Current Program

STEM Sailing™ - Navigation


The National Sailing Hall of Fame STEM Sailing Science of Sailing Course is designed for 10th Grade high school students.

Each lesson includes a PowerPoint presentation and lesson plan, plus handouts you can download and print for your students, including worksheets and exams.


Lesson 1 - Introduction to Sailboats

Image from Lesson 1 This course will teach students about the components of a sailboat, how they work to propel the boat, and scientific factors that impact a sailboat's performance.

Lesson 2 - History of Sailboats

Image from lesson 2 Students will learn how sailboat designs have evolved and improved over hundreds of years. They will also begin to understand why certain designs have succeeded and why others have failed.

Lesson 3 - How a Sailboat Works

lesson3 Students will learn about the different forces on a boat and how they all work together. They will understand how sail aerodynamics affects boats with different designs.

Lesson 4 - How a Sailboat Works: Hull Type

lesson4 After this lesson, students should be able to determine the proper hull designs necessary to compliment the various rigs.

Lesson 5 - How a Sailboat Works: Hull Speed & Buoyancy

image from lesson 5 After this lesson, students should be able to determine the proper hull designs necessary to compliment the rig they chose for the sailboat design. They will also understand the equations to make sure their boat is built within the necessary parameters to ensure seaworthiness.

Lesson 6 - How a Sailboat Works: Sails

image from lesson 6 After this lesson, students should be able to determine the final piece of their sailboat design, the sails. After reviewing how sails generate speed for a sailboat, they will learn how to generate speed for their boat while also taking into account the many other factors affected by a boat’s sail area.

Lesson 7 - Sailboat Design Project

US Navy using navigation skills As a final exercise for the class, student groups will create a basic sailboat design and prepare a report that identifies the specifications of the boat and the data used to calculate those specifications. The report will also provide discussion as to the intended use of the vessel and why their design is optimally suited to that use, as well as a comparison to other boat types.


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Topic: History of Charts & Maps


Teacher Resources:

Printable PDF Version of this Lesson Plan

Downloadable PPT of Lesson (48mb)

Lesson 1 Handout - History of Charts & Maps (PDF)


Image from Lesson 1 Click here to launch PowerPoint for Lesson 1

Primary Goal : Introduce students to the history of charts and maps and how they are used today

Lesson Objectives :

· Learn why charts and maps were created

· Learn the evolution of charts and maps throughout history

· Describe the different types of charts and maps

· Understand the difference between charts and maps

· Know who uses charts and maps today

Lesson Outline :

I. Why do people use charts and maps?

a. Determine where they are

b. Determine where they need to go

c. Determine the best way to get there

II. How long have maps been around?

a. Maps have been around for thousands of years (Babylonian tablets)

b. Used as tools to help humans understand and navigate their way through the world

c. Using the information contained, you can determine the fastest (and easiest) way between two locations

d. Also used to determine the geography (intro: topographic map)

i. Why is this important? (Alexander the Great, Hannibal)

III. What are charts?

a. “Road Maps” for people traveling on the water

b. Nautical charts describe the maritime area

i. Water depths (soundings)
ii. Aids to navigation


iii. Surrounding land area

IV. History of Charts

a. Jefferson ordered the first survey of the US coast in 1807

b. Created the Office of Coast Survey (OCS)

c. Show a picture of an original chart (NOAA link to historical chart search below in “Supplemental Resources”)

V. Who uses charts and maps today? (ask students)

a. Ex. Shipping companies, architects, land surveyors, Amazon, YOU, etc.

b. How are they used?

c. Show PBS video

Supplemental Resources :

PBS Video on GPS History

NOAA Historical Charts

Exercises/Activities :

Have students break up into groups and describe how they have personally used a map or chart.  Have 1 person from each group share.

Next Lesson


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Topic: Deciphering Charts and Topographic Maps


Teacher Resources (right+ click to download):

Printable PDF Version of this Lesson Plan

Downloadable PPT of Lesson (28mb)

Lesson 2 Handout - Nautical Chart of Gulf of Mexico (PDF)

Lesson 2 Handout - Nautical Chart of Southwest Coast (PDF)

Lesson 2 Handout - NOAA Nautical Chart (PDF)


Click here to launch PowerPoint for Lesson 2

Image from lesson 2 Primary Goal : Introduce students to how to read, decode, and decipher a nautical chart and topographic map.

Lesson Objectives :

· Ability to read and identify key features of nautical charts and topographic maps

· Identify the similarities and differences between charts and maps

· Describe different situations in which you could utilize a chart or map

Lesson Outline :

I. Key features of a Nautical Chart

a. Water depths

b. Different types of sea bottom (rock, sand, mud, wrecks, reef)

c. Buoys and daymarkers

d. Aids to navigation

i. Provides information to safely navigate a vessel to reach your desired location

II. Who provides this information?

a. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

b. NOS (National Ocean Service)

III. What do all the letters and numbers on a chart mean?

a. Since charts include a great deal of information, we use a great deal of symbols and abbreviations

b. Discuss some abbreviations from “Chart No. 1 publication

IV. Latitude & Longitude

a. System of geographic coordinates used to describe a specific location on the earth’s surface

i. Measured in degrees, minutes, seconds

b. Meridians of Longitude – lines that specify the east-west position of a point on the Earth's surface

i. Passes through north and south poles

c. Parallels of Latitude – lines that specify the north-south position of a point on the Earth's surface

i. Measured by how many degrees a point is north or south from the equator

V. Chart Projection System

a. Since the world is not flat (but your paper charts are) mapmakers project the earth’s curved surface in two dimensions

b. Mercator Projection – most popular projection used for nautical charts

i. Flattens out the earth so that lines of latitude and longitude form a rectangular grid that you can measure

c. Use example of peeling an orange and attempting to lay flat

VI. How can we use Latitude and Longitude on a chart?

a. To share or record your own location

b. To determine the exact location of a place you would like to go

c. To measure distance (only using latitude)

d. Have students get in groups and do “Shipwreck Exercise”

Supplemental Resources :

NOAA Video: http://celebrating200years.noaa.gov/surveyors/noaa_surveyors.mov

Chart No. 1: http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/chart1/ChartNo1.pdf

Exercises/Activities :

As you identify the different features on a chart, have students identify examples on the charts provided to them.

Provide charts and have students break up into groups.  Explain that you have just come across information that there is a sunken treasure ship somewhere on the chart and provide students with a Latitude and Longitude.  They must identify the location of the shipwreck on the chart.

Next Lesson

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Topic: Three Norths & Variation


Teacher Resources:

Printable PDF Version of this Lesson Plan

Downloadable PPT of Lesson (5.3mb)

Lesson 3 Handout - Variation Exercise (PDF)


Click here to launch PowerPoint for Lesson 3

lesson3 Primary Goal : Explain to students the differences in the three different ways to determine north.  From this, they will be able to understand the concept and importance of magnetic declination or variation

Lesson Objectives :

  • · Understand and Identify the three different norths
  • · Identify the scenarios in which you could use each of the three norths
  • · Understand variation and be able to make calculations and solve problems

Lesson Outline :

I. The Three Norths

a. Grid North – refers to the direction northwards along the grid lines of a topographic map

i. The difference between grid north and true north is very small and can be ignored for most navigation purposes

b. True North

i. Top of the earth upon which the world revolves

ii. Direction along the earth’s surface towards the North Pole

iii. Lines of Longitude connect to the North and South Poles

iv. Think of this as the “geographic north”

c. Magnetic North

i. Where the needle on a magnetic compass points

ii. Different from true north because of the magnetic field that is generated by the earth’s molten core

II. Magnetic North

a. Does the magnetic north pole remain in the same location? NO

b. Currents in the nickel iron fluid of the outer core create a constantly moving magnetic north

c. Magnetic north is constantly changing ( Earth Declination gif )

d. Moves at an average rate of 25 miles/yr

e. Bring in a 3D globe to provide students with a visual of the difference between True and Magnetic North

III. Variation

a. Also known as “magnetic declination”

b. The difference between true north and magnetic north (measured as an angle)

c. A compass rose is a tool on a chart used to measure this angle (different in every location)

d. Why does this matter? It can mean the difference between a safe course and a hazardous course

i. Navigating using a magnetic compass without calculating variation can cause compounding error that makes a big difference over time

IV. Variation Calculations

a. If a compass at your location is pointing to the right of true north, declination is positive or east, and if it points to the left of true north, declination is negative or west

b. When converting True degrees to Magnetic degrees

i. “West is Best” (+) & “East is Least” (-)

ii. [Magnetic Bearing]  = [True Bearing] + [Variation]

Supplemental Resources :

Earth Declination gif: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/43/
Earth_Magnetic_Field_Declination_from_1590_to_1990.gif

True vs. Magnetic North Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieW7Hzrr8pw

Navigation Video by Nautica : http://www.nauticalive.com/navigation/

Exercises/Activities :

Variation worksheet.

Let the students look at charts from different regions of the world so they can see how variation differs and how important it is to check on a chart.

Next Lesson


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Topic: Magnetic Compass


Teacher Resources:

Printable PDF Version of this Lesson Plan

Downloadable PPT of Lesson (2mb)

Lesson 4 Handout - Magnetic Compass Exercise (PDF)


Click here to launch PowerPoint for Lesson 4

lesson4 Primary Goal : Explain to students the science behind how a magnetic compass works and allow them to practice taking bearings using a hand-bearing magnetic compass.

Lesson Objectives :

· Understand the history and importance of the magnetic compass

· Understand the science behind how a magnetic compass works

· Ability to personally use a compass and take bearings

Lesson Outline :

I. History of the Magnetic Compass

a. Origins are unknown but go back over one thousand years

i. Record of use by Chinese and ancient explorers for both land and sea navigation

ii. Allowed sailors to sail over the horizon without risk of being lost at sea

b. Earliest compass consisted of iron ore lodestone floating in a bowl of water and later adaptations included modifications for use at sea

i. Most vessels today, from the personal sailboat to the large merchant ship, are all equipped with a magnetic compass

II. Parts of a Magnetic Compass

a. Direction of Travel Arrow – the red arrow on the baseplate which you will point in the direction you intend to travel or take a bearing

b. Magnetic Needle – free floating piece of metal that always aligns its red half to the magnetic north pole

c. Bezel –rotating dial that has the cardinal headings and degree markings

d. Orienting Arrow – the red arrow within the compass housing

i. Also called “dog house” because it looks like a house and you will attempt to put the needle (“dog”) in the “dog house”

III. How a Magnetic Compass Works

a. Earth’s magnetic field is a closed circulation of electrical currents that flow North or South

b. Magnetized needle is free to move and align with the Earth’s magnetic field and thus follows the direction of the earth’s current

c. “Basic Law of Magnetism” – poles of the same polarity repel each other and those of opposite polarity attract. Think of the earth as having an internal bar magnet extending along its axis from North Pole to South Pole.

d. The compass always points in the same direction. It is the face of the compass that rotates and contains markings that display the precise direction the user is facing.

IV. Benefits of Magnetic Compass

a. Self-contained system that is not reliant on electrical power and is not easily damaged or expensive to replace

V. Using a Hand-Bearing Magnetic Compass

a. Line up the sliding line with the intended object and read of the degrees below

b. Be sure to not take measurements near metal objects, as this will affect your readings. The earth’s magnetic field is actually quite weak. That is why we need an almost frictionless pivot point for our lightweight needle.

c. Wait a few seconds until the compass has settled before taking a reading

Supplemental Resources :

True vs. Magnetic North Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieW7Hzrr8pw

Navigation Video by Nautica : http://www.nauticalive.com/navigation/

Exercises/Activities :

Take students outside and allow them to use a hand-bearing compass to take bearings of landmarks on campus.  Set up specific stations around campus and create competition to see who can get closest to actual bearing (see Magnetic Compass Exercise worksheet).

Create your own compass by magnetizing an ordinary needle, placing it carefully on a slice of cork, and letting the cork float in a tray of water.

Next Lesson


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