The best guides for navigating by the sun and the stars

Gilbert Park explains his love of celestial navigation and recommends two books that will familiarize you with this ancient skill…

I’ve always considered “noon” as something romantic and intellectually interesting. Having learned from books how to get a dose by measuring the altitude of the sun, I decided to do more.

I took the RYA Ocean Yachtmaster course to learn celestial navigation but then Covid came along and put a stop to all further practice.

So, to better understand the calculations and maintain my interest, I did what I normally do…I bought some more books. At last count I had 13!

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Sticky Forms_Credit David Rainsbury

PBO contributor Sticky Stapylton shows how to determine an estimated position and bearing

They range from pre-GPS days to today. At one time I had three sextants of different types. So would these two new books fit into my learning?

Phil Somerville The Practical Guide to Celestial Navigation tells you how to use only the sun to navigate. It is 160 pages and beautifully written.

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All theory and practice are clearly explained with well illustrated diagrams. I spent a pleasant afternoon reading it.


Two very different books on the same subject, but both valuable to learn

by Andrew Johnson Astro Navigation from home (without sextant) is completely different, except that it too is clearly written.

It is very rich in information and requires a lot of thought and study. In 104 pages, it explains how to use most celestial bodies.

What’s really new is that you don’t really need a sextant! Instead, you use a planetarium app (Winstars or Stellarium) which will show you all the celestial bodies and allow you to do your ‘sextant’ readings.

From there, you do your calculations and use a plotter sheet or another app, TeacupNav, to get your location. Both methods are explained and illustrated.

You can purchase it as an ebook in PDF format from the author’s website or as a conventional book from Brown Dog Books.

At first I was a little reluctant to try the e-book, but I found it worked well because it has live links that take you to the author’s website with worked examples.


Working examples of astro navigation are available via links from Andrew Johnson’s ebook

The links are included in both printed books, but of course you have to type them into your device.

What book would I buy if I was at the start? Most likely The Practical Guide to Celestial Navigation as it would give me the confidence to buy the second one to further my knowledge.

In terms of cost, the former is more expensive and may be unnecessary if you want to learn how to use stars and planets as well as the sun.

With Astro Navigation from home (without sextant) you may want to buy one of the low-cost apps to improve the experience, but that’s not a requirement.

To buy The Practical Guide to Celestial Navigation from Amazon

To buy The Practical Guide to Celestial Navigation by Waterstones

To buy Astro Navigation from home (without sextant) by Brown Dog Books

To buy Astro Navigation from home (without sextant) eBook from

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