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History of Sea Navigation

People have traveled across seas and oceans for centuries. During ancient times, people mainly avoided open seas as they used various landmarks to navigate. However, sailors gained experience and developed various methods and tools to find their way. The development of technology contributed greatly to the development of sea navigation as people could depend less on the distance from the shore or even the weather. This paper includes a brief description of major milestones in the history of navigation starting from ancient times up to modern days.

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Ancient people used quite simple methods to navigate in the sea. They tried to remain close enough to the shore to be able to spot various landmarks. These landmarks were mountains, hills, temples, or even sailors’ houses, and so on (Beresford 173). Sailors created maps that helped them navigate and travel to quite distant destinations. Nevertheless, maps also focused on the description of various landmarks. Therefore, such tools did not let people explore the world to the extent they wanted.

Dead-reckoning was another technique widely used in ancient times up to the Middle Ages. This method implied taking into account the previous position of the ship to identify its current position (Mack 130). Ships simply followed a particular course. Nonetheless, such important factors as the wind or current were not taken into account, which made the tool inappropriate for travels across oceans or even long-distance travels across seas.

Celestial navigation was also used, but people focused mainly on the position of the sun, the moon, and the North Star. This method was confined to identifying latitude which also limited sailors’ ability to find their way across oceans. Scientists and researchers developed numerous tools such as quadrants or sighting rulers that helped captains to calculate the position of the ship through the analysis of the horizon line and the position of stars.

The following big step in the development of navigation was the creation of compasses. First compasses that appeared in Europe date back to the 12th century. They looked like the modern tool as there were magnetic lines, a plate covered with glass. However, it has been found that Chinese sailors used the lodestone as early as the 1st century AD while Arabs used similar tools in the 9th century (Beresford 174). It has acknowledged that Europeans borrowed the technology from these nations in the course of trade between countries. Travelers also shared their knowledge. The use of this sophisticated tool could be regarded as a little revolution as sailors did not depend on the part of the day or weather conditions when trying to find their way.

Nevertheless, the magnetic compass also had a significant flaw as it read differently in different parts of the world with the most considerable errors occurring in the Atlantic Ocean (Huth 161). The major principle to calculate longitude was associated with the identification of the exact time. For this purpose, sailors had various types of clocks, but they had quite significant flaws as people had to reset them every day. More so, these tools were quite vulnerable to various conditions (for instance, humidity).

When people started traveling across oceans, they discovered this approximation. It is noteworthy that the discovery was obtained at a high cost as various shipwrecks took place due to this error. One of the greatest disasters happened near the Scilly Islands in 1707 when approximately two thousand British sailors were lost to the sea (Huth 245). These losses made the British government pass the Longitude Act that established a prize for a person who could develop a tool to identify longitude. John Harrison worked on such a tool for a large part of his life and created the clock that could show precise time during a cross-Atlantic voyage (Huth 246).

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Another important milestone was the development of radio, which has been widely used for sea navigation during the World Wars. However, modern tools are more sophisticated. The use of satellites is now a widespread technique used across the globe (Huth 124). The use of GPS technology has enabled sailors to identify their position quite easily. Interestingly, such tools as maps, compasses, as well as such techniques as the analysis of the position of celestial bodies, are still used in sea navigation when for some reason the sophisticated tools of modernity are out of order.

In conclusion, it is necessary to note that various tools and techniques have been employed throughout centuries. First, people relied on landmarks and depended heavily on weather conditions and part of the day. Nonetheless, they managed to create numerous tools that allowed them to travel long distances irrespective of these factors. The development of compass, radiolocation, and GPS technology can be regarded as major technological milestones in the history of sea navigation. Nonetheless, such tools as maps and such techniques as celestial navigation are still used and can save many lives. When devices go down, people resort to older methods and techniques. Therefore, it is important to know the characteristics of modern devices and instruments, but it is essential to know some basic navigation techniques that were used centuries ago.

Works Cited

Beresford, James. The Ancient Sailing Season. BRILL, 2012.

Huth, John Edward. The Lost Art of Finding Our Way. Harvard University Press, 2013.

Mack, John. The Sea: A Cultural History. Reaktion Books, 2013.

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