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Sextant sales revive in spite of GPS

Jan 1, 2003

Use of the marine sextant, that funny little contrivance with a measured arc, micrometer drum, viewing scope, and mirrors, seems to be on the rise in this country, despite the prevalence of electronic position-finding tools.

Although celestial navigation requires less math than is taught in most high school classrooms, sailors in recent years have grown accustomed to the instant gratification available from GPS. But in the last two years, sextant dealers in the U.S. have been witnessing a rise in domestic sales.

"In the last 12 months alone the sale of sextants in this country is up roughly 28 percent," Ken Gebhart, president of Celestaire in Wichita, Kan., said. "We're hearing more and more that people are interested in a back-up to their electronics. They don't want to head offshore without knowing at least some celestial."

The cost disparity between a GPS ($100 to $500) and a sextant ($400 to $2,000) is undoubtedly the cause of much of the sailors still balking at learning celestial navigation. But, like sporting the tattoo of a mermaid (see page 12), knowing celestial remains as one of the mystical differences between a sailor and a landsman.