LORAN: An Old Method Gets New Life

I was a little surprised to discover that our government has opted to fund LORAN for a little longer.  LORAN, or LOng RAnge Navigation, is a system whereby ships, airplanes or other travelling vehicles or people determine their position by comparing the time difference in receipt of radio signals from multiple sources.  It has been in use for many years; however, GPS has very much displaced LORAN for most navigation, as anyone with OnStar or an iPhone knows.


Above: 1966 chart of South Florida and the northern Bahamas, showing the LORAN grid (the curved green and magenta lines) which navigators could use with the radio signals they received to determine their position.

It’s tempting to dismiss this as another waste of taxpayer’s money, but accurate knowledge of one’s position is critical at sea and in the air.  As the Coast Guard’s Loran-C Handbook reminds us:

Navigators are cautioned never to place total reliance on any single aid to navigation. Because no system is reliable 100% of the time, navigators should use all available navigation information, and be knowledgeable with the capabilities and limitations of each.

GPS, for example, can be taken out of service in time of war, to say nothing of hackers bringing it down.

My father spent much of his World War II service in the Pacific putting up LORAN stations, which proves Coasties’ contention that their job is to bail the Navy out when it gets lost (or to prevent it.)  Ironically we never used it when yachting in the Bahamas; perhaps it would have come in handy in disasters like this and storms as well.

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