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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 Apps & Classes: 2018...

Get my new app. Defeats GPS Spoofing and great for sight-training, too: instant feedback with no paperwork at all. There's a free version that works with Sun, Venus, and Polaris sights and can function for three to seven days without network access and a full paid version that includes the Sun, Moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Polaris and all 57 standard "navigational stars" and works offshore and off-network for months at a time.

Upcoming Classes, Fall Schedule:

Other workshops not currently scheduled:

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 Celestial Navigation in the Age of Sail(formerly called "19th Century Methods"). 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 Modern Celestial Navigation. 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.


11 posted.

Mark Coady wrote: 6/6/2017
I have now done every course I think that has been offered so far at Mystic Seaport taught by Frank Reed in the last two years. I found the courses to all be extremely rewarding.

Several things stand out. The course material is presented in a balanced way, with a well thought mixture of detailed calculation, broken up by historical, factual, and hands-on aspects. This type of teaching is well suited to most, as it provides periods of more intense reasoning with relaxation and humor. Anyone can walk away with new-found knowledge. I also feel that the approach of understanding historical context and a simple practical approach is unique. It has gone a great way toward clearing up a lot of my preconceived ideas and confusions resulting from the many contradictory or esoteric approaches found in various volumes or on the internet.

Very simply, I learned a lot and it went a long way toward clearing up a mess. I was fascinated the whole time. The courses and NavList provide the tools to keep learning even after the course is over. I left able to measure what I see with a more calibrated eye for real world application, and a greater appreciation of human history. I can strongly recommend these classes for the curious, the fascinated, the historian, the hardcore navigator, or the armchair one. There is something in them for all.

I also found the NavList community to be helpful and encouraging as my journey continues. I hope I can undertake even more material in additional courses in the future.

"There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats" (Kenneth Grahame, from the "Wind in the Willows")

Capt. Mark

Frank Reed wrote: 6/6/2017
Mark, Thank you so much for attending so many classes, and thank you for your kind words!
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!
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.
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-- there were specialized planetariums with collimated star projection systems built as navigation trainers in the 1950s. These project some of the bright navigation stars from outside the dome --quite different from a common planetarium-- but that works.
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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Upcoming Events

  • Nov. 9-10:
    Modern Celestial Navigation
    Note: this session has been postponed a few days andd was formerly an evening session. Now scheduled for Friday and Saturday, this session will meet 10am-4pm both days.

Other Events

  • Dec. 3, 2017:
    StarTalk Television
  • Nov. 3-5, 2017 (done):
    Navigation Symposium
  • Private Tutorials: Anytime.
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