Navigation books

On my bookshelves are more than 50 feet of books referencing celestial navigation. The collection includes everything from an 1854 crumbling version of Bowditch, to concise navigation tables used during World War II. Some of them I consult on a regular basis and others I just glance at occasionally, like Squire T.S. Lecky’s Wrinkles in Practical Navigation.

The following is a list of some of the books that I have found to be very helpful over the long period that I have been a student of celestial navigation. They are not listed in any order of importance. If you have some books that you would like to share I would appreciate it if you would let me know. I am always looking for the “next best one.” Some of the following are in the workbook format and others are more like textbooks on the subject.

Many times I find myself needing to review theory and other times I need some assistance in technique, for instance, on the best ways to reduce a planet or moon sight. The best of these books combine both an easy way to comprehend theory as well as procedures that make sight reduction easier for both the novice and the experienced navigator. All of these books can be found on Amazon or on book search websites like Alibris.

When I go to sea, the only book that I take with me is Mary Blewitt’s Celestial Navigation for Yachtsmen. This small paperback is still, in my opinion, the best and most easily transported book on celestial navigation. There are of course others but they are too bulky to carry and are best used at home for reference.

How to Navigate Today by M.R. Hart is an excellent small tome first issued during World War II. The diagrams are easy to follow and the explanations of theory are excellent. The book is published by Cornell Maritime Press and should be on every navigator’s bookshelf. Like Celestial Navigation for Yachtsmen, this is an excellent book that can easily be taken out to sea.

Song of the Sky by Guy Murchie, is another excellent source of information concerning the rise of air tables developed during World War II. It is an easy read and very clear on theory, which is something that most navigators neglect.

Sky and Sextant by John Budlong is another of those books that is both very clear on theory and techniques. My copy is dog-eared and I constantly refer to it. A very good book that I think is still in print. It is still available and very helpful to both experienced and beginners alike.

Wrinkles in Practical Navigation by Capt. Lecky is a British version of Bowditch with the difference being that it is filled with humor and droll asides. Capt. Leaky can walk the reader though every aspect of celestial navigation including lunar sights. This is a great book to own if you are a student of celestial navigation. It is one of the few that is both informative and a pleasure to read.

Practical Celestial Navigation by Susan P. Howell

Celestial Navigation by Francis W. Wright

The Sextant Handbook by Bruce A. Bauer

The American Practical Navigator by Bowditch, the great sourcebook on all information concerning navigation.

Dutton’s Navigation and Piloting, another great collection of information and techniques, though like Bowditch can be tough going.

The best of all the textbooks is hands down George Mixter’s Primer of Navigation. Look for an older version that can be found at library sales for a couple of dollars. Mixter’s concept of “lighthouses in the sky,” is by far the very best explanation of the complicated theory of celestial navigation. Find it and enjoy it. Then there are some books that frame the rise of celestial navigation in a historical context. Besides Dava Sobel’s excellent Longitude, there is also Timothy Ferris’ Coming of Age in the Milky Way, and Daniel Boorstin’s brilliant The Discoverers. For complete information concerning the world of oceans there is no better book than Oceanography and Seamanship by William Van Dorn.

By David Berson