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    Re: Thought Experiment
    From: Dan Allen
    Date: 2002 Jun 14, 07:32 -0700

    Thanks Ken for sharing those numbers with us!
    Another possible reason for Astra IIIB sales going up is that they are taking
    up some of the slack in Plath sales, but I imagine Plath sales were never
    very high so this is only of minor importance.
    I like the metric of using Nautical Almanac sales.  192 people on our list
    out of 18,500 users puts us at barely 1% of sextant users.
    -----Original Message-----
    From: Navigation Mailing List
    [mailto:NAVIGATION-L@LISTSERV.WEBKAHUNA.COM]On Behalf Of Ken Gebhart
    Sent: Thursday, June 13, 2002 8:15 PM
    Subject: Re: Thought Experiment
    On the question of �how many sextant users are there in the World�, it depends
    first on what the meaning of �use� ...is.  Most people buy  new sextants today
    in order to learn how to do celestial navigation.  Thereafter, we feel that
    maybe 20% will continue to take practice observations to keep their skills up,
    and the other 80% will simply keep their sextant at the ready as a back-up.
    But both groups are actually �using� them...either as ongoing efforts, or as
    useful back-ups.
    If we try to figure total users from sextant sales, it is not so easy.  The
    total production of the Astra IIIB sextant in our China factory in 1986 was
    about 1200 units.  Today, it is about 1500 per year.  The modest increase being
    probably due to an entropy increase from simply being in business.  Davis
    Instruments used to boast of 10,000 sextants sold annually.  However, many of
    these were the Mark 3 model which was (and still is) used in schools.  We have
    been promoting celestial positioning as an Earth science project for fifth
    graders and up.  So, here is another sextant use � although not exactly what we
    had in mind at first.
    So, where are all these thousands of sextants that have been sold over the
    years? Apart from those sold on eBay, the interior decorators, or (more likely)
    the attics have them now.
    I think a better measure of sextant use may be the number of Nautical Almanacs
    sold annually.  They represent  the hands on users, the back-up users, and the
    schools (to some extent).  Of course there are some who use computer programs
    in lieu of the Almanac, but many of these still keep a hard copy for safety.
    We and our partner company Paradise Cay have printed from 12, 000 to 15,000
    copies per year of our �Commercial Edition� ever since we began in the mid
    eighties.  The GPO used to print 18,000 copies, but we think they are now down
    to about 8,000 copies per year now.  Of these, 6,000 copies go to the military
    (who do not actually use them anymore), and the remaining expire on the shelves
    because very few people pay their high price today.  But, of our 15,000
    Commercial Edition copies, about 6,000 go for export.  So, US usage is about
    9,000 per year.
    To figure World usage, we need to consider those published by the British,
    German, French and Spanish governments.  We think the British put out about
    15,000 per year, and all the rest may add up to another 15,000.  But, of all
    these, probably 50% go to their respective military units (who do not really
    use them), and 25% go to merchant shipping.  This is another category which
    consumes about 4,000 of the 6,000 we export, and which probably does not
    qualify as being actual �users� .  So, the rest of the world civilian,
    non-merchant users would come to 9,500.  The result is a grand total world
    usage of 18,500.
    But having given all this �nitty gritty�numerical analysis, I can�t finish
    without responding to the negative sentiments of some of our members who bemoan
    the fact that celestial is a dying art.  This is their conjecture only!  We
    give seminars on celestial at all the major sailboat shows, and we have very
    good attendances.  Magazine articles on celestial are still frequent.  And of
    course as I said before, sextant sales and Nautical Almanac sales are still
    up.  An interesting notion is that compasses, both handheld and built-in, are
    going through the same re-evaluation as sextants in light of the fact that GPS
    is now king.  You don�t need a compass on your GPS boat any more than you do a
    sextant!  This shows that total reliance on GPS is not only imprudent, but
    shortsighted in many ways.
    Lastly, as to the suggestion that Nautical Almanacs may not be printed in the
    future � this is not true.  The GPO may not continue to print, but we will
    certainly continue our Commercial Edition, and the British tell us they will
    Ken Gebhart, Celestaire, Inc.
    Robert Eno wrote:
    > Hmmm.
    > Tough question Dan.  I could give you a very nebulous answer of: "not many
    > and even at that, those numbers are shrinking rapidly.
    > An organization that I belong to -- The Foundation for the Promotion of the
    > Art of Navigation -- has, I am told, about 500 members world wide. Don't
    > hold me to those numbers though because I cannot honestly remember where I
    > heard this. The Navigation Foundation, as it is usually called, consists of
    > the truly serious astro-navigators. Guys like me who like discussing lunars
    > and reading detailed articles about archaic aspects of astro-navigation. The
    > latter comment should not be taken as an insult to the membership or the
    > Directors by the way.
    > I am going to take a stab and say: a couple of thousand practicing (as
    > opposed to dabbling) astro-navigators.
    > It is a dying art. This becomes very clear when one tries to carry one's
    > sextant through airline security. No one even knows what they are anymore.
    > Used to be that they would be instantly recognized. I haven't had the
    > pleasure of going through security with my sextant post Sept 11, but will be
    > facing this prospect within the month. I will report my findings to the
    > list.
    > Your question brings up another topic of discussion: "Does astro-navigation
    > have a future?" It seems that more and more, we are being relegated to the
    > horse and buggy pile. GPS is king.
    > Even the great C.Plath is no longer producing sextants. C.Plath to me, was
    > the epitome of astro-navigation; the pinnacle of fine instrument making. We
    > can take heart that Cassens and Plath are still producing fine brass
    > sextants, but how long until they too, go out of business?  You can buy 10
    > handheld GPS units for the price of one Cassens and Plath.
    > It is sad really but I suppose that one cannot stop "progress". To make
    > matters worse, I keep hearing scuttlebutt to the effect that the future of
    > the printed Nautical Almanac is in question. I can't verify this but I
    > believe that this topic was discussed in one of the issues of the Journal of
    > the Institute of Navigation. Perhaps someone out there can shed some light
    > on this. I hope the Naval Observatory continues to produce the NA, but it
    > seems to me that it is only a matter of time before they decide that the
    > effort is just not worth it when only a few hundred people a year are
    > purchasing the item. I hope that I am being too pessimistic.
    > regards
    > Robert
    > ----- Original Message -----
    > From: Dan Allen 
    > To: 
    > Sent: Wednesday, June 12, 2002 1:33 AM
    > Subject: Thought Experiment
    > > I propose a thought experiment with a couple of "back of the envelope"
    > > estimation questions:
    > >
    > > 1) How many sextant users are there in the world?
    > > 2) What percentage of the world's population that are
    > >    interested in sextants are on this mailing list?
    > >
    > > I of course do not know the answers to these questions, but I think
    > > we can make some reasonable assumptions to be able to come up with
    > > ballpark figures.
    > >
    > > If you decide to give this informal competition a try, please try and
    > > give us some of your reasoning behind your estimates, because that is
    > > the real interesting part of such a question!
    > >
    > > Dan Allen
    > >

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