Welcome to the NavList Message Boards.


A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding

Compose Your Message

Add Images & Files
    Re: Black boxes in navigation
    From: Tom Sult
    Date: 2012 Jul 12, 17:49 -0500
    Dead reckoning etc are certainly valid methods of navigation. What I had in mind at my writing was a method if dropped into an unknown land and unknown initial position, one would need some external source such as an almanac.  In that sense a lunar is a black box because one needs the almanac to get time and then position. 

    South pacific navigators have been memorizing data and sailing without instrument a long time. But it is really a form of dead reckoning with lines of travel based on the parallel tracks of stares, as an example. If they were dropped in without an initial fix... They would be in the words of Dannial Boon "I've never been lost but I was  a bit bewildered for a few days once"

    By the way in 1988 I crossed the pond from NY to France with the Electronics in "lock up". I wasn't brave enough (stupid enough) to leave them behind but was interested to feel the uncertainty. 


    Thomas A. Sult, MD
    Sent from iPhone

    On Jul 12, 2012, at 17:20, Brad Morris <bradley.r.morris@gmail.com> wrote:

    *amplitude of the sun

    On Jul 12, 2012 6:07 PM, "Brad Morris" <bradley.r.morris@gmail.com> wrote:

    Hi Thomas

    You wrote:" There is no navigation system that is derivable from first principles on board the boat"

    1) A system of navigation does not have to derive correct fixes, it just is a system.
    2) At "first principals", you may have me, but I selected solar elevation at  meridian passage and the compass.  You may have others.

    I have on my book shelf "Atkinson's Epitome of Navigation", published in 1753.  Not a reprint, mind you, but a survivor! Atkinson provides a system of navigation, using the first principals detailed above. It was the system used by Her Majesty's Ships, up until the time of Nevil Maskelyne and John Harrison, so I think this qualifies.  For example "Variation of the Compass by an Altitude" (of the sun) is covered. 

    You then wrote" Perhaps best stated as there is no fix method that is internal to the boat."


    On Jul 12, 2012 4:41 PM, "Thomas Sult" <tsult@mac.com> wrote:
    Perhaps best stated as there is no fix method that is internal to the boat. 

    Thomas A. Sult, MD
    Sent from iPhone

    On Jul 12, 2012, at 15:17, Brad Morris <bradley.r.morris@gmail.com> wrote:


    Sailing a latitude line to cross an ocean is one.

    If utmost accuracy is not important, then dead reckoning is another, as was done for 100's of years before lunars and chronometers.

    Best Regards

    On Jul 12, 2012 4:10 PM, "Thomas Sult" <tsult@mac.com> wrote:
    The almanac is no less a black box. So even a lunar is a black box. There is no navigation system that is derivable from first principles on board the boat. 

    Thomas A. Sult, MD
    Sent from iPhone

    On Jul 12, 2012, at 15:03, Frank Reed <FrankReed@HistoricalAtlas.com> wrote:

    Alan, you wrote:
    "I'm simply taking as correct, the numbers produced by a "black box", which more often than not are correct"

    You were talking about a GPS receiver, but you have also just described a nineteenth century chronometer! Seriously, while celestial certainly has a lot of that "do-it-yourself feeling", and that's a big part of why we enjoy it, it is also in many ways a "black box" activity. A fair case could be made that the chronometer is the earliest example of a black box. It has no "user-serviceable" parts and no means of testing it (on its own) to determine whether it is behaving properly. It normally shows no visible signs of failure. Yet these "black boxes" have been essential to celestial navigation two hundred years. In the earliest period, this was seen as a near-fatal flaw in the concept of the chronometer. A chronometer was seen as worthless without lunars for testing, and some argued, with some reason, that this implied that chronometers were little more than a luxury. As the nineteenth century progressed, the simple method of polling was developed: carry several chronometers and let them vote. It's still used with mission-critical black box systems. To put it in the same terms as some recent comments on GPS, "the best backup for a chronometer is another chronometer".

    It's also worth remembering that the astronomical data published in the various nautical almanacs is simply handed down to us from the clouds. The Nautical Almanac is also a "black box". Few practicing navigators have had any means to judge whether the data on refraction and other altitude corrections, let alone the ephemeris data themselves are correct.

    Incidentally, in the last 18th century through the first half of the 19th century (with rapidly decreasing frequency), navigators could use "lunars" as a completely independent check on chronometers. Yet they found them difficult to trust. I have speculated recently that this was, in part, because lunars were not a "black box" calculation. When you as sole navigator can see all your work laid out before you, and when you know that you have made various conscious choices of clearing methods to use and details to include or exclude, there is much more room for self-doubt. On some early ships with enough competent navigators aboard, the "polling method" used later for chronometers could also be applied to lunars: have three junior officers each independently work and clear their lunars and treat each of them as "black boxes". Majority rules, simple as that.


    NavList message boards and member settings: www.fer3.com/NavList
    Members may optionally receive posts by email.
    To cancel email delivery, send a message to NoMail[at]fer3.com

    Browse Files

    Drop Files


    What is NavList?

    Join NavList

    (please, no nicknames or handles)
    Do you want to receive all group messages by email?
    Yes No

    You can also join by posting. Your first on-topic post automatically makes you a member.

    Posting Code

    Enter the email address associated with your NavList messages. Your posting code will be emailed to you immediately.

    Email Settings

    Posting Code:

    Custom Index

    Start date: (yyyymm dd)
    End date: (yyyymm dd)

    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site