Escaping the island - navigation at night

Why the stars are important for survival

Early mariners and explorers used the stars to navigate at night. We can still use their methods of navigation now.

The most important star is Polaris, also known as the Pole or North Star. An imaginary line drawn from this star to the nearest point on the horizon shows the direction north. Polaris is quite faint but it easily found by following the ‘pointers’ in the constellation of the plough, as shown in the diagram below. If we can measure the height of the North Star above the horizon we can determine how far north or south we are.

Some cultures used the night sky to help them survive in other ways. For example, the ancient Egyptians prepared for the flooding of the Nile when they saw Sirius rise with the sun. In South Africa the Pleiades star cluster was known as the ‘digging stars’, when they reappeared in the early morning sky it was time to start digging the ground ready to plant crops.

Further information

If you are interested in finding out more about the stars why not visit the Planetarium at World Museum.

The Boat Safe Kids website has a good history of navigation through the ages.

Have a look at our page of links to other websites for more information about navigation and other important survival skills.