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Old 23-01-2013, 05:52   #1
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Sextant Newbie?

Hi all or avast there
Well looks like im going to get my feet wet this year with a foray into the blue yonder. So my question is this I dont trust all that electronics which is all fine when within cooee of the shore so I think a sextant would be a good investment. I looked on ebay there is some lovely old antique ones there and some more modern ones prices start about $80 up to $500 I like the idea of a old one but one that works is most important. are they all ok? Any advice on educating myself on its use? do I really need one?
Thnx Chris
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Old 23-01-2013, 06:00   #2
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Re: SExtant Newbie?

Sextants are great tools, but require a skilled operator and good weather to be accurate.

Today, you can buy two handheld GPS units for the price of one sextant, which don't rely on clear skies or a skilled operator.

I don't want to deter you from using a sextant, but my exeperience is that even if you have one and learn to use it properly, you will find that you will be looking at a GPS unit to confirm your calculations frequently.

In my opinion, you would be better off with couple of handheld GPS units and good charts.
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Old 23-01-2013, 06:10   #3
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Re: SExtant Newbie?

If you are set on getting a sextant, just get a cheap plastic one. It takes time and practice to get an accurate sun sight. Stars will take a lot more practice, especially on a small vessel.
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Old 23-01-2013, 06:15   #4
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Re: SExtant Newbie?

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Originally Posted by Vasco View Post
If you are set on getting a sextant, just get a cheap plastic one. It takes time and practice to get an accurate sun sight. Stars will take a lot more practice, especially on a small vessel.
+1. It's not the easiest skill to master, but you can learn just as well on a plastic sextant, which in any case will be good enough for emergency use. If you become proficient (master the noon site, first and foremost!), then you can think about spending the big $ for a better instrument.
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Old 23-01-2013, 06:33   #5
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pirate Re: SExtant Newbie?

Hi Chris... Welcome to CF..
Others have said it... a GPS can do the job for you... also I suggest your Charts/depth log/Mk1 eyeball will also serve very well for coastal work when you cooeee...
And... a cd, pencil and rubber band can serve nearly as well as a sextant.. CD-Sextant - Build your own sextant
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Old 23-01-2013, 07:02   #6
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Re: SExtant Newbie?

That CD sextant - awesome! Too bad McGuyver is off the air...

Santa gave me a book on sextants for Christmas, but forgot the sextant, so I'm buying a Davis Mark 15 plastic sextant. There's not alot of call for one when sailing the Great Lakes; I'm just getting into it to connect more with sailing history, and to be more aware of the sky, especially at night.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnnyCristo
I looked on ebay there is some lovely old antique ones there and some more modern ones prices start about $80 up to $500 I like the idea of a old one but one that works is most important. are they all ok?
I spent some time looking around, before ordering the Davis sextant. Be very careful about the sextants on ebay. It seems that the majority of old ones are actually reproductions from India, and are certainly nautical looking, but I bet are not very functional. Even for legit used sextants, you won't know if it was dropped, abused, or damaged til you receive it.

Currently I own 3 portable GPS units: a Garmin etrek Vista (ebay $100), a USB plug-in (China - $30), and an old Lowrance handheld (flea market $5). All of them are more accurate than just about anyone with a sextant.
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Old 23-01-2013, 08:52   #7
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Re: SExtant Newbie?

The consensus today seems to be you don't need a sextant in the age of GPS. Yet owning a quality sextant and knowing how to at least shoot a noon sight is a real pleasure and does in fact "link" you to the traditions of sailing.

As for buying a sextant, ebay can be a great source, but buy with extreme care. Two names to look for are C.Plath and Tamaya and should sell in the $400-$500 range. As stated, beware of the cheap knock-offs such as "Stanley of London" sold as decoration only. Davis is about the only reasonably priced modern maker and you probably know they offer several plastic ($200-$300) as well as a metal ($800+) version.

If you buy off ebay be sure the seller will take a return if you are unsatisfied. You can generally check to see if a sextant is damaged and "The Sextant Handbook" by Bruce Bauer will show you what you need to know to gauge the condition and accuracy.

Self learning is challenging but there are dozens of books available on Amazon on the subject - some better than others. Then of course you'll need to buy an almanac and current reduction tables. Oh... and an accurate watch. To practice at home, Davis offers an artificial horizon for about $25.

My advice, for what it is worth, would be to buy a Mk-15 Davis (plastic), artificial horizon, almanac, reduction tables and several books. Play around, learn and if your interest is still there a year later you can always sell the Davis on ebay and move up.

I'll buck the system here and tell you to go for it. GPS is great and I love all of mine, but it's somehow reassuring to know that if I am ever in the middle of the ocean sans GPS I can find my way to the nearest dry land.
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Old 23-01-2013, 09:12   #8
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Re: SExtant Newbie?

I agree with Rover88. There is value still in learning celestial nav as well as redundancy with 2 - 3 GPS units. However, unless you know what you're looking for; eBay is a source for a lot of junk. The Davis plastic ones are an economical way to start.
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Old 23-01-2013, 09:31   #9
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Re: SExtant Newbie?

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnnyChristo View Post
Hi all or avast there
Well looks like im going to get my feet wet this year with a foray into the blue yonder.
Were you looking for the "Talk Like a Pirate" forum?

"Avast" is a command meaning to cease and desist. It has never been a form of greeting.

A "foray" is an attack or incursion. "Blue yonder" is a aeronautical idiom for the sky. It does not in any way connote oceans. Sailors do not take boats into the wild blue yonder. And sailors tend not to like getting their feet wet.

A sextant is an archaic navigational instrument; courses in its use were abandoned by the US Naval Academy back in the previous millenium. Claiming you want to learn to use one because you don't trust electronic gadgets is like going into battle with a sword because you don't trust guns.
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Old 23-01-2013, 09:44   #10
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Re: SExtant Newbie?

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A sextant is an archaic navigational instrument; courses in its use were abandoned by the US Naval Academy back in the previous millenium. Claiming you want to learn to use one because you don't trust electronic gadgets is like going into battle with a sword because you don't trust guns.
All pretty much true, but some archaic sailors still carry (and use) them. We have a fixed GPS and two handhelds (not counting phones) on the boat, but I also carry two sextants; a nice Tamaya and a plastic Davis. And the necessary paper to go along with them; almanac, sight reduction tables, plotting sheets...

I simply enjoy using one. It's actually fun, and good mental exercise on a long passage to reduce sights. If you really want to be archaic (and sadistic) go back to Bowditch and do the reduction from first principles.

One caution, if you really do believe that one day your electronics will fail (either on your end or on the other end) then you need to practice with the sextant while the electronics are working Not something you want to learn when you have no way to check your work.
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Old 23-01-2013, 10:15   #11
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Re: SExtant Newbie?

A couple of points.
Celestial is in fact still taught at the Naval Academy and in practice Academy grads will not use this skill except as oversight when as a senior officer they may assume the role of navigator. Day to day use of celestial is conducted as a backup by enlisted quartermasters.
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Old 23-01-2013, 10:30   #12
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Re: SExtant Newbie?

Would you ever jump out of an airplane with one chute if your main chute is better than what you have for a reserve chute?

Please don't let those that say GPS is better dissuade you. GPS is better...BUT.... by learning celestial you will have a skill set that fewer and fewer people who call themselves sailors have. You also learn things about the heavens and the earth that few others know. No, learning celestial is not totally worthless. How many sailors these days even know what azimuth, altitude or declination means? How many know what LAN is or can calculate civil twilight? How many can even calculate their compass error using the sun? You can't calculate compass error at sea using a GPS.

Also, since when do you go to sea knowing only one method of calculating your position? Whatever happened to the wise philosophy of having as many backups as you can?
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Old 23-01-2013, 10:58   #13
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Re: SExtant Newbie?

JohnnyChristo,

I say, as some others have, go for it (the sextant and learning celestial).

I used to teach celestial navigation, and am now down to just three sextants (C. Plath, Cassens & Plath, and an old vernier USCGS model).

I carry the two on my boat, along with necessary almanac and tables to reduce sights, either by hand or by computer.

Nevertheless, GPS is good, too. For me, it's not either/or; it's both. Learning celestial is good practice, gives you a much better understanding of the heavens above you, and a better understanding of navigation overall.

Still, I'm also a GPS fan. I have seven of them! Three are dedicated to ship navigation/positioning/course/speed/etc. Two are old handhelds. One is built into my Standard 851 handheld VHF. One is a hockey-puck which plugs into a laptop.

Bottom line for me at least: GPS is great and will likely be one or your main navigation data sources. Sextants are also great because, IMHO, they make you a better overall sailor/navigator.

Bill
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Old 23-01-2013, 11:16   #14
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Re: SExtant Newbie?

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How many know what LAN is or can calculate civil twilight?
LAN? No big deal. Local apparent noon is a click away, no sextant required: NOAA Improved Sunrise/Sunset Calculation
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Old 23-01-2013, 11:22   #15
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Re: SExtant Newbie?

A few used sextant models to also consider. The Astra is a Chinese knock off but good quality and the only affordably priced new sextant available. US and British Navy surplus sextant s are also good. You'll want a micrometer sextant. The Vernier scale sextants are a hassle to read accurately.

USSR Marine Sextant Cho T 1973 No N3085 Russian Sextant | eBay.

Freiberger Marine Drum Sextant | eBay

New Astra III B Sextant Athorized Dealer Best Buy | eBay

Learning to navigate via sextant is no big deal. Learned the mechanics of sight reduction with a couple of hours classroom instruction. Took my first actual sight on the first day out of San Diego on the way to the Marquesas. It's a useful skill to have but nowhere near as accurate as GPS and works 24/7 no matter what the weather.
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