Aerial of Sable Island

Sable lies right in the path of most storms that track up the Atlantic coast of North America. Storms were extremely treacherous for sailing ships. Vessels were simply blown out to Sable.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Fishes

Sable is on one of the richest fishing grounds in the world. It is also near one of the major shipping routes between Europe and North America. Hundreds of vessels sailed past each year.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Fog shrouds the island

In the summer, warm air from the Gulf Stream produces dense banks of fog when it hits air cooled by the Labrador Current around Sable. Sable has 125 days of fog a year. Toronto has 35.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Ocean Currents

The currents around Sable are tricky. Sable lies near the junction of major ocean currents.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Sextant

Until recently, sextants were the instruments used to figure out a ship's position. Sextants are accurate, but they worked by taking a sighting from the sun or stars. They were useless in dense fog or under cloudy skies.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


The number of shipwrecks has decreased with the development of modern navigational aids, but the island and it’s shoals continues to provide a hazard to shipping. The last vessel wrecked on the island was on July 27, 1999, the small yacht Merrimac.

Until recently, sextants were the instruments used to figure out a ship’s position. Sextants are accurate, but they worked by taking a sighting from the sun or stars. They were useless in dense fog or under cloudy skies.

In bad weather, the Captain navigated by "dead reckoning"- using ship speed and direction to estimate his position. But even in good conditions this was educated guessing. Currents and storms confused the calculations of the best skippers.

Many accounts of ships wrecked on Sable report that the Captain simply lost his way - he had misjudged his ship’s position and bumped into Sable Island by mistake.

After World War II radar and other advanced navigation equipment became widely used on merchant and fishing ships. Sable ceased to be a major threat to shipping.


The number of shipwrecks has decreased with the development of modern navigational aids, but the island and it’s shoals continues to provide a hazard to shipping. The last vessel wrecked on the island was on July 27, 1999, the small yacht Merrimac.

Until recently, sextants were the instruments used to figure out a ship’s position. Sextants are accurate, but they worked by taking a sighting from the sun or stars. They were useless in dense fog or under cloudy skies.

In bad weather, the Captain navigated by "dead reckoning"- using ship speed and direction to estimate his position. But even in good conditions this was educated guessing. Currents and storms confused the calculations of the best skippers.

Many accounts of ships wrecked on Sable report that the Captain simply lost his way - he had misjudged his ship’s position and bumped into Sable Island by mistake.

After World War II radar and other advanced navigation equipment became widely used on merchant and fishing ships. Sable ceased to be a major threat to shipping.


© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Recognize that Sable Island has been a site where many ships have been wrecked, and identify reasons for that
  • Explain how modern navigational methods have reduced shipwrecks

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans