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Mariner’s Astrolabe from the Vergulde Draeck

Mariner's Astrolabe from the Vergulde Draeck

Mariner’s Astrolabe from the Vergulde Draeck

This Mariner’s Astrolabe was salvaged from the Dutch ship, Vergulde Draeck, which was wrecked off the west coast of Australia in 1659. It was adopted from the type used on land by the ancient Greeks and later the Indians, Persians, and Arabs.

The mariner’s astrolabe was used to determine the latitude of a ship at sea. It measures the sun’s noon altitude or the meridian altitude of a star of known declination. The mariner’s astrolabe was a graduated circle with an alidade used to measure vertical angles. They are a version of the astrolabe proper and were designed to be used on ships in the rough water and heavy winds.

To use the astrolabe, the navigator would hold the instrument by the ring at the top, which enabled the device to stay in a vertical plane. The navigator would then align the plane of the astrolabe to the direction of the object of interest. The sighting device was used to determine direction by aligning to point at the object, and the altitude was read off the outer degree scale.

The Vergulde Draeck was a 42-meter, 260-tonne ‘Jacht’ constructed in 1653 by the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch East India Company or VOC. In 1656, the Vergulde Draeck struck a submerged coral reef of the Western Australian coast. The Vergulde Draeck was re-discovered in 1963.

Mariner’s Astrolabe

The earliest reference to a mariner’s astrolabes is in the 13th century, although the basic principle is the same as that of the archipendulum used in constructing the Egyptian pyramids. The earliest modern widespread dependence and use of the mariner’s astrolabe as a tool of discovery is attributed to Portuguese navigators during the beginning of Portuguese maritime discoveries.


  • Is the Mariner’s Astrolabe the most critical technology for maritime exploration for nearly a millennium?

Mariner’s Astrolabe from the Vergulde Draeck

  • Title:               Mariner’s Astrolabe from the Vergulde Draeck
  • Built:               1600’s
  • Findsite:          Vergulde Draeck wreck
  • Find Date:       1963
  • Museum:         WA Maritime Museum

Highlights of the WA Maritime Museum

A Tour of Maritime Museums

A Tour of Museum Ships


“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”
– William James


Photo Credit: GM

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