From Sexists To Sextants

1920 NYAC sextant

You have all fall’n into the oldest trick in the book. Using sexy images to talk about things that are boring. It was a two day set up, but here it is. SEXTANTS. And for those of you that can’t see this, we have this wonderful image of an Ink clot babe AND a sextant!

Babes can navigate! See


A huge thanks to the Antique Boat Museum for this cool series of Sextant images and text. mmmm maybe we can invent a new thing called Sextanting? You can text people a chart or navigation plan? Here is the article from the museum.

1920 NYAC sextant

“In the old days, navigation would be carried out with the aid of a sextant along with charts and other navigation tools. A sextant measures the angular distance between two visible objects and is primarily used for celestial navigation. By changing how you hold a sextant and what objects used for measurements, longitude and latitude can be estimated and a ship’s position can be found on a nautical chart. Sextants are a great backup navigational tool for ships since they don’t require electricity.

1956 Weems, Hughes and Plath Sextant

The Museum’s sextant was manufactured in 1956 by Weems, Hughes & Plath. Weems & Plath still manufactures nautical instruments as they have been since 1928 in Annapolis. Weems & Plath grew out Lt. Cdr. Weems determination to create a safer and simpler means of navigation for planes than using an armada of ships as beacons for trans-Atlantic flights. Weems & Plath began as Weems System of Navigation and became Weems & Plath after becoming the North American distributor for the navigational instruments produced by the German company C. Plath.”

The Paper trail of inspection

1920 NYAC sextant plaque This Sextant was a trophy!

1920 NYAC sextant certificate

1944 Mergenthaler ball recording sextant

1944 Mergenthaler ball recording sextant

There it is, from our pals at the Museum. Now as a kid, I was fortunate enough to be taught how to use a Sextant. Its actaully a very cool tool, and sadly some of that information has been errased from my mind over the years. I am still blown away by the fact that one can navigate around local water ways with an app on your phone. I don’t trust it. But I suppose thats life.

Thats me at age 11ish or so learning on the Chesapeake bay

Using a Sextant requires charts and graphs and all sorts of things to plot a course that can take some time. But on a ship crossing the ocean, a wonderful way to tell where you are by using the stars, time of day and so on. If you can see any point of land its very helpful and the sextent is used in a different way than shown in movies.

Sweet Pea has my old Sextant ready just in case..

Honestly using one should be part of getting a captains license, maybe is? But if all your electronics go out, this may save your life. And the best thing, is it can be a fun exercise on a long trip to keep you connected to the area you are in.

Then again, I just use my feet to navigate!

Sextants can also be used on land by the way, it’s merely a tool to help define where you are and what time it is. I was thought to use oil in a pan to reflect the sun off of. Cool stuff. Stuff I use even today to see if the anchor is slipping or boat is moving. Using markers on the horizon.

20 replies
  1. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    I can not believe that sextant company would use a woman in their advertisement subliminally stating that a sextant is so easy to use that “even a woman can do it!”. The horrors!

    I think the new Chris-Craft is still using models in a tasteful manor.

    (Images may be subject to copyrights and have to be removed from this post.)

  2. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    Wait one minute! Is that child doing a back flip off of a boat that is free floating, without a life jacket, in possibly shark infested waters? The irresponsibility of those parents, please someone call child protective services!

    (Images may be subject to copyrights and need to be removed from this post.)

  3. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    I have a sextant but I never learned to use it. It turns out they don’t work in NY because of our permanent cloud cover and white out blizzard conditions.

  4. Gary Van Tassel
    Gary Van Tassel says:

    Yes Matt celestial navigation is still required for a USCG license for ocean routes. I understand the Naval Academy has reinstated celestial training, GPS can get jammed! The US Merchant Marine Academy never left celestial training. I still have my cherished Weems & Plath I used as a young Mate on commercial ships. BTW, I deeply resent the “In the old days”!!! I am not that old yet, am I? The one place were technology and celestial nav have merged is with the various site reduction aps out there. Long hand calculations are a thing of the past.

    • Ed S
      Ed S says:

      Isn’t that the very reason we were taught from the first day of Indoc to always carry an knife and flashlight ? When I was navigating and the electronics of the day consisted of LORAN A and the early Inertial Nav sytems, the prudent navigator’s motto was “Never let a ‘fix’ louse up a good DR”
      A good read is Capt. Robert Ford’s book “The Long Way Home” about bringing a Pan Am Airways Boeing Clipper halfway around the world using nothing but maps cut from library books and DR in the no-navaids post-Pearl Harbor blacked-out world.
      Keep your flashlight and your wits handy.

      • Floyd r turbo
        Floyd r turbo says:

        Some people might want to know that DR stands for dead reckoning for the record. Just saying

  5. Gary Van Tassel
    Gary Van Tassel says:

    One more quick comment. The last ship I managed, before I hung my sextant up, was totally paperless. No paper charts, no books, everything electronic, It was great as long as everything worked and the Sat Comm was good. I was never totally comfortable with it. I guess maybe I am that old!

  6. Gene Porter
    Gene Porter says:

    Glad to see so many old boaters who once used sextants for celestial nav. But the article misses the main use of sextants for near shore navigation “on soundings”; measuring horizontal angles between three visible objects on land, then using a three armed protractor to plot a quick and accurate position. Great on Chesapeake Bay Matt. The Navionics app works too and costs less than a Weems and Plath sextant.

  7. Bilge Rat
    Bilge Rat says:

    While I definitely appreciate the old technology story, I think Matt did the old “sell the sizzle not the steak” in the lead up.

  8. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    I am mathematically challenged. Growing up I was lost when teacher discussed the theory and calculations stuff. Hence when the sextant or protractor or whatever was presented in intense detail…I was really lost. If only a teacher, any one of them, had started the class by saying:
    “suppose you need to cut and fit a 2 x 4…..” I would have been paying rapt attention…as it is I had to learn all that as a practicing adult….it was all theory….never practical in that day.
    I guess I will just Go Boating….

    • Mark in Ohio (sometimes da U P )
      Mark in Ohio (sometimes da U P ) says:

      My teacher taught that way. It was called “Shop Class”. I learned Math, Science, and some English in that class. More than I learned in other classes. Probably because I was more interested. I use the skills I learned from that class every time I touch a wooden boat.

  9. Randy
    Randy says:

    My little Tamaya Jr. got me from the PNW to Hawaii and back on a sailboat race in 1980. Noon sights and running fixes throughout the day were very reliable. And several times the moon was out during the afternoon to offer crossed lines of position. I could never get any star shots since the haze on the Pacific would always set in around dusk to obscure the horizon.

    Could I jump right back out there now and repeat this — NOPE! I would have to relearn the whole process.

    Satnav units at this time were selling for about $10,000, well outside my budget with the cost of getting my boat ready. Plus the reliability (?????) of those available units would still require you to be knowledgable of celestial nav.

  10. Wilson
    Wilson says:

    Mark: Sounds like my Latin class. I learned more about diagraming english sentences and European history in my latin class than I ever did in english or history classes.

  11. Wilson
    Wilson says:

    Speaking of history….Nice story about Irwin Marine celebrting 100 years on Lake Winnepesaukee in this weeks paper. Also nice ( video ) story about Dave Ramsey Boat works in today’s musings

  12. Bill
    Bill says:

    Never heard the term “Ink Clot”. Did you mean “Ink Blot” ?
    That seems a little more familiar….

  13. Ross
    Ross says:

    Ink clots are when you want to write something and the words don’t come out the way you want, that’s an ink clot

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