How to Navigate by the Stars

Navigating by the stars served sailors well for hundreds of years, and should you find yourself in a bad spot, you can still use it today.

Whether it’s a matter of life and death or you just want to try out a new challenge, knowing how to navigate by the stars is useful — and cool! — skill. Let’s take a look.

The Most Important Constellations

You can use the stars to determine north, south, east, and west and figure out your latitude and longitude, but to do that, you need to learn a few constellations first.

The Big Dipper

The Big Dipper looks like a ladle or a bent paddle — that’s what you have to look for in the sky. There is a distinct bend at the end of the handle of the ladle — three stars form a straight line, and the last star in the constellation is not in line with them.

The Little Dipper

The shape is almost identical to that of the Big Dipper but smaller, and the handle of the ladle is slightly curved. There are no strong bends like with the Big Dipper.

The Southern Cross

As the name suggests, this constellation looks like a cross. There are four stars (Gacrux and Acrux, Delta Crucis and Mimosa), and if you draw two lines between them, you get a cross.

Using the North Star to Navigate

The North Star, also known as Polaris, is the last star in the Little Dipper constellation, affectionately referred to as the tail of the Little Dipper.

It’s always above the North Pole, and it’s almost precisely north. It moves in very small increments, mostly staying in the same spot, with the rest of the stars revolving around it. Because of this, you can always count on it to lead you north.