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Early Navigational Techniques

In ancient times, mariners navigated by the guidance of the sun and stars and landmarks along the coast. The Phoenicians were among the most daring of the ancient navigators. They built large ships and, traveling out of sight of land by day and by night, probably circumnavigated Africa. The Polynesians navigated from island to island across the open ocean using observations of guide stars and the moon, the winds and currents, and birds, knowledge of which was passed from generation to generation.

In England, Queen Elizabeth I did much to establish navigation laws, giving additional powers to Trinity House, a guild that had been created in 1514 for the piloting of ships and the regulation of British navigation. During this period the study of bodies of water, or hydrography, was given much attention, and harbors and the outlets of rivers were surveyed and buoyed. A tremendous advance in navigation had taken place with the introduction of the compass. Early in the 15th cent. there was progress by the Portuguese under the leadership of Prince Henry the Navigator, who built an observatory and formulated tables of the declinations of the sun; collected a great amount of nautical information, which he placed in practical form; made charts; and sponsored expeditions that led to numerous discoveries.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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