How would old ships navigate during pitch black nights on the middle of the ocean.


Have you ever distanced yourself enough from any urban zone where lights are no longer present and you get the full experience of how dark nightime truly is?

Imagine being on the deck of and old ship (think columbus era) on the middle of the ocean where everything around you is black. Supposing the sky isn’t very visible and neither is the moon, how would these old vessels navigate accurately?

In: Technology


They would navigate by the stars, and hold their course when the sky because too cloudy to read, then adjust their course the next time the stars were visible.

Ocean journeys back then could take months, and they had plenty of nights and days to keep adjusting their course.

They did also have compasses, which work day or night.

If the stars are not visible, you rely on the compass to maintain your previous heading until the sun or stars are visible again.

Fortunately there’s not much to hit out there so this is generally safe enough, but there are plenty of tales of ships ramming reefs and atolls and each other in the pitch black.

Once you get away from the urban light pollution and can see the “dark sky”, you’ll realize that it isn’t dark. The night sky is full of stars. You can navigate with those stars.

When the sky is clear, they would use celestial navigation. This is using the stars and other bright objects in the sky to navigate, they measure the distance between the two objects using a tool called the sextant. That is how they determine their position. If the sky isn’t clear, they would hold their course by using a compass. The trade winds also help keep them on course.