How to Find Direction by Stars When Sailing

How to Find Direction by Stars When SailingSailing at night can be beautiful, but it could quickly turn dangerous if your navigation tools break or malfunction. You find yourself lost in dark waves with limited visibility--the stars might be the only thing you can see with any clarity. Luckily, those stars can help you. Before modern navigation tools were invented, all nightly journeys through the sea relied on stars. In 2,000 B.C., Phoenician sailors developed a map of the stars to guide their ocean voyages. Any sailor today would be wise to study it in case the unexpected occurs.

Instructions

Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

In the Northern Hemisphere

Step 1
Locate the Big Dipper in the Northern Hemisphere. This is a constellation of seven stars. Three stars make a slightly crooked handle and four stars form the dipper. Be careful not to confuse this with the Little Dipper. Familiarize yourself with both so you can differentiate between them.
Step 2
Find Cassiopeia. This constellation is always adjacent to the Big Dipper and is made up of five stars in a zigzag or W pattern.
Step 3
Locate the North Star. It will be between the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia and aligned with Cassiopeia's center star. The North Star is the brightest star in the sky and part of the Little Dipper's handle. As the name implies, the North Star will indicate north. You have found the most natural compass, unhindered by any modern technical difficulties.

In the Southern Hemisphere

Step 1
Find the Southern Cross in the Southern Hemisphere. This constellation is made up of four bright stars and one lesser star that form a tilting cross.
Step 2
Determine the length of the Southern Cross, from the top of the cross to the bottom, and multiple that length by five. That distance is how far the Southern Cross is from the southernmost point. You will need to estimate this spot yourself by imagining that distance stretching to the right of the constellation.
Step 3
Consult the Southern Cross often. It is important to ensure that you have not lost sight of true south and are still heading in the correct direction.

Tips & Warnings

 
Create or purchase a star map and keep it on your boat at all times. No matter how well you learn the sky, don't underestimate an emergency's power to temporarily erase information from your brain. Familiarize yourself with the rest of the night sky. The more familiar you are with the stars, the easier it will be to locate the correct constellations in an emergency and the more confident you will be at reading the sky. Keep in mind that as the Earth orbits around the sun, your view of the night sky will change. Different stars will rise and set, but the most important constellations will remain.
 
Create or purchase a star map and keep it on your boat at all times. No matter how well you learn the sky, don't underestimate an emergency's power to temporarily erase information from your brain.
 
Familiarize yourself with the rest of the night sky. The more familiar you are with the stars, the easier it will be to locate the correct constellations in an emergency and the more confident you will be at reading the sky.
 
Keep in mind that as the Earth orbits around the sun, your view of the night sky will change. Different stars will rise and set, but the most important constellations will remain.
 
Don't only study pictures: Locate the stars in the night's sky. Constellations might appear obvious in books, but they can get tricky in real life when the constellations are surrounded by other stars.
 
Don't only study pictures: Locate the stars in the night's sky. Constellations might appear obvious in books, but they can get tricky in real life when the constellations are surrounded by other stars.

Article Written By Kristin Wood

Kristin Wood entered the media industry in 2006 as a proofreader. She began her writing career in 2008, with work appearing in several online magazines, corporate blogs, nonprofit websites and local newspapers. Wood specializes in education, health, beauty, fashion, business and home-and-garden topics. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Point University.

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