What made Exploration possible?

We know why explorers wanted to explore but we now need to know how they explored! Here we will look at the instruments and inventions used by explorers that made their journey possible. (No in flight movies!! :O)


New ships called caravels were built.These ships brought together the best qualities of ships that sailed in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. There were particularly 4 improvements to these ships:

(i) They were clinker built. The boards on the side of the ship overlapped. This made the ship stronger


(ii) They used both square and lateen sails. Square sails were used to sail faster with the wind following behind them. Lateen sails were used to sail against the wind and for exploring bays or river mouths.


(iii) Caravels were steered by rudders. This gave more control over steering.


(iv) They had castles – NOT STONE CASTLES!! – which were raised structures at the front and back of the ship. It allowed for sailors to sight enemies and land.

This is not quite the boat they used…but I couldn’t resist an “I’m on a boat” moment!!



Compasses: These were used to tell sailors which direction they were sailing in. These were often unreliable however because the iron on ships would set them off course.

Old compass on white background with soft shadow

Latitude & Longitude

Sailors could work out the latitude of the ship (how many degrees North/South of the equator) – They used astrolabes,quadrants and cross-staffs to do this.



But Longitude could not be measured! This is how far East/West the sailors were. This was not figured out until the invention of the Chronometer in the 18th Century.



The earliest maps were called portolan charts. They showed places along the coasts joined by straight lines. Sailors would follow these lines using their compasses. New maps had to be drawn to include newly discovered areas of the world.



Speed was measured using a log and line and a sand-glass. The log and line was thrown overboard the ship. On the line were knots of equal length. The speed was calculated by measuring how long it took a knot to pass through a sailors hand. This is where we get “nautical miles” from! Knots is the name given to a ships speed!



When ships were sailing in shallow water of sea inlets, sailors needed to check the depth of the water for fear that they would become stuck! This was done using a Lead and Line. The line was dropped into the water and the depth was called out.


The Logbook

This was used to record details of the voyage – the direction,distances,weather,sightings etc. This could be used again for future voyages.


So there you go, all these inventions and improvements paved the way for explorers to take on large scale voyages. For more on the Age of Explorations, why not sail on over to more blogs here at The Áed



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