Navigate by the Sun, Moon, and Stars

A few weeks ago, I gave a blind guy a ride home from the VA hospital. I got lost, as I always do, and, being blind, my passenger had no idea. Yes, I am a horrible person.

I tried to engage him in conversation so that he would not notice that we were endlessly winding through Los Altos. I asked him about blindness, war stories, his family, anything. As a result, I became hopelessly distracted and got us even more lost.

As our 3-mile journey neared an hour, I finally found our destination through sheer will. At some point, my passenger probably figured out that the ride was taking much longer than reasonable, but politely refrained from saying anything. Perhaps he enjoyed the conversation.

My friends keep telling me to get a damn phone with GPS because my navigational skills suck, but it’s because my navigational skills suck that I can’t get a GPS. If I do that, I’ll never learn one of life’s most important skills: that of navigating by the sun, moon, and stars.

Here’s how to do it.


Navigating by the sun. My dad taught me to follow shadows when I was a kid without bothering to tell me about the effects of equinox and solstice. As a result, I accidentally navigated my way to Compton two days before Christmas one year.

If you have an old-fashioned watch, or just an extremely expensive watch, hold it so it is face up and level with the ground. Rotate it so that the hour hand is pointed at the sun. Halfway between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock mark is the true north/south line.

Navigating by the moon. The moon rises in the east and sets in the west. If the moon is waning, the line spanning the crescent tips will point south.


Navigating by the stars. Just like the three wise men, you can follow the North Star (Polaris). To identify Polaris, first find the Big Dipper. Extend the edge of the cup and the next bright star is the North Star. This is also the end of the handle for the Little Dipper.


In the southern hemisphere, look for the Southern Cross. There’s a picture of it on the Australian flag. Draw a line down the length of the cross. Draw a perpendicular line extending from the center of the two pointer stars below the cross. The intersection of these two lines is due south.


Now go forth and conquer, my friends.

I originally wrote this post in honor of Columbus day, but the Conquistadors showed up and gave me swine flu so I only got around to posting it today.

Navigate by the Stars and Moon –Survivalist

Leave a Reply