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View Poll Results: Blue Water- is a Sextant Necessary?
Absolutely essential 24 18.90%
Desirable, but not essential 52 40.94%
Good fun, but little practical use these days 39 30.71%
Don't waste your money and time on this 11 8.66%
Sextants make excellent dingy anchors. 3 2.36%
Multiple Choice Poll. Voters: 127. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 29-10-2012, 13:59   #1
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Poll-Blue water. Is a Sextant Necessary?

Has a sextant and the ability to use it become no longer necessary for a water sailing">blue water sailing boat.
Sadly I think the answer is yes. I wish it was not so. The sextant is a wonderful instrument to use and it is immensely satisfying, but is it necessary?

Many years ago in the early days of GPS I cruised with a very competent skipper. He expressed a desire to learn to use a sextant and since we were sailing between NZ and Tonga, it seemed an ideal time for him to learn.
Despite trying as hard as I could, I could not teach him. Mostly because his motivation was not there. He felt with a fixed GPS and a single handheld GPS he had a reasonable backup.
I spent my final day (and night) writing simplified celestial navigation instructions and sealing them in plastic bag for the emergency situation when the GPS failed.
He still cruises 6 months of the year and when we meet up for dinner, even some 20 years later, he always teases me that he still has my handwritten instructions ready for the day his GPS units fail.

The GPS system is more robust than it was 20 years ago. With cheap GPS units its feasible to have multiple backups and keep some of these sealed with their own power supply and protected by a faraday cage.

So is a sextant and the ability to use it essential for for blue water cruising?
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Old 29-10-2012, 14:03   #2
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Re: Poll-Blue water. Is a Sextant Necessary?

I'm confused. If a sextant was necessary, does that not make paper charts necessary so you have something on which to record your plots?
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Old 29-10-2012, 14:06   #3
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Re: Poll-Blue water. Is a Sextant Necessary?

Nolex,

The answer is "no". Having said that, if you get hit by lightning when far at sea, you might wish you had one and knew how to use it.

Are spare tires necessary? New cars don't have them. But if you decide to drive off into the bush, you probably would take one or more.

The thinking is the same for sextants. The prudent skipper will have one and know how to use it.

But as the years go by we will see less and less sextants on boats. When will sight reduction tables cease to be printed? Ah, you say they are on the net and can be downloaded. If you get hit by lightning, you laptop Ipad won't work and you'll wish you had a book.....
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Old 29-10-2012, 14:18   #4
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Re: Poll-Blue water. Is a Sextant Necessary?

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Originally Posted by Sabbatical II View Post
I'm confused. If a sextant was necessary, does that not make paper charts necessary so you have something on which to record your plots?
Playing around offshore with only a small scale Atlantic chart onboard i found plotting on a laptop with chart software much easier.
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Old 29-10-2012, 14:27   #5
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Re: Poll-Blue water. Is a Sextant Necessary?

Out of interest is there any kind of reliable data on gps failure offshore and having to resort to more trad methods? Only stuff I've ever seen came from the ARC and can't remember anyone loosing GPS completely, though that's from memory.
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Old 29-10-2012, 14:30   #6
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Re: Poll-Blue water. Is a Sextant Necessary?

I've got one, I need a lot of practice. Taking shots from the moving deck of a 32' boat takes a technique I haven't mastered yet.
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Old 29-10-2012, 14:35   #7
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Re: Poll-Blue water. Is a Sextant Necessary?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sabbatical II View Post
I'm confused. If a sextant was necessary, does that not make paper charts necessary so you have something on which to record your plots?
If you consider a sextant essential, then you are probably going to carry at least small scale paper charts a mechanical chronometer and perhaps a towed, mechanical log.
Any position can be readily plotted on an electronic chart, but it would take a catastrophic event to disable the multitude of GPS satellites and some of the scenarios, such as large EMP, could wipe out even protected electronics.

Personally I consider the risk of this sort of event as very low and in most cases landfall could be made safely anyway.
There are plenty of other, more serious, potential problems such as hitting a container, sinking, and the life raft failing, to name just one.
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Old 29-10-2012, 14:45   #8
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Re: Poll-Blue water. Is a Sextant Necessary?

I think the middle 3 answers on the poll are all basically saying you don't need one and it is just whether you are willing to say so!
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Old 29-10-2012, 14:47   #9
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Re: Poll-Blue water. Is a Sextant Necessary?

A situation in which the entire GPS system failed is so unlikely I can't see any reason to worry about. If you are worried about lightning strikes just toss a GPS in the microwave, one in the oven, a few scattered around the boat in the bilge, ect. GPS's are so cheap these days there is no reason not to carry a few as backup.

Alternatively count up how many gps units you already have onboard. My count:

1. My iPhone
2. My iPad
3. Chart plotter
4. Old handheld
5. Wife's iphone
6. Wife's iPad
7. Dinghy's chart plotter

Add in a guests iphone or crack berry, ect. And it wouldn't be impossible to have a dozen or more gps' on the boat at any given time.
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Old 29-10-2012, 14:52   #10
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Re: Poll-Blue water. Is a Sextant Necessary?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sabbatical II View Post
I'm confused. If a sextant was necessary, does that not make paper charts necessary so you have something on which to record your plots?
No, you can scale off some paper and plot your position on it. Even a running fix to noon, can be done. In fact, in the olden days, when doing great circle sailing we used to use plotting sheets all the time and then transfer the position to a chart. Of course, if close to land, you'll know your lat/long but you won't know what's around without electronic or paper charts.
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Old 29-10-2012, 14:58   #11
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Re: Poll-Blue water. Is a Sextant Necessary?

A big fan of the sextant, and like to use one, but it's days are numbered. Norway is calling for examination in celestial nav to be dropped for professional seafarers.
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Old 29-10-2012, 15:02   #12
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Re: Poll-Blue water. Is a Sextant Necessary?

Well I have been sailing now for 45 years so my answer may not reflect the newer reliance on electronics. If you sail off shore for any appreciable distance then you better be able to take care of yourself. Stars, moon and sun are reliable and if you scuttle your boat a sextant will still work even when all the electronics are fried. I like a GPS for situational awarness but I also feel real good about being self reliant. I am also amazed at how many sailors report that they do not keep a log.
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Old 29-10-2012, 15:04   #13
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Re: Poll-Blue water. Is a Sextant Necessary?

When the Naval Academy dropped celestial navigation in 1996 I finally got the message that the old days were gone. I sold my sextant many years ago when folks still had a use for them.
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Old 29-10-2012, 15:17   #14
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Re: Poll-Blue water. Is a Sextant Necessary?

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7. Dinghy's chart plotter


Really?! is it a dinghy anymore when it has it's own navigational system
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Old 29-10-2012, 15:25   #15
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Re: Poll-Blue water. Is a Sextant Necessary?

Quote:
Originally Posted by noelex 77 View Post
So is a sextant and the ability to use it essential for for blue water cruising?
If you were sailing across a large stretch of water say the Atlantic or Med and you suffered a lighting strike taking out GPS and Compass etc, could you bring your yacht to safety without a sextant?

BTW there is a thriving market in second hand sextants in the UK, sold my Mk 15 Davis on YBW within a couple of hours of posting the advert.

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