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CATEGORY

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To safely travel the world’s oceans, USS Constitution’s crew required a variety of navigational tools and a detailed knowledge of how to use them. Whether avoiding dangerous shoals along the coast or estimating their location on the open ocean, Constitution’s officers followed a strict navigation routine and paid close attention to the ship’s progress. Distances to land were regularly recorded in the logbook, and, when out of sight of land, the ship’s speed and direction by the compass were tracked every hour.

Scientific advances during the 18th century, including the invention of the seagoing chronometer and publication of the nautical almanac, led to new methods of determining a ship’s position out of the sight of land. Midshipmen were educated daily in the mathematics of geography and astronomy, but Constitution’s officers also relied on much older methods to track the ship’s position. Sophisticated tools like the sextant were used to determine position from observation of the sun and stars, while simple tools like the telescope and sounding lead helped crew keep an eye out for dangers and stay in deep water.

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