Classes in celestial navigation and related topics

Micrometer sextant Circumpolar stars and Polaris for latitude Dennis DiCicco Ship and horizon A variation on the Equation of Time A Plath sextant Sights around Local Apparent Noon Sights at Beavertail on Conanicut Island

Modern Celestial ONE: Sextants & Sun Sights

Fall 2020:

  • Register Oct 10-11 Atlantic sessions OR Oct 13-15 Pacific sessions,
    Online Workshop, Broadcast from Conanicut Island USA

This is not you grandparents' celestial navigation! A fast-paced introduction to celestial navigation from a 21st century perspective employing streamlined, modern methods. Celestial navigation stands as the only autonomous backup to GPS and electronic navigation, and it is a tradition that connects us with maritime history.

Modern Celestial ONE is a complete course in basic celestial navigation for the modern world. With everything you learn in this class, you could navigate across an ocean the next day. This workshop covers the principle, use, and adjustment of modern sextants available on the market today. You'll learn how to calibrate any sextant in just a few minutes to bring it perfect working order, from the simplest plastic sextants to high-end Plath sextants. Note: a sextant is not required for this workshop, and we will discuss buying opportunities, how to spot an excellent sextant, fit for navigation, at a good price and how to avoid lemons, fakes, and decorative sextants.

In Modern Celestial ONE we learn about basic motions of the celestial sphere and how to determine compass direction quickly and reliably, on any ocean in any year, by the Sun in different latitudes and times of day. This workshop is designed especially for yachtsmen and recreational boaters. If you're dreaming about a trans-oceanic voyage or a circum-navigation, in this workshop you'll learn all the techniques to determine latitude and longitude anywhere on Earth. We'll also discuss celestial navigation options for upcoming ocean races with celestial classifications including Annapolis-Bermuda, Marion-Bermuda, and others.

We cover Sun sights for latitude and longitude in detail, correcting sights for dip, refraction, and other details. We learn how to get latitude and longitude from sights around noon based on the Sun's Declination and GHA, and also how to calculate an exact longitue from sights in the morning or afternoon. You can cross an ocean and circum-navigate the world using only the Sun, and the Modern Celestial Guidebook which you will receive as part of this workshop.

Modern Celestial TWO is recommended as a follow-up to Modern Celestial ONE.

$149 per person, per workshop

Online sessions: Nine hours of class time in two or three online meetings (depending on session). Weekend and weekday sessions available. Weekend Atlantic sessions start at 12 noon (Eastern US time, 1600 UT). Weekday Pacific sessions start at 6pm (Eastern US time, 2200 UT). All sessions live and carefully authored and created by me.

Each workshop has two schedule options. Attend either one (at your convenience): ATLANTIC session or PACIFIC session (so named because the Atlantic sessions are more conveniently timed for those on both sides of the Atlantic and similar for the Pacific sessions). Atlantic sessions this fall will meet Saturday and Sunday from 12:00noon-5:00pm Eastern US time (start time 1600 UT) with breaks, totalling 4 hours 30 minutes of class time each day or nine hours net. Pacific sessions meet on Mon., Tues., Wed. running from 6:00pm-9:15pm each day (start time 2200 UT) with breaks, amounting to 3 hours of class time each day, also nine hours net. You must select ATL or PAC session when you register, however you can change at no charge, and you may attend both if you request by email.

Anyone registered for an online workshop will be invited to attend hour-long sextant practical sessions in Rhode Island and Connecticut scheduled as weather and social distancing permit. These live, in-person sessions are included in your registration for online classes.

Taught by Frank Reed, a gifted teacher and a recent guest expert in celestial navigation on Neil deGrasse Tyson's StarTalk science talk show on The National Geographic Channel.

  • Nine hours in online sessions.
  • Requirements: Basic addition and subtraction, good familiarity with latitude and longitude. Some familiarity with basic algebra, especially positive and negative numbers.
  • Recommended for ages 18 and up, students as young as age 13 welcome.
  • You'll need to purchase the recommended scientific calculator for the class: the "Casio fx-260 Solar" (original or newer "II" model). These are widely available for less than $10 at Walmart, Staples, and other stores. Android users can try my functionally near-identical app: download sc-beta.apk (app written by Frank Reed, guaranteed safe).

    Casio fx260 solar calculator


Doug MacPherson wrote: 5/16/2020
I recently took online versions of Frank Reed's "Celestial Navigation in the Age of Sail", and "Lunars - Finding Longitude by Lunar Distances". I couldn't have been more happy with them. Having originally learned post WWII celestial methods as an officer in the United States Navy, and taken it up as a hobby, I was quite familiar with that era's procedures. However, I was intrigued by how they managed prior to then. Frank's two classes filled that void. His vast knowledge of the subject, both the technical aspects of the work as well as the historical significance were perfectly balanced. These are classes that can be thoroughly enjoyed by both the novice as well as the well versed practitioner. Recipe's for doing the work, the science behind those recipes, and actual voyages by the sailors that practiced the art were all presented with wonderful clarity. If "time sights", "cleared lunar distances" or "apparent time" have ever roused an interest, you owe it to yourself to take one of Frank's classes.

Doug MacPherson
Lieutenant, USN sep.
Samuel S Lyness wrote: 4/29/2019
Frank, a wonderful course in Lunars. I learned a lot. I admire your teaching skills and your astounding fund of knowledge. I would wish to emulate your style of instruction. Best regards, hope to sign up for your course in Cel. Nav. in Age of Sailing.
Sam Lyness
Captain Richard D. Buchanan wrote: 11/12/2019
I have taken Frank's Modern Celestial Navigation class twice. I am always inspired and I always come away with a few practical techniques and more than a few insights into the history and beauty of celestial navigation. You owe it to yourself to enjoy this class, whether or not you are a mariner.
John Workman wrote: 11/20/2018
I just took one of Franks classes and it was awesome!!

Frank taught an incredible class on celestial navigation that brought me from novice to some solid understanding of sextants, their history and most importantly their use as a aid to seeing the sea...and knowing where you are on this planet!

Hands on, wealth of knowledge, great resources at Mystic Seaport, he really covered a lot of ground! There was a lot of math but unlike in my youth, I was on the edge of my seat to soak up knowledge!! Frank made it relatable and real. The sextant which is such an iconic tool of the sea, was demystified. By the end of class i felt comfortable with it. I had mastered how it worked, how to read it and how to adjust it to insure its accuracy.

I came away with all of the cheat sheets and understandings of equations and concepts that breathe the life into what you capture through your sextant sightings.

I would highly recommend Frank and believe the Mystic Seaport with its planetarium, an ideal setting for my class with him discovering this timeless tool of the sea.

Frank did a great job keeping the class interesting with visual aids, both on screen and out on the seaport grounds. Frank had also noticed i was interested in the Draken. This is the Viking ship which had made its voyage across the Atlantic and up and down the east coast, resting for winter in Mystic as the troops regroup, gathering resources for another ocean voyage. He took extra time to talk about and show with polarized film the concept of the "Viking Sun Stone" which is a suspected navigational aide the Vikings may have used to traverse the globe as they had.

All in all i would highly recommend this class to any and all folks interested in learning about navigation and sextants. Informative and digestible, but most of all useful to the point where i am comfortable with the instrument and have the formulas needed to continuing to set my sights on the horizon!!

I look forward to more classes to learn more from Frank and strengthen my understandings of celestial navigation!

Thank you!!!
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

Dr. Russell D. Sampson wrote: 6/22/2017
I took Frank's 19th Century Celestial Navigation class in April 2013 and really enjoyed it. Not only was the class interesting but my fellow classmates were too; a retired skipper of a ballistic missile sub, the son of the fellow who invented GPS, a teacher, a captain of a Panamax container ship and a fellow who crossed the Atlantic solo - twice!

The class was also a great resource for my teaching and my own research interests such as the visibility of celestial objects in the daytime (Jupiter and Venus) and the effects of astronomical refraction near the horizon. I hope to take more workshops with Frank.

Dr. Russell D. Sampson
Wickware Planetarium
Eastern Connecticut State University
Philip M. Sadler wrote: 6/22/2017
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

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