Navigation can be defined as the process followed in getting a vessel from one geographical point to another in the safest and most economical way. Whilst the methods used are based upon sound scientific and mathematical principles, their efficient execution is based upon the experience and skill of the navigator.
Being a land based creature, man learnt very quickly to navigate on land by using the fixed topographical features of his environment. For him the sea was a completely different kettle of fish. Since there were no fixed topographical features, his first venturing was confined to the coast and during daylight hours only. Over the years however, he became more adventurous and he ventured further and further from the land.
The discovery of the magnetic lode stone eventually led to the development of the magnetic compass. His broadening knowledge of the heavens led him to navigate by the stars. Instruments such as the astrolabe (forerunner to the sextant) were developed with which he was able to determine his latitude from astronomical observation. The development of the chronometer enabled him to determine his longitude. Eventually the sextant was developed along with chronometers of increasing accuracy. Together with specialised mathematical tables he was finally able to determine his position with a high degree of accuracy anywhere on the globe.
From the beginning of the 20th century technology advanced with ever increasing speed and the modern electronic navigation system which we use today, evolved. There is little doubt that navigation systems will continue to evolve in future. Whatever may face us in future, we must always remember that these electronic marvels are tools of the navigator and that they will never be able to completely replace the human element.