Men in a ship are always looking up, and men ashore generally look down.    - John Masefield


Celestial Sightings

A sailor may not own a sextant or even know how to operate one, but the sun, moon, and stars can still provide him with some valuable information.



The time until sunset can be estimated by using only your hand.

Extend your hand at arms length with the palm facing you and your fingers spread.

Align the edge of you hand and your little finger along the horizon line.

Note where the sun is in relation to your fingers.

Each finger represents 10 minutes until sunset.


Celestial North

Polaris (i.e. North Star) is the last star in the handle of the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor), and it identifies celestial north.

The two end stars in the ladle of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) point to Polaris.


Celestial South

The stars Gacrux and Acrux form the horizontal branch of the Southern Cross.

Extending the cross five times the distance between the two stars enables you to locate celestial south.  (There is no star at that location.)

In the northern hemisphere, point the hour hand of a clock or watch directly at the sun.

South is situated midway between the hour hand and 12 o'clock.


Celestial East & West

The star Mintaka, uppermost star in Orion's belt, rises due east and sets due west. 


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