A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Position-Finding
From: Frank Reed
Date: 2018 Nov 8, 10:31 -0800
Tony, you asked:
"Was all this obsoleted on modern life rafts?"
Yes. Modern life rafts are nothing like the lifeboats of earlier decades (though they're usually still called boats despite being rafts in reality). Navigation has no value aboard a raft. It goes where it goes but mostly stays put, and in all cases the occupants of such rafts are expected to activate beacons which will bring rescue teams to them within hours or at most a couple of days.
And what about Gatty's "Raft Book"? Does this prove something about lifeboat practice in earlier decades? Well, it certainly proves that a small number of people, including Harold Gatty, believed that castaways might benefit from certain simple navigation techniques. But were they right? Do we have any cases at all in the historical record of a castaway announcing "The Raft Book saved my life!" Do we even have any cases of castaways saying, "The Raft Book provided distraction and kept me from going insane!" Or was it merely an interesting project that never quite worked out successfully in practice? How many printings were there? Two? Three? If the book wasn't popular, that tells you something.
The expression "lifeboat navigation" or "life raft navigation" is a euphemism in discussions of traditional navigation, and there's nothing wrong with that, except perhaps that some people take it literally. There is no real lifeboat navigation today of any significance.
An alternative "model" for the sort of clean slate navigation that's implied by lifeboat navigation is the idea (that I use now and then) of a really bad reality television program. We were recently joking about this on Facebook where I proposed the title "Navigators versus Cannibals". On the navigator team, you either work out your latitude and longitude to the nearest nautical mile using tools and mathematical tables found on various quests around the island, or the cannibal team "invites you over for dinner". If you're "dropped" on an unknown island in the middle of nowhere, can you figure out where you are? This requires essentially the same skills as the older model of lifeboat navigation.