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Old 07-22-2009, 07:54 PM   #21
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- - For all those out there who are looking at "sextants" - they are beautiful and elegant pieces of workmanship and visually appealing and look great on the book shelf or coffee table holding down a stack of magazines.

- - But in the reality of celestial navigation, the sextant is only minor part of a long process. Granted it is the most elegant part with yourself standing with feet apart on a pitching deck in your slickers, sextant in hand, and wind and rain sweeping across as you raise your instrument to the stars. Great Hollywood stuff. Reality is an hour or more of mathematics and tables and broken pencil points and worn out erasers trying to resolve that few seconds of sextant sights into something you can use. I get the feeling that the new folks think you can raise the sextant to the stars / sun - get a "sight" and turn the sextant on its side and read off your latitude and longitude. It does not work that way. Accurate DR plots, one tenth of a second accurate clocks, and a good knowledge of mathematics and table reading is necessary. And then your accuracy, if you are really good is as stated above - "a few miles". Quoted accuracy of really good celestial navigators it +/- 3 nm, Super good navigators maybe down to +/- 1.5 nm; and the rest of us +/- a continent or ocean.

- - Celestrial Navigation is a wonderful, historical "hobby" and can consume lots of spare time - but - it is not a safe method of modern navigation anymore than constant latitude sailing or even uncorrected DR. There is a reason why buying sextants, celestrial calculators and sight reduction tables is getting more and more difficult and more expensive - there is not any market for the equipment outside of hobbyists and museums (and coffee tables). Just like radio directional finding navigation or the old "A/N" radio beacon navigation for aircraft, it is fun but not valid in today's real world.

- - GPS based systems are the standard now for safe nautical navigation. And learning how to properly utilize GPS navigation and electronic charting also takes time, skill and practice. I have seen many a boat up on the rocks while sailing to a GPS waypoint that was improperly plotted or wasn't checked for intervening obstacles - like an island.

- - Bottom line, Celestrial Navigation (using Sextants) is a great hobby and it is very rewarding to resolve a sight down to a fix - as stated above - only a few miles off. But as a method of navigation when you are out in your boat it is unsafe and useless. Basic navigation using charting, bearing to landmarks, D.R. navigation, and GPS navigation is what you need and all that takes considerable time and effort to learn to do it properly.
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Old 07-23-2009, 05:07 PM   #22
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Suggest you give these folks a call:

http://landandseacollection.com/id2.html

They sell collectibles which are in good repair. They also have an Ebay site. Some of the best sextants available at reasonable price are from the 1970's - 1990's, so you'll be looking for something used--therefore this is the type of place to find it. We've been keeping our eyes open for one that was standard US Navy issue in the 1980's. Can't recall which one since hubby is the sextant-hunter. However, we know numerous former US military aviators (like hubby) who are particular about the optics they use and have purchased sextants from the fellow who runs the above site.

I have heard that there are some good plastic sextants out there and if one cannot afford a high quality metal one, a plastic one may be a better option than a low quality and similarly priced metal one. We have a friend from Russia who has an awesome plastic one that can't usually be purchased anywhere but Russia--we've a laundry list of things for him to bring back to us from Russia--a cool folding kayak and a sextant among them.

Osiris--You've already stated in other topics that you believe using a sextant isn't a good idea. It sounds like you personally must have had terrible experiences using a setant. It is very true that mathematics and geometry are more difficult for some folks than for others to learn and use. But, by no means can we group all cruisers together as dim-witted or impaired in some way that they would not be able to learn and properly use celestial navigation.

Telling folks that " [using a sextant] as a method of navigation when you are out in your boat it is unsafe and useless" is a little much, though . It is true that using a sextant, by itself, won't tell a cruiser much and other navigation skills are needed to use the input from the sextant. However, THIS topic is about good sextants for those of us who LIKE the idea of using sextants and want to own one. This is analogous to a topic on, say...what are the best...chartplotters...watermakers...refrigerators ...In those topics, folks who have an opinion on the good/best of each would opine away on that topic. Here, in this topic, those folks who don't use a sextant probably need not admonish those who are looking for one, ya know? We all have our opinions and we certainly want to be helpful to those cruisers who decide they'd like to learn and use all the navigation tools available.

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Old 07-24-2009, 12:14 AM   #23
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wow I can't believe this thread is still alive...

well since I started it, jeez a couple years ago, might as well drop in an update... I did get my a sextant... I got the Celestaire Astra IIIB.... I picked it up in London last year for about 450 pounds... it's not a beautiful old piece of brass but it is a very well engineered functional navigation tool... which I use regularly to keep my skills up...

as for celestial navigation being just a hobby... I'm not sure there's a statement I disagree with more... nor is there anything essoteric about it... I can do a triple star site (including preplaning) in about 10 minutes (which is often all you have before you loose the horizon by the time the right stars are out) and then figure and plot it in about 5 more... once you get into a rythm with the calculations they become second nature... a siting like this can bring a very bad DR to a pinpoint positioning.. a noon site is even quicker... no real math involved at all if you keep up with the declination (or have a declination card) ...

saying you don't need a sextant for offshore work to me is like saying you don't need a city map because you have a tomtom... ... it's the GPS that is the nonessential piece of nav equipment in my book... and if there are dimwitted sailors out there it's because deviced like the GPS enable them.
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Old 07-24-2009, 05:04 AM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by atavist View Post
saying you don't need a sextant for offshore work to me is like saying you don't need a city map because you have a tomtom... ... it's the GPS that is the nonessential piece of nav equipment in my book... and if there are dimwitted sailors out there it's because deviced like the GPS enable them.
Being able to use a sextant and convert its readings into accurate coordinates on to a chart is certainly a gift for some - hard work for others. To consign the use of the Global Positioning System to "dimwitted sailors" is probably very inaccurate and unfair.

The technology and the instruments themselves have been constantly improved. The Military depend on them when fighting wars. Cartographers use them for primary mapping. Aircraft use them to get from A to B. The list goes on.

As to their reliability, when properly used and cared for, there are few better digital instruments that are more reliable. Just consider the average computer - lap or desk top ? say no more!

I have 2 Garmin 45 GPS hand-helds which were bought some 15 years ago , still function perfectly (if they have new batteries)

The functions in these old 45s included :-

Creating and using waypoints

Man Over Board - hit button

Back track navigation

Creating and using routes

Compass & Highway steering guidance

Moving Map plotting

Recognising the correct chart datum

ETC...

and of course giving your current position and the bearing to your next destination.

Here is my position today :-Click image for larger version

Name:	Garmin_45.jpg
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The 'Man Over Board' facility alone is just one good reason for a GPS on a cruising boat.
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Old 07-24-2009, 12:40 PM   #25
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By no means was I implying that people who use a GPS are dim-witted... I have a couple onboard and do use them as a convenience... all I was saying was that "if there are dimwitted sailors out there it's because the GPS has enabled them"...

as for the military et al... it's also good to keep in mind that the military also controls said satelites and does at time put in offsets to prevent foreign military using GPSs for targeting during times of war... so it may only put you 100 yards off... but guess what... if your relying on it for a tight pilotage...... oops... "but the chart plotter said!!!"
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Old 07-24-2009, 12:56 PM   #26
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Glad that you found a good sextant and are putting it to good use Atavist

Yea, the sextant that hubby wants isn't a thing of beauty either--just very functional.

I do think that any of us with military background have cautious expectations for the use of GPS simply because shutting down/messing with the GPS signal such that non-military receivers wouldn't have precise lat/long has been been discussed so much as a defensive strategy that could be used. Not to mention the fact that it's possible for satellites to go down or software to be scrambled. As such, I have much more faith in GPS than hubby does.
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Old 07-31-2011, 02:22 AM   #27
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My first post! I was searching for the best option to seek in sextants, and found this forum. This thread is old, but to a new sailor, it is an important one. I agree with everyone's superior experience, whether you swear by the GPS or the sextant, and hopefully both. I hope to enjoy sailing for the rest of my life, now that I've only just started (yeah, midlife crisis rocks!!). I joined here so I could comment (dimwittedly, lol!) on this topic. I want to learn to use a sextant because I think learning barebones navigation has to be the number one priority for someone hoping to cruise beyond the bar of their city's river, and out into the ocean. Does GPS aid you with reading the stars? Is there something reaffirming (sorry) about ritualistic sextant readings? I ask sincerely, because I can't imagine cruising blue water without at least the knowledge of celestial navigation. It's either the way you sail, or a last resort, but the skill set has to feel very safe and secure. I want to learn to celestially navigate so I can have a life saving skill, that is historic and unique, in the modern world; but also so I can confirm the GPS readings I'll certainly be utilizing. Although I own a computer, I still use pen and paper regularly. And it seems to me that a sextant is to a GPS what a sailboat is to a diesel outboard.
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Old 08-05-2011, 11:21 AM   #28
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Hello

If you want to learn Celestial Navigaton the Book (Celestial Navigaton by Tom Cunliffe ) is a good place to start, for the data you will need a nautical almanac, but George G Bennet's The Complete On-Board Celestial Navigator also provides all you need and costs a lot less. Plastic sextants are ok to learn with but you can get good second hand Freiberger Yacht sextant for not much more. After learning the basics I used NASA data to develope an EXCEL spreadsheet to save time with the calculations.

Good Luck

Peter Lee
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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 05-24-2013, 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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