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    Limited celestial navigation instruction at USNA
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2016 Jan 28, 13:59 -0800

    Robin Stuart sent me a link to an article at oceannavigator.com, which I had not previously seen. The article makes clear that the current much-discussed re-introduction of celestial navigation at the US Naval Academy is even less than suspected by those of us who have been skeptical about the reporting. Here is a key quotation from the article:

    a survey of the discipline — what an Annapolis press release calls “celestial familiarization”—has been introduced for third-year students as a three-hour segment of a much broader advanced navigation course that concentrates on GPS, radar, tides and currents, piloting, bridge simulations and voyage planning.

    What the syllabus does not do is teach the core workload of celestial navigators: sextant sight reductions of sun, moon, stars and planets. The academy’s press release describes the new offering largely as a series of PowerPoint presentations along with homework and tests based on material from the 15th edition of Dutton’s Nautical Navigation.

    “Midshipmen are given an overview of what celestial navigation is,” Campbell said. “They learn theory — concepts of celestial navigation — but they do not learn to use the sextant.”  

    That should serve as a reality check.

    Of course, celestial navigation does not have to be hard or time-consuming. It does not require slaving away in an eight-week course --as if pulled by time machine out of the 1970s. I teach real celestial navigation in weekend classes at Mystic Seaport. I have been doing this for over five years now, and I find it's very successful. Naturally you only become a celestial navigator by practice, by doing it, but this is not rocket science. It doesn't require a course in spherical trigonometry! And it doesn't require learning every special case. For example, why bother teaching Upper Limb Sun sights? Why bother teaching students how to determine the exact time of local noon? These are minor concerns, and yet there are courses taught even today that waste time on such matters. In both my Celestial Navigation: 19th Century Methods class and my Modern Celestial Navigation (and my formerly offered Introductory Celestial Navigation, which was focused on sights around noon), students come away with the ability to take daily Sun sights and calculate their real position. You can cross an ocean with a weekend's worth of learning.

    As for the description of USNA's offering above, I can't imagine a course where students do not have an opportunity to try out a sextant. I suspect most do so anyway.

    Frank Reed
    ReedNavigation.com
    Conanicut Island USA

       
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