Navigating using the stars, also known as celestial or astro-navigation is an ancient method of position fixing using the angles between the stars or sun, the observer and the horizon. In its primitive form, it has been around since the dawn of man but has evolved to a skilled and surprisingly accurate science.
In fact, the US Navy and Air Force included celestial navigation in their pilot training up until 1997, in case of instrumental failure.
Celestial navigation is a tried and trusted from of navigation that carries several advantages over modern electronic forms of communication, and many modern mariners depend on their knowledge of the stars to help them in times of crisis.
So if you are interested in learning to navigate using the stars – do not fear. The science may seem complicated, but luckily, there are some great books and guides available that can teach you the way of the stars. Let’s have a look at the best books to learn how to navigate using the stars.
If you want to learn how to navigate the stars as a novice, you will need the following five books recommended by modern mariners and enthusiasts.
- The American Practical Navigator: N. Bowditch
- Celestial Navigation for Yachtsmen: M. Blewitt
- How to find where you are from the Sun: G. Buehler
- Celestial Navigation: A complete home study course: D. Burch
- Celestial Navigation: Learn to master one of the oldest mariners arts: T. Cunliffe
In the section below, we look at what topics each of these five books cover and to what extent. We explore how suitable the text is for amateurs and how much additional information is given. Lastly, we will also look at some other things you will need to start navigating using the stars.
The American Practical Navigator: Bowditch by NEMA
Many modern mariners identify this book as the bible of celestial navigation. It was first published as an encyclopedic work in the 1800’s but has been revised and republished several times since then, with the newest edition released in 2002.
It covers all forms of navigation, both old and new. It covers them all in detail, from celestial navigation and dead reckoning, through to the newest technologies in electronic navigation and digital charting technology.
This book is carried on the bridge of every US Navy ship and should be part of any serious navigator’s library. Because it covers all forms of navigation, it is a fantastic resource not only to learn celestial navigation, but also to understand your own electronic navigations systems better.
Knowing the limitations and advantages of each method will give you confidence in your use of them.
Having said this, this book is not for the faint of heart or the occasional recreational navigator. As such, for a true beginner, this should probably be a follow up book, and a novice should consider some of the easier, more elementary books on celestial navigation.
You can get it from Amazon for somewhere between $24 and $49, depending on if it is new or used.
Celestial navigation for yachtsmen by Mary Blewitt
This book is known as “the famous little book” on celestial navigation. It is a great book to start with if you are a novice, as it is a concise and clear explanation of this difficult science. This book has been around for more than 50 years and is a loved guide in both the UK and America.
In an effort to make the science more accessible for novices, this book has reworked some of the complicated mathematical problems to simple addition and subtraction.
You can find it at Amazon for about $6, or you can download it to your Kindle for $10. If you are willing to buy a used copy, you can get it for roughly $1. Overall, the simplicity of this book and its low price makes it the perfect navigational starter!
How to Find Where You are from the Sun by George Buehler
This book is another great novice guide that will help you understand the basics of celestial navigation. Without going into too much detail, this book will get you navigating quickly, allowing you to learn the more complex concepts as you progress.
It will teach you how to work a sextant, how to find a latitude and how to map all of this on a nautical chart. It also contains copies of worksheets and nautical almanacs to help you get started.
It is available from the Nautical Mind website for about $10.
- Celestial Navigation: A complete home study course by David Burch
This book offers a little more expertise than the two previous entry-level books we discussed. It is a complete home based course for the novice, and will help you understand and put to practice celestial navigation, route planning, dead reckoning and even some other basics such as how to use a logbook.
It also focuses on the difficult mathematical side of navigation, but makes it easy to master using tables, charts and workbooks to guide you systematically. It has been around or more than 30 years and has made mariners out of many aspiring novices.
Prices on Amazon range between $20 and 40$, and it is available on Kindle. As a complete guide, this book would be a great option for a novice that is seriously interested in celestial navigation.
Celestial Navigation: Learn to master one of the oldest mariners arts by Tom Cunliffe
Tom Cunliffe is a leading British Sailing Journalist and teaches from experience. He offers systematic guide to celestial navigation and will have you plotting your first position and taking your first sight in no time.
He focuses on the use of a sextant and reading nautical charts and almanacs in a simple and easy to understand approach with the help of charts, images and diagrams. Theoretically, he discusses the basic concepts and definitions with a hint of humor to make the complex terms more digestible.
You can buy this book from Amazon for $14, and it is available on Kindle.
What else will you need to start navigating the stars?
Books and guides will teach you the all the theory you will need to know in order to start navigating, but for celestial navigation, where angles, maths, charts and almanacs are important – you will need a couple more things. Here is what most mariners recommend you get (Source: GetMyBoat):
- A sextant. This is an instrument used for measuring the angles between the star, the horizon and yourself.
- An accurate watch or clock. This is important because each measurement needs to be taken at a very specific time, when the star you are navigating by, is visible along with the horizon. These times you will be able to find from your nautical almanac. You can check the time of your clock against the Navy Masters clock for accuracy.
- A current nautical almanac. Make sure to get it from a reputable source such as the government, as some almanacs are only accurate enough for tide tables.
Whether you decide to start with an in-depth course of celestial navigation, or whether you simply want to know a little more about this interesting field, there is a book suited just for you. The five books mentioned above come recommended by modern mariners that use the stars to navigate. Let us know what you think.