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Further Investigations: Wayfinding and Navigation

  1. Observe wave and swell patterns around islands, rocks, rivers, docks, or jetties near your home. Construct your own stick chart using materials you have available to explain the wave and swell patterns.
  2. Test a variety of common metal objects and materials with a bar magnet. Some objects to try include coins, paper clips, brass weights, aluminum foil, stones, steel washers, nails, bobby pins, and safety pins.
    1. What kinds of matter are attracted by magnets?
    2. What kinds of matter are not attracted by magnets?
    3. Do any of the objects become magnetized and then attract other objects? If so, which ones?
    4. Wrap the magnet in cloth and re-test the objects. Record what happens.
  3. Learn how to make a simple electromagnet from a nail, copper wire, and a battery.
  4. Obtain an official nautical chart for the coastal waters in your area or a location that interests you. Closely examine the chart’s compass rose.
    1. What is the magnetic declination or variation on this chart?
    2. Use your own words to define the term magnetic declination.
    3. Imagine that you are aboard a small boat in the center of the chart. How would you use a compass and knowledge of your local magnetic declination to sail toward an exact position in a corner of the chart?
  5. Read and report to your class on one of the following:
    1. Prince Henry the Navigator and the center he established to train Portuguese sea captains.
    2. The explorers of the 15th century “Age of Discovery,” including Dias, da Gama, Columbus, Balboa, Magellan, Hudson, and Drake.
    3. Captain James Cook’s explorations and mapping of the southern ocean basins, Hawai‘i, Australia, and the northeast Pacific ocean basin.
    4. The roles of a captain, navigator, and pilot on a ship or airplane.
  6. Make and learn to use a simple astrolabe. Demonstrate your instrument for your class.
  7. Get more information about courses on navigation, boating operation, and safety from the Coast Guard or other local organizations. Take one of these courses; many of them are offered online.
  8. Arrange to visit a boat or ship that uses modern navigation instruments. Visit the bridge and examine a GPS, compass, radar, fathometer, and other electronic navigational devices.
  9. The United Nations estimates that there are more than three million shipwrecks on the ocean floor. A number of these, such as the Andrea Doria, Arniston, and Scilly naval disaster of 1707, were the result of faulty navigation. What navigation errors occurred, causing these boats to sink?


Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.