History of Navigation: Introduction

History of Navigation

Navigation is finding one’s way at sea and in the air. Without roads, the navigator relies on coastal, celestial and electronic marks. The word navigate comes from the Latin words for ship (navis) and “to drive or guide” (agere).

Navigation is both art and science and requires understanding of the earth and heavens. Changes in navigation science and technology over the last five hundred years have altered the navigator’s work and methods. Yet, the navigator’s basic task remains constant: to keep track of where the ship has been and where it is now, and to plan where the ship will go next.

Navigation is based on astronomy, physics, oceanography, meteorology, earth sciences, aerodynamics, and hydrodynamics. Mathematics can include arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, logarithms, geometry, and analysis. The navigator needs practical judgment to make good decisions with incomplete or overly complex data.

While today’s electronics have helped automate navigation, they also provide much more information for the navigator to process, and the navigator has to be prepared for electronic failure. The work of navigation requires care, but it is fascinating in that it combines so many disciplines, and requires forethought and planning.