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Azimuth by Solar Observation

Capt. Mohammed Russtam Ismail PhD, AFNI

Senior Lecturer, University Malaysia Terengganu
Introduction: Gyrocompass has become one indispensable instrument in almost all merchant
ships or naval vessels for its ability to detect the direction of true north and not the magnetic
north. The interruption of electrical power to the gyrocompass or inertial navigator,
mechanical failure, or its physical destruction would instantly elevate the magnetic compass
to primary status for most vessels.
As per STCW regulation the gyro and standard compass error is to be determined at least
once a watch.
On the high seas, the only reliable way to determine the compass error is astronomical.
Theory: Compass error CE = True Bearing - Compass Bearing.
For true bearing, it is necessary to solve the parallactical triangle, to calculate the azimuth of
the sun.
From the above spherical triangle we can derive the formula:
AZIMUTH Az = tan-1 (sinLHA/(sinLATxcosLHA-cosLATxtanDEC)) 1.1

LHA = local hour angle
Dec = declination of the Sun
LAT = latitude of the observer
Az = Azimuth of the Sun
The formula can be solved by Nories table, by a calculator or by the spreadsheet.
While sailing at sea using the GPS receiver usually we find the Distance and GC course to the
next waypoint.
From the spherical triangle the computed altitude
Hc = arcSin[Sin(DEC)xSin(LatA) + Cos(LatA)xCos(DEC)xCos(LHA)] 1.2
Azimuth Angle Z= arcCos[{Sin(DEC)-Sin(LatA)xSin(Hc)}/{Cos(LatA)xCos(Hc)}] 1.3
Method: For the Sun for the destination waypoint instead of using latitude and longitude we
will use the Geographacial Position GP of the Sun, i.e GHA and Declination.
GHA from 0 to +/-1800 E/W. If GHA is more than 1800 we should convert it to ( 3600-
Declination 0 to +/- 900 N/S.
Steps for determining the Azimuth of the Celestial body by GPS:
1. Vessel’s present position we have on GPS.
2. Enter destination point (Waypoint) coordinates: Geographical position GP of the sun,
for Latitude, is Declination of the celestial body N/S(+/-), for Longitude, is GHA of
the Sun/Planets, for the Star we have to add SHA to GHA
3. Calculate GC course and distance to the Waypoint
Example DR position Lat= 21o 45.60’ N, Long= 033o 143.60’ W
Destination Waypoints GP of the Sun GHA= 1130 09.3’W, DEC= 040 01.0’W
GC = 26205

Compass Bearing= 26406

The impact of error of estimated coordinates on calculated azimuth.
Favorable conditions for observation.

To calculate the azimuth, it is necessary to use the coordinates of the vessel, which are usually
estimated. Azimuth calculated for estimated coordinates will also be estimated Ac. For
determining compass, error requires true azimuth A true. Errors in estimated coordinates Δφ
and Δλ will cause errors in azimuth ΔA = ΔA(φ) + ΔA(λ), which will enter into compass
Will define the conditions under which the errors ΔA(φ) and ΔA(λ) can be neglected.

The error in Azimuth caused by the error in latitude.

The error in azimuth for the error in latitude is determined on the basis of differential
formulas of Nautical Astronomy.
ΔA(φ) = tgh sinAz Δφ (1.4)
Analyzing this formula, we can come to the following conclusions.
To minimize error ΔAφ and tο get an accurate compass error it is necessary:
 To take the bearing of the celestial body at low altitude (if h→ 0, ΔAφ→ 0).
 Ιf above the horizon hanging clouds and can not choose the object with a small
height, but there is a choice of stars (night - lots of bright stars), we can choose the
object near the meridian of the observer, as if A→ 0 ° (180 °), then ΔAφ→ 0.

In the northern hemisphere for the second reason, in this case, we can use the North Star (its
azimuth close to 0 °).

Error in the Azimuth caused by an error in the longitude.

Longitude is included in the calculation of the local hour angle Tl(LHA) = Tgr(GHA) ± EW.
Greenwich hour angle is defined exactly, so the accuracy of the hour angle is completely
determined by the error in longitude Δt =Δλ. Therefore, using a differential formula of
Nautical Astronomy, we have

ΔA t = -cosqcosqsech Δt (1.3)
Analyzing this formula, we can come to the following conclusions.
1. The error of ΔAλ depends on the height of the object and is smaller at its low height. The
i.e object of low altitude must be taken.
2.For the objects taken near the pole (if δ→90 °, then cosδ→ 0), the error in ΔAλ→ 0.
The so perfect object is the North Star.
In conclusion, we note another fact. The accuracy of the compass error affects not only by the
error of True Azimuth that we have discussed but errors in the gyro compass bearing. Error of
compass bearing also depends on the height of the object and is defined by the following
ΔA = ktgh (1.4)
k - the angle of the azimuth circle
Therefore, for accurate capture of gyro compass bearing (and to accurately determine the
compass correction) object must be taken at low altitude.
1. Celestial Navigation R. Bruce Jones 2014
2. American Practical Navigator Nathaniel Bowditch 2002
3. Nautical Astronomy Boris Krasavtsev 2014

DATE 10.03.2015
19 42 55
LATITUDE 21 45.6
LONGITUDE -33 -14.6
GHA(HR) 102 25.8
ΔGHA 10.72916667 0
LHA 79.72916667 11.2 79.72917
DECLINATION -4 0.715277778
AZIMUTH 262.4976