February 15, 2023

The History of Navigation

Navigation of the seas has evolved over the years but how can learnings from ancient seafarers help us to navigate the seas today?

For thousands of years, seafarers have used different methods and tools to navigate the open seas safely. From using stars and other natural landmarks to guide their ships, to today’s modern technology such as GPS, the industry has continuously looked for better ways to navigate with increased prevision and accuracy.

The History of Navigation
Where did it start?

The earliest known form of marine navigation was practiced by the Polynesians, who harnessed their knowledge of the skies, currents, and the movement of birds to guide their canoes across the vast Pacific Ocean.  

Using the sun during the day to influence their route, utilising not only the position as it travelled from east to west but also the shadows it cast, and using the stars at night, sailors were able to navigate their course with a fairly sophisticated level of accuracy.  

Over time, the knowledge of these early navigators grew more and more, developing an impressive and insightful view of the natural world allowing them to navigate thousands of miles without the aid of modern instruments.

The History of Navigation
Developing early techniques

Even during ancient times, seafarers would use marine navigation tools to identify speed, position and direction of travel. Although these were primitive at first, they soon become more sophisticated with the development of maths and science.  

This meant that the world of sea travel opened up and the opportunities become a lot wider.  

One of the earliest, but arguably most significant, developments in the history of navigation was the invention of the compass. It is believed that this tool was originally invented by the Chinese as early as the third millennium BC and meant that navigation was possible even when weather and visibility was poor.  

Another key development, was the use of maps or nautical charts in navigation. Books were written that included directions to navigate between ports based on landmarks and ocean currents. This allowed sailors to plan their journey in advance and to visualise their intended route. This was especially important for long-distance voyages, as it allowed sailors to consider the best course to reach their destination.  

The History of Navigation
What can we learn from traditional methods?

It is clear that over the various millennia where mariners have travelled the open seas, technology has improved making sea travel more accurate, reliable and safer. However, the principles of navigation remain the same.  

Mariners still rely on a combination of natural landmarks, instruments, and technology to find their way across the open ocean. As we continue to push the boundaries of what is possible, it is important to remember the rich history of marine navigation and the many people who have contributed to its development over the centuries. 

The History of Navigation
Introducing more modern tools and technology

The development of technology, such as GPS and other satellite-based systems means that navigation methods have become much more sophisticated. The reliability of these technologies to provide accurate and real-time locations of any vessel anywhere on the globe, means that navigation has become much safer, efficient and predictable.  

In addition, the widespread adoption of computer-based navigation system, ECDIS, means that seafarers can have an up to date, informative display about a ship’s position and surrounding environment. Mariners have instant access to information on the vessel’s location, water depth, navigational hazards and other important knowledge, allowing them to make informed decisions about their course and speed.  

ECDIS also allows mariners to easily update their charts with the latest information. This is crucial in an environment that is constantly changing due to natural processes and human activities. By harnessing this technology, users always have access to the most accurate, up to date and reliable data.  

Through essential training and practice on how to use the technology, as well as an underlying knowledge and understanding of the principles of navigation, mariners can ensure their voyage is as safe and efficient as possible.  

How do we keep it moving forward?

In order to ensure we are always leading the way with navigational technology, Seall partners with the very best Agents, Distributors and Service Providers from around the world. This also gives us confidence that we are always delivering the highest standards for our customers.  

Our team of marine and software technologists have extensive global experience across both maritime and IT, giving us a unique insight into the culture and the specific challenges of the sector.  

This specialist knowledge has real purpose – we have used it to design and develop a superior suite of product offerings which significantly enhances safety. We know first-hand how disjointed, complex and unwieldy many navigational systems can be, and we have married that experience with our software development expertise to create a comprehensive ECDIS system which is intuitive, straightforward and user-friendly.  


Get in touch to discuss your software requirements

The History of Navigation
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Barry Booth
Written by
Barry Booth
Chief Commercial Officer (CCO)
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