Challenges of Navigating at Sea

Challenges of Navigating at Sea

Traveling and navigating the world’s oceans and seas has offered various adventures for ancient explorers. They went on sea voyages to discover lands and places far from home. They gathered information and developed techniques and tools to travel by sea.

What we have today is the result of many low-tech gadgets and gear that were used by early voyagers and seafarers. Despite the promise of adventure and amazing discoveries, navigating the seas also poses immense risks and challenges.

The seas can be disastrous, and there are wild forces that are beyond human control and can happen in the blink of an eye. These are some of the challenges that people at sea face when they navigate from one place to another.

Wind and Weather

Ever since the beginning of sea travel, determining the position and keeping the direction under routine conditions highly depend upon the seafarer’s knowledge of the wind and sea currents. The wind and the weather are two unpredictable factors that can disrupt a peaceful sea crossing.

Winds can cause turbulent currents, and bad weather conditions can endanger the crew and threaten even the biggest sea vessels. In extreme cases, it can spoil the best-laid navigation plan and cause tremendous delays in travel.

Modern ocean navigation systems are tested through inertial simulation. This allows different sea conditions to be tested without directly experiencing them.


Seafarers take time to learn the skills of deep water sailing. It is very different from the skills one uses when coasting with landmarks that are easily seen. Out in the open water, sailors traditionally relied on dead reckoning.

They simply look on their maps and navigation system to estimate a new position based on the ship’s last position, its sailing speed and the direction that it is going. Over long distances, many sailors commit errors in estimating their position and in determining distances.

Sailing Charts and Directions

Sailors especially when still new at sailing the high seas find it challenging to read sailing charts and directions. Before GPS came into use, most seafarers were very much ignorant of the vast stretches of the oceans and the coastlines.

It was only in the mid-19th century that more navigation data were uncovered and used for sea travels. With each sea crossing, more information was gathered, and would-be sailors studied better sailing charts.

Accuracy of Instruments

sailing ship at dawn

It was in the 1700s that instruments for better sea navigation were invented and tested. Back then, more nations were exploring the seas in search of new territories and expanding their power and religion.

Over time, finding latitudes and longitudes became easier as angle-finding instruments and seaworthy clocks were perfected. Without these instruments, seafarers will find it challenging to rely on a cloudy sky to read the sun and stars to navigate the seas.

Seafarers today enjoy the tried and tested instruments, sailing charts and directions, GPS systems, and other tools that make navigation at sea easier and more exciting. What remains as a challenge for most sailors include the monotony of the seascape, unpredictable weather, and some piracy in some regions.

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