Why Sailors Measure in Knots ⚓️

Henry Belcaster
Henry Belcaster
3 min read

Morning Skipper!

Are you out at sea right now?


What are you talking about?

As a matter of fact, why do sailors measure speed in knots?

Okay then…

Without Durd, imagine you’re Christopher Columbus.

Ya and square measurements – like measuring length and width with a ruler – don’t work well on round things.

Luckily, this ancient Greek, Hipparchus, realized this.

So he divided the Earth into a grid of imaginary lines.

Latitude – the equator and all the lines parallel to it.

And longitude – the prime meridian and all the lines running through the North and South Poles.

When we measure round things, we use a unit called degrees.

And our smart friend, Hipparchus, assigned 0 degrees to the equator and 90 degrees to the North Pole.

But what about any time Columbus is between degrees of latitude?

Well, we’ll have to break the degree down further.

And because Hipparchus used a base-60 system, 1 degree became equal to 60 minutes.

And the nautical mile – the distance Columbus needs to track on his round globe — equals 1 minute of latitude.

Here’s his whole trip:

A knot is a measure of speed.

It’s just how many nautical miles you’ll cover in 1 hour!

So if you’re traveling at 16 knots, you’ll cover 16 nautical miles per hour.

Aka 16 minutes of latitude or longitude.

And at that speed it’ll take you 11 days to get to Asia, Columbus. If you ever do…

Stay Cute,
Henry & Dylan 🌈

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