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THE RISE AND RISE OF MARINE CHRONOMETERS

Nino Cirone investigates the history and use of marine chronometers, yesterday and today.

Mr Harrison’s Clock

Marine chronometers were once of vital importance to mariners. Along with the sextant, chronometers were used to determine the longitude of a boat when it was on the open sea. One of the most important duties a watch officer aboard sailing ships had was to set (or re-set) the ship’s chronometer to the first meridian (better known as Greenwich Mean Time). This allowed the daily deviation of the chronometer to be precisely known which in turn allowed navigation officers to accurately plot the ship’s position.

The marine chronometer revolutionised naval navigational when it appeared but it was a long time coming. For centuries navigation on the sea had been at best problematic, and often, dangerous.

What the marine chronometer did was allow sailors to plot their exact longitude

(latitudinal measurement had long been possible). This ground-breaking chronometer was the invention of John Harrison (1693 to 1776), a British carpenter and clockmaker who took up a challenge laid down by the British Parliament.

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