II-111596 | Captain Fraser and sextant, Montreal, QC, 1895

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Captain Fraser and sextant, Montreal, QC, 1895
Wm. Notman & Son
1895, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
17 x 12 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  male (26812) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
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Keys to History

The sextant is a precious tool for the captain. He uses it to measure the altitude of points in the sky, which lets him check the boat's position in relation to data from nautical charts. However, the sextant is of no use under cloudy or foggy conditions or during storms, since the reference points essential for its use, the sun and the stars, cannot be seen.

Seamen are constantly on the lookout for the slightest changes in the weather that could affect navigation. Dictums such as "Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning" are part of maritime heritage. Seamen's sense of observation and their experience at sea are essential for their survival: in the 19th century, they could not always count on having a barometer aboard to provide information on the arrival of a storm.

  • What

    Invented in 1731, the sextant was used with other instruments such as the telescope as a navigational aid.

  • Where

    On the inland waterways of Canada, foreign boat captains had to entrust the navigation of their boats to a specially trained pilot who had in-depth knowledge of the currents and of dangerous shoals.

  • When

    Navigational tools such as radar that were less dependant on weather conditions would only start to be used aboard commercial boats or fishing boats after the Second World War.

  • Who

    During bad weather, the captain had to navigate by relying on his own estimations of the ship's speed and direction, since his instruments were useless when the sky was covered.