my life to a 'failing' system as no one is repairing the satellites anymore and they are reaching the end of their service life, it is only going to get worse. I’ve been inspired to learn Celestial navigation by classic books such as ‘Once is Enough’ by Miles Smeeton, ‘Trekka Round The World’ by John Guzzwell and by more recent sailors such Roger D Tayor’s ‘Voyages of a Simple Sailor’ and ‘Ming Ming’ They make it sound so easy and there’s true honour in self-sufficiency.

Haven't got the spare money (due to wife & kids beating me to it) for the best Sextant out there, so I'm going to go for the Davis-Mark 25 should be ok to learn with as I'm not going around the world just yet.


Thanks for all that contributed to this thread even the ‘GPS lover’ may you never run out of batteries.


Hope you’re all still sailing and well.
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Old 04-20-2013, 03:43 PM   #30
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You will quickly find that operating a sextant from a pitching deck on a small boat is nearly impossible. You will also find that keeping up with almanacs will probably drive you to using software. You will need a calculator and a really good time piece. All these take electricity. In the end, you will find that your accuracy will be measured in kilometers, took a lot of time to make the measurements and calculations and keeping a running log for dead reckoning.
It's great to know how to operate a sextant, but time consuming and expensive. You can piece together a GPS system for $30 and you will know your actual location, rather than that you are somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. JMO.
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Old 04-30-2013, 06:57 PM   #31
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As there is no reason to use a sextant today, other than for fun, I would suggest you spend as little as possible. Spend your money on a back-up GPS. Using a sextant as a back up for GPS is quite unpractical. Taking sights on a small craft is no simple thing, it requires good enough weather to even get a sight, excellent math skills and a great deal of time much better spent sleeping on a crossing. Errors using a sextant are very easy to make (4 seconds of error in time is a mile error in position) and I don't care how proficient you get with one, you are still at the mercy of the weather. Between New Caledonia and Australia, in six days I was not able to get a single LOP until I had already passed through the Great Barrier Reef, not a relaxing experience.
One does not just whip out a sextant and snap a quick fix; it takes hours and skill to get enough good sights, reduce them to a LOP's and plot each LOP to get a fix.
I still have my sextants, though they are stored at my daughter's house. They are beautiful, near worthless bits of yesteryear, which I cannot bear to part with.
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Old 05-15-2013, 10:56 AM   #32
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I have had a garmin 75 and a E-trex legend as back up for a long time, both work very well. I would have been lost at sea without them.

I have ordered, but I'm still waiting for, a Davis Mark 25 sextant and have also bought a Wasp Trailing Log, not because I have to replace the GPS but because I want to teach myself how to navigate without power or reliance on a third party system.

Since writing my last post I have spent many hours reading how to use the sextant. It was very hard at first to get my head around it, but I'm making good progress now. I believe that just because it’s not the easy way it isn't worth doing and the rewards are in the beauty of knowing not the practicality.

I will post how I find The Davis 25 for my training, for those who pick this thread up as I did.
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Old 05-15-2013, 11:33 AM   #33
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Never got into sextants ... these days I use a Garmin 451s as my main GPS with a Garmin 78SC as a back up. The 451 is powered off my main batteries and the 78 either the main batteries or AA back up and I always carry a box of those. I also have Maxsea on my navigation computer as a reasonable size chart plotter and have a spare laptop with Maxsea on it as a back up as well as a GPS dongle.

I also use paper charts, deviders and parallel rule and like to plot my position every couple of hours so in the unlikely event that everything goes down I can still use dead reckoning.

I love the thought of someone using a sextant to find their position but unfortunately I won't be amongst those ranks because I believe that we need to move with the times although most of the time I am lagging behind ... don't have AIS etc yet ...

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Old 05-17-2013, 08:26 AM
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Old 05-24-2013, 02:14 PM   #34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spike_dawg View Post
You will quickly find that operating a sextant from a pitching deck on a small boat is nearly impossible. You will also find that keeping up with almanacs will probably drive you to using software. You will need a calculator and a really good time piece. All these take electricity. In the end, you will find that your accuracy will be measured in kilometers, took a lot of time to make the measurements and calculations and keeping a running log for dead reckoning.
It's great to know how to operate a sextant, but time consuming and expensive. You can piece together a GPS system for $30 and you will know your actual location, rather than that you are somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. JMO.
hello hello all...
having started this thread years ago and not having been on the forum in probably over a year I just popped in to find this old thread at the top...again ... how fun...

On all counts I have to disagree with the quoted post... using a sextant is a snap with a little practice... if you can stand steady the movement of the boat is largely irrelavant... as to the almanacs... I keep pointing out to people that you only need four (4)... they repeat themselves every 4 years and there is no need to get a new one ever year... doi...

The only times I've ever run aground was while using a GPS... you can't trust the darn things, I don't care how up-to-date you think they are, the military controls the satelites and occasionally does offsets, (especially around naval stations) that they are not obliged to tell you about...
technology is a dandy but you need to learn to actually navigate...

that being said I will also say that learning to use a sextant is not strictly required to be abl to navigate offshore... there are other ways that are just as simple... if you have a zulu time clock and an almanac you can get your position exactly every sunrise and sunset with just a simple cun compass check in about 10 seconds... being educated on all the different methods at your disposal for when the power goes out is what is critical in my opinion... not the sextant itself...
... and in the way of a review, now a few years later... Still loving my Astra IIIB... with care she has proven totally reliable. ...


... for those who missed me
I'll post an update thread seperately.
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Old 05-25-2013, 07:40 AM   #35
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Just found an old issue of Cruising World from 1988. Featured article is about resilvering the mirrors in your sextant. In those days, the sextant was still king. Just goes to show how quickly the world of navigation has changed.
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Old 05-27-2013, 12:15 AM   #36
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pretty crazy aint it...
it's easy to get caught up in the newest gadget... but the old ways will never be obsolete.
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Old 05-27-2013, 01:35 AM   #37
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Absolutely right. My Davis Mk25 still gets a run every couple of days when I'm offshore...and when there's a solar eclipse.

Now.....I wonder where I put that blasted horse whip?
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Old 05-29-2013, 12:33 PM   #38
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Mine stays in the galley for when she burns something
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Old 06-28-2014, 07:48 PM   #39
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Quote:
Originally Posted by capta View Post
As there is no reason to use a sextant today, other than for fun, I would suggest you spend as little as possible. Spend your money on a back-up GPS. Using a sextant as a back up for GPS is quite unpractical. Taking sights on a small craft is no simple thing, it requires good enough weather to even get a sight, excellent math skills and a great deal of time much better spent sleeping on a crossing. Errors using a sextant are very easy to make (4 seconds of error in time is a mile error in position) and I don't care how proficient you get with one, you are still at the mercy of the weather. Between New Caledonia and Australia, in six days I was not able to get a single LOP until I had already passed through the Great Barrier Reef, not a relaxing experience.
One does not just whip out a sextant and snap a quick fix; it takes hours and skill to get enough good sights, reduce them to a LOP's and plot each LOP to get a fix.
I still have my sextants, though they are stored at my daughter's house. They are beautiful, near worthless bits of yesteryear, which I cannot bear to part with.
I agree with the above position.

And I share some of the opinions about the niceness of having a skill that can help one find ones way.

I love traditional things and traditional boats etc. I like sextants too.

I own the Astra sextant and used it as navigator on a yacht from Hawaii to San Francisco. At the time, the least expensive GPS was over $1,500 and they were new to the market. So I used sextant and later loran (now obsolete) when possible for confirmation or second source of fix. I used an expensive Swiss chronometer, but it turns out a cheap quartz watch was even more accurate. The Astra proved as accurate as much more expensive sextant that cost 4 times as much.

The super cheap brass sextants usually from India one sees on eBay are for decorative use, not for accurate navigation. Look nice on a shelf, but I would never trust them on a voyage, and would prefer one of the well made plastic ones over the eBay/Indian brass deco bookends.

Unfortunately, while the sextant was fun/challenging to use on the open sea, I also learned a lesson.

While getting closer to the California coast, we were in several days of dense fog (the ancient mariner's dread) and unable to get a fix. Sailing for days and nights into thick fog towards a dangerous shore and crossing vessel traffic lanes is a sure way to appreciate the anxiety that comes with not knowing precisely where you are, when knowing may make the difference between successful landfall or tragedy. Put simply, knowing where you are after a 2,500 nm offshore passage and as you approach a hazardous coast in the dark with limited visibility can be a matter of utmost concern. Dead reckoning can get you dead.

Sure, we knew that sooner or later we would hit dirt if we just kept sailing due east, but the question was, Where was the Gate?

Numerous ships including seven US Navy destroyers were lost due to navigational errors on the same coast we needed to find...in the fog. Here is a very good wiki article that tells the story of the worst peacetime disaster for the USN. Well worth reading. Also look at the aerial photo showing the SEVEN destroyers that hit the rocks!

Honda Point Disaster - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

One of the aspects of that tragedy was the commanding officer's refusal to use the fix reported derived from the electronic navigation device of the day, because he did not trust it. (Newfangled high tech device of its day).

My conclusion?

While I admire the sextant, I will in the future carry two GPS units with me on any offshore or coastal runs. And extra batteries of course.

Key points?

1. Accuracy
2. Reliability (in any weather)
3. Ease of use by any crew member
4. Redundancy

Also, I think the ease of use of the GPS allows more people to have the ability to get very accurate position and quickly, AND at anytime or in fog or bad weather.. something that was never common on boats before. Most old school mariners would never let anyone handle their expensive sextant, for fear of messing it up (creating error making), while today's handheld GPS units can easily be shared, handled, and used more frequently or even continuously. In fact I would make it a point to show my crew how to use my GPS, to give them a skill that could prove handy.

I hope these statements are helpful to someone.
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