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Bowditch’s American Practical Navigator

The American Practical Navigator (colloquially often
referred to as Bowditch), originally written by Nathaniel
Bowditch, is an encyclopedia of navigation. It serves as
a valuable handbook on oceanography and meteorology,
and contains useful tables and a maritime glossary.
In 1867 the copyright and plates were bought by the
Hydrographic Office of the United States Navy, and as
a U.S. Government publication, it is now available free
online. It is considered one of America’s nautical institutions.


Bowditch continued editing the Navigator until George
Blunt sold the copyright to the government. He outlived
all of the principals involved in publishing and editing the
Navigator, dying in 1889.
The U.S. government has published some 52 editions
since acquiring the copyright to the book that has
come to be known simply by its original author’s name,
“Bowditch”. Since the government began production, the
book has been known by its year of publishing, instead of
by the edition number. After the first major revision, a
total overhaul of the book’s content completed in 1880
under the direction of Commander Philip H. Cooper,
USN, the name was changed to American Practical Navigator. Much of Bowditch’s original content, including
his methods for clearing lunar distance observations, were
dropped in 1880 (though a new method for clearing lunars
remained in an appendix until the early 20th century).
After numerous incremental revisions and printings in the
period from 1914 to 1944, Bowditch was extensively revised between 1946 and 1958.


The most popular navigational text of the late 18th century was The New Practical Navigator by John Hamilton Moore of the Royal Navy, first published in 1772.
To have exact tables to work from, Bowditch recomputed all of Moore’s tables, and rearranged and expanded
the work. He contacted the US publisher of the work,
Edmund March Blunt, who asked him to correct and revise the third edition on his fifth voyage. The task was so
extensive that Bowditch decided to write his own book,
and to “put down in the book nothing I can't teach the
crew.” On that trip, it is said that every man of the crew
of 12, including the ship’s cook, became competent to
take and calculate lunar observations and to plot the correct position of the ship. The New Practical Navigator
was published in 1799, followed by a second edition in

By 1802, when Blunt was ready to publish a third edition,
Nathaniel Bowditch and others had corrected so many
errors in Moore’s work that Blunt decided to publish it
as the first edition of a new work, The New American
Practical Navigator. The current edition of the American Practical Navigator traces its pedigree to that 1802
edition. Edmund M. Blunt continued to publish the book
until 1833; upon his retirement, his sons, Edmund and
George, assumed publication. The elder Blunt died in
1862; his son Edmund followed in 1866. The next year,
1867, George Blunt sold the copyright to the government
for $25,000. The government has published Bowditch
ever since. George Blunt died in 1878.
Nathaniel Bowditch
Nathaniel Bowditch continued to correct and revise the
book until his death in 1838. Upon his death, the editorial The present volume, while retaining the basic format of
responsibility for The New American Practical Navigator the 1958 version, reorganizes the subjects, deletes obsopassed to his son, J. Ingersoll Bowditch. Very few signif- lete text, and adds new material to keep pace with the
icant changes were made under him. Editions from 1837 extensive changes in navigation that have taken place in
through 1880 are nearly identical in content. Ingersoll the electronic age.

communications. emergency navigation procedures. and other material of a basic nature. The goal of the changes was 2 Contents to put as much useful information before the navigator as possible in the most understandable and readable format. which may be retained and consulted as to navigation methods not discussed herein. Part VI Navigational Safety. comprehensive navigation science refer. includes an overview of the types and phases of marine navigation and the organizations which support and regulate it. These two changes allow the publisher to present a single. positioning. organized by type. Part I Fundamentals. a High Speed Catamaran takes people to Boston and is pictured as it is approaching its dock off Blaney Street. The former Volume II has been incorporated into the primary volume to save space and production cost. Salem Maritime National Historic Site.Title page. Part IV Celestial Navigation. and distress communications. emphasizes the practical aspects of navigating a vessel in restricted waters. contains techniques. many complex formulas and equations have been eliminated. use and limitations of nautical charts. named after Bowditch. For similar reasons.2 2 CONTENTS The 1995 edition of the American Practical Navigator incorporates extensive changes in organization. Recent advances in navigational electronics. discusses aspects of the new distress and safety communications systems now in place or being implemented in the next several years. The changes to this edition of Bowditch are intended to ensure that this publication remains the premier reference work for practical marine navigation. the book is now published on a larger page size. includes chapters relating to such topics as basic navigational mathematics and computer use in the solution of navigation problems. instead of explaining complex technical and theoretical details. examples and problems and a chapter on sight reduction. and it is clear that even more changes are forthcoming. This edition replaces but does not cancel former editions. in his hometown of Salem. Concerted efforts were made to return to Nathaniel Bowditch’s original intention “to put down in the book nothing I can’t teach the crew. . In celebration of Nathaniel Bowditch and his work writing the American Practical Navigator.2013) edition is the Bicentennial 2002 edition. first edition ence which explains modern navigational methods while respecting traditional ones. covers the primary means of positioning of the modern navigator. as well as navigation regulations. Part II Piloting. It includes chapters relating to the structure. Massachusetts there is The Salem Ferry. and emphasis placed on the capabilities and limitations of various navigation systems and how to use them. Current (as of 06. and other technologies have transformed the way navigation is practiced at sea. Part III Electronic Navigation. and format. content.” To this end. Chapters deal with each of the several electronic methods of navigation. chart datums and their importance. Part V Navigational Mathematics.

one PDF per chapter. contains chapters on practical oceanography of use to the mariner. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. Part VII Marine Meteorology.3 Part VII Oceanography. Bowditch • Coast Pilots • Day beacon • Daymark • Light List • List of Lights • Local Notice to Mariners • Notice to Mariners • RACON • Sailing Directions 5 References • Dictionary of American History by James Truslow Adams. 3 Source Portions of this article originated from the preface of The American Practical Navigator. Mr. 4 See also • Buoy • Carry On. incorporates weather routing and forecasting methods as well as color plates of the Beaufort Sea States. 6 External links • Full 2002 edition text at Wikisource • Full text (2002 Bicentennial Ed. Accessed 3 September 2011 .). 1940. a document produced by the government of the United States of America.

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