Life on the high seas can be monotonous, triumphant and tragic. Those choosing a sailor’s life may witness rare splendors of nature and endure harsh conditions. Ships transport goods and passengers, conduct research and defend nations. It is no wonder that oceans and the vessels riding the waves have inspired myths of monsters and epic tales of treasures
100,000-year-old archeological evidence found on islands indicates that ancient humans may have taken to the seas. The technologies that enabled early seafaring have experienced evolutionary change. These advances have occurred in methods of propulsion, maritime communication systems and navigational tools and techniques.
Hoisting sails on a vessel today is predominantly done for enjoyment or sport. Wind power was once the primary mode for vessel propulsion. Human-powered rowing was the only other available option. Steam engines were rapidly adopted in the early 19th century bringing fabled steamships to life. Combustion engine technology fueled by petroleum made its debut in seagoing very soon after. Advanced modern naval forces have harnessed nuclear power making huge aircraft carriers and long-range submarines possible.
Prior to the invention of the radio, a visual flag system known as semaphore was used to communicate over long distances. Once electromagnetism was understood the transmission and reception of radio signals became possible. Ships at sea were some of the first applications for these wireless telegraphy systems. Modern maritime communications employ advanced microwave equipment and satellite systems.
Navigation at sea prior to the Middle Ages was accomplished by staying within sight of land and referencing landmarks. The relative positions of the sun and north star in the sky were also used. The invention of the compass added a more reliable tool during the Middles Ages. The astrolabe, chronometer and sextant improved navigational accuracy enabling trade and exploration around the globe. Today, satellites provide global positioning systems with almost world-wide pinpoint accuracy.
Riding the waves of the open oceans is a skill that humans have accomplished with increasing expertise. Crude beginnings have given way to technological progress that has enabled the safety and convenience of seafaring today.