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Classes in celestial navigation and related topics

A vernier sextant Chronometer Navigation tables Noon Sun and time sights Shooting lunars Two-body fix Lunars Lunars Geometry Sextant Micrometer

Celestial Navigation Classes: Spring 2017

Many new class options and opportunities. All classes and workshops are held at the Treworgy Planetarium at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut. Most workshops meet Saturday and Sunday, some are also offered on weeknights.
A great opportunity to learn celestial navigation in an immersive environment 
under the guidance of a fantastic teacher, cartographer, and master 
navigator. Frank Reed's style integrates history, mechanics, observation, and the 
planetarium together to produce the best two-day course available, anywhere. --Philip Sadler, Lecturer in Astronomy, Director Science Education, Harvard University.
A frequently asked question:"They all sound good - which class should I take?"

Of the various introductory classes above, if you're completely new to the subject or if you're looking for something with minimal math (there's always some math in celestial navigation), then try our Easy Introductory workshop. If you're interested in history, old logbooks, and perhaps a bit more interested in mathematical details, too, then sign up for the 19th Century Methods class. If you're more practically oriented, more pragmatic, not much interested in historical details, and mostly looking for a last-resort backup or a cross-check of your GPS, then sign up for the Modern Celestial class. Finally, if you're looking for pure paper and pencil methods closest to the standard techniques taught a generation ago, then try our Traditional Celestial class. All of these will give you real, usable navigational skills and methods, though naturally the Easy Introductory class provides more basic capabilities. While each of these classes stands on its own, they also make a nice series curriculum, providing an overview of celestial navigation in different styles and eras.


15 posted. 2 waiting approval.

Todd Smith wrote: 12/12/2009
Hello Frank,
Do you offer celestial nav courses for sailors?
Frank Reed wrote: 12/15/2009
Yes! Weekend classes this Spring at Mystic Seaport. You can read about them here or on the web page for planetarium courses at the Treworgy Planetarium at Mystic Seaport:
a visitor wrote: 5/27/2013
I'm very interested in celestial navigation. I've read a few chapters of an old copy of "Bowditch" from 1938. I think I understand most of it, but I'm hoping you can recommend some other books. Is there some place where I could find older nav techniques? Maybe circa 1865, Civil War era?

Frank Reed wrote: 5/27/2013
Yes, there are now many historical navigation works available on the Internet. You can download most of them as pdf's for convenient offline reading. I maintain a list of them on the NavList message boards: historical navigation resources. You should consider taking our "Celestial Navigation: 19th Century Methods" class. It's an introductory level weekend class where we learn the "Old Navigation" methods.

Frank Reed
Sarah Ilsley wrote: 6/22/2013
I also took Frank's 19th Century Celestial navigation class. The instruction was thorough and I learned much more than I expected. Not only the techniques of celestial navigation, but a rich account of it's history as well. We had plenty of time to practice using sextants ourselves, and Frank did his best to make sure that each of us understood what he was teaching. He really knows his stuff!!

Also, the class was made more enjoyable through discussions with my other classmates during, and after the class had ended! You know a class is worthwhile when the learning continues outside of the classroom.
Philip M. Sadler wrote: 6/22/2013
What a joyful and stimulating experience to enroll in Frank Reed's class, Celestial Navigation: 19th Century Methods. Frank is a skillful and engaging teacher, able to draw students into this fascinating subject, whether they be novice or experienced. His depth of knowledge is tremendous. Participants get a real taste of what it was like to be aboard a sailing ship of the day. I learned much to enliven my own teaching and decode 19th century ship's logs. It is a rare experience, indeed, to have so much thoughtfulness, enthusiasm, and fun packed into two days. This is the way to learn!

Philip M. Sadler, Ed.D.
F.W. Wright Senior Lecturer in Celestial Navigation
Harvard University Astronomy Department
Cambridge, MA
Samuel S. Caldwell MD wrote: 6/25/2013
I thoroughly enjoyed Frank's first class in celestial navigation held at Mystic Seaport, and hope to be back for more.

Samuel S. Caldwell MD
Saratoga Springs, NY
Andrew Seligman wrote: 9/16/2013
I took Franks basic class at Mystic seaport. Frank is a fantastic instructor. He made the noon-sight and polaris sight reduction really easy!
Paul Krantz wrote: 1/30/2014
I took Frank's Easy Introductory Celestial Navigation by Noon Sun course and was impressed with both his in-depth knowledge and practical skills in the use of a sextant as well as his awareness of a sextant's limitations along with its advantages as a modern navigational instrument.

I am the author of a new release book, "Riding the Wild Ocean," a collection of my wildest adventures in small boats under twenty feet in length from Cape Cod to the Dry Tortugas. Although my craft is too small and unstable a platform for practical use of a sextant, my extensive experience sailing small boats on the open water enabled me to recognize the great extent to which Frank Reed's instruction reflects the wisdom of a long experienced and master seaman. I can confidently recommend any of his courses based on my delightful experience with this skilled and engaging educator.

Paul S. Krantz, Jr.
Bob Goethe wrote: 9/11/2014
We are considering using the planetarium in Edmonton as a place to teach celestial navigation, enjoying freedom from cloudy skies by actually teaching the mechanics of sextant use inside the planetarium theater itself.

I would appreciate talking to your people if you have done this, to discuss things like determining "dip" in a theater where the sextant user is actually BELOW the projected horizon rather than above a true horizon outside.

Another issue is that the altitude of a celestial object projected on the theater's dome would vary from one seat to another inside the theater. I would love to discuss how you have managed this.

Bob Goethe
Frank Reed wrote: 9/11/2014
Bob, while many aspects of celestial navigation and positional astronomy can be taught under the dome, taking sights with a sextant in a planetarium is a fantasy --a fantasy often rediscovered! The problem of "dome parallax" (the variation of altitudes from one location to another under the dome, which you mentioned) is insurmountable with a "normal" planetarium projection. Even something as simple as estimating the altitude of the north star by "fists" is hopeless.
Andrew Lilly wrote: 10/1/2014
Frank and Bob,

You both bring up a fantastic idea that has been approached and (to some extent) solved before. Specifically for the U.S. lunar space program at the Morehead planetarium in NC.


Frank: you excellently bring up dome parallax, but isn't there going to be at least one point, or small area (near center of dome sphere, focal point of the dome) where the parallax wouldn't be nearly as significant? I'd assume this may require a platform / scissor lift etc and might not always be practical, dependent on the type of star projection system in the planetarium selected. I'd also guess the use of a bubble horizon would be necessary too.

Like Bob, I am also very interested in this subject with a local planetarium interested in the subject, and it doesn't seem to have a well published solution ;)

Your collective thoughts? Are there any good resources available on the subject?


Frank Reed wrote: 10/5/2014
Andrew, even if you shoot sextant sights from the very center of the dome, the results are poor due to parallax. Work out what happens in a dome with a 30 foot radius, if you shift the location of the sextant by just two inches. You should find that a "star" at 45 degrees altitude shifts by more than 13 minutes of arc. For all but the most crude observations of altitudes, this is too much to be useful for any purposes. Planetariums are very helpful for teaching coordinate systems and motions of the stars, and of course they're great for teaching basic constellations. But they do not function as "virtual reality" projections of the sky --at least not of sufficient fidelity for practicing celestial navigation sights in any useful way that I have been able to discover. NOTE
Barry Cousineau wrote: 1/22/2015
Hi Frank
I plan on signing up for the Modern Celestial Navigation Course offered in March and possibly the intermediate course as well. Is it recommended to purchase a sextant prior to the course, if so where would one purchase this instrument?

Barry Cousineau
Frank Reed wrote: 1/24/2015
You don't need to purchase a sextant in advance, but if you have one, yes, bring it along. If you would like to acquire a relatively inexpensive, functional sextant, I would suggest looking for a lightly-used Davis plastic sextant. These turn up fairly often on eBay for $100 or less. They're real sextants. You can cross an ocean with one. They're somewhat less accurate than a proper metal instrument, but it's not a major concern. And you can always upgrade later.

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