Circumnavigation is the complete navigation around an entire island, continent, or astronomical body (e.g. a planet or moon). This article focuses on the circumnavigation of Earth.

The Magellan-Elcano expedition was the first circumnavigation of the Earth.

The first circumnavigation of the Earth was the Magellan Expedition, which sailed from Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain in 1519 and returned in 1522, after crossing the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. Since the rise of commercial aviation in the late 20th century, circumnavigating Earth is straightforward, usually taking days instead of years.[1] Today, the challenge of circumnavigating Earth has shifted towards human and technological endurance, speed, and less conventional methods.



The word circumnavigation is a noun formed from the verb circumnavigate, from the past participle of the Latin verb circumnavigare,[2] from circum "around" + navigare "to sail".[3]



A person walking completely around either pole will cross all meridians, but this is not generally considered a "circumnavigation". The path of a true (global) circumnavigation forms a continuous loop on the surface of Earth separating two regions of comparable area.[citation needed] A basic definition of a global circumnavigation would be a route which covers roughly a great circle, and in particular one which passes through at least one pair of points antipodal to each other.[4] In practice, people use different definitions of world circumnavigation to accommodate practical constraints, depending on the method of travel. Since the planet is quasispheroidal, a trip from one Pole to the other, and back again on the other side, would technically be a circumnavigation. There are practical difficulties (namely, the Arctic ice pack and the Antarctic ice sheet) in such a voyage, although it was successfully undertaken in the early 1980s by Ranulph Fiennes.[5]



The first circumnavigation was that of the ship Victoria between 1519 and 1522, now known as the Magellan–Elcano expedition. It was a Castilian (Spanish) voyage of discovery. The voyage started in Seville, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and—after several stops—rounded the southern tip of South America, where the expedition named the Strait of Magellan. It then continued across the Pacific, discovering a number of islands on its way (including Guam), before arriving in the Philippines. The voyage was initially led by the Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan but he was killed on Mactan in the Philippines in 1521. The remaining sailors decided to circumnavigate the world instead of making the return voyage—no passage east across the Pacific would be successful for four decades—and continued the voyage across the Indian Ocean, round the southern cape of Africa, north along Africa's Atlantic coasts, and back to Spain in 1522. Of the 270 crew members who set out from Seville, only 18 were still with the expedition at the end including its surviving captain, the Spaniard Juan Sebastián Elcano.[6]

The next to circumnavigate the globe were the survivors of the Castilian/Spanish expedition of García Jofre de Loaísa between 1525 and 1536. None of the seven original ships of the Loaísa expedition nor its first four leaders—Loaísa, Elcano, Salazar, and Íñiguez—survived to complete the voyage. The last of the original ships, the Santa María de la Victoria, was sunk in 1526 in the East Indies (now Indonesia) by the Portuguese. Unable to press forward or retreat, Hernando de la Torre erected a fort on Tidore, received reinforcements under Alvaro de Saavedra that were similarly defeated, and finally surrendered to the Portuguese. In this way, a handful of survivors became the second group of circumnavigators when they were transported under guard to Lisbon in 1536. A third group came from the 117 survivors of the similarly failed Villalobos Expedition in the next decade; similarly ruined and starved, they were imprisoned by the Portuguese and transported back to Lisbon in 1546.[citation needed]

In 1577, Elizabeth I sent Francis Drake to start an expedition against the Spanish along the Pacific coast of the Americas. Drake set out from Plymouth, England in November 1577, aboard Pelican, which he renamed Golden Hind mid-voyage. In September 1578, the ship passed south of Tierra del Fuego, the southern tip of South America, through the area now known as the Drake Passage.[7][8] In June 1579, Drake landed somewhere north of Spain's northernmost claim in Alta California, presumably Drakes Bay. Drake completed the second complete circumnavigation of the world in a single vessel on September 1580, becoming the first commander to survive the entire circumnavigation.

Thomas Cavendish completed his circumnavigation between 1586 and 1588 in record time—in two years and 49 days, nine months faster than Drake. It was also the first deliberately planned voyage of the globe.[9]

Captain James Cook became the first navigator to record three circumnavigations through the Pacific aboard the Endeavour from 1769 to 1779. He was among the first to complete west–east circumnavigation in high latitudes.

For the wealthy, long voyages around the world, such as was done by Ulysses S. Grant, became possible in the 19th century, and the two World Wars moved vast numbers of troops around the planet. However, it was the rise of commercial aviation in the late 20th century that made circumnavigation, when compared to the Magellan–Elcano expedition, quicker and safer.[1]



The nautical global and fastest circumnavigation record is currently held by a wind-powered vessel, the trimaran IDEC 3. The record was established by six sailors: Francis Joyon, Alex Pella, Clément Surtel, Gwénolé Gahinet, Sébastien Audigane and Bernard Stamm. On 26 January, 2017, this crew finished circumnavigating the globe in 40 days, 23 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds.[10] The absolute speed sailing record around the world followed the North Atlantic Ocean, Equator, South Atlantic Ocean, Southern Ocean, South Atlantic Ocean, Equator, North Atlantic Ocean route in an easterly direction.

Wind powered

The route of a typical modern sailing circumnavigation, via the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal is shown in red; its antipodes are shown in yellow.

The map on the right shows, in red, a typical, non-competitive, route for a sailing circumnavigation of the world by the trade winds and the Suez and Panama canals; overlaid in yellow are the points antipodal to all points on the route. It can be seen that the route roughly approximates a great circle, and passes through two pairs of antipodal points. This is a route followed by many cruising sailors, going in the western direction; the use of the trade winds makes it a relatively easy sail, although it passes through a number of zones of calms or light winds.[11]

The route of a typical yacht racing circumnavigation is shown in red; its antipodes are shown in yellow.

In yacht racing, a round-the-world route approximating a great circle would be quite impractical, particularly in a non-stop race where use of the Panama and Suez Canals would be impossible. Yacht racing therefore defines a world circumnavigation to be a passage of at least 21,600 nautical miles (40,000 km) in length which crosses the equator, crosses every meridian and finishes in the same port as it starts.[12] The second map on the right shows the route of the Vendée Globe round-the-world race in red; overlaid in yellow are the points antipodal to all points on the route. It can be seen that the route does not pass through any pairs of antipodal points. Since the winds in the higher southern latitudes predominantly blow west-to-east it can be seen that there are an easier route (west-to-east) and a harder route (east-to-west) when circumnavigating by sail; this difficulty is magnified for square-rig vessels due to the square rig's dramatic lack of upwind ability when compared to a more modern Bermuda rig.[11]

For around the world sailing records, there is a rule saying that the length must be at least 21,600 nautical miles calculated along the shortest possible track from the starting port and back that does not cross land and does not go below 63°S. It is allowed to have one single waypoint to lengthen the calculated track. The equator must be crossed.[13]

The solo wind powered circumnavigation record of 42 days, 16 hours, 40 minutes and 35 seconds was established by François Gabart on the maxi-multihull sailing yacht MACIF and completed on 7 December 2017.[14] The voyage followed the North Atlantic Ocean, Equator, South Atlantic Ocean, Southern Ocean, South Atlantic Ocean, Equator, North Atlantic Ocean route in an easterly direction.

Mechanically powered


Since the advent of world cruises in 1922, by Cunard's Laconia, thousands of people have completed circumnavigations of the globe at a more leisurely pace. Typically, these voyages begin in New York City or Southampton, and proceed westward. Routes vary, either travelling through the Caribbean and then into the Pacific Ocean via the Panama Canal, or around Cape Horn. From there ships usually make their way to Hawaii, the islands of the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, then northward to Hong Kong, South East Asia, and India. At that point, again, routes may vary: one way is through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean; the other is around Cape of Good Hope and then up the west coast of Africa. These cruises end in the port where they began.[11]

In 1960, the American nuclear-powered submarine USS Triton circumnavigated the globe in 60 days, 21 hours for Operation Sandblast.

The current circumnavigation record in a powered boat of 60 days 23 hours and 49 minutes[15] was established by a voyage of the wave-piercing trimaran Earthrace which was completed on 27 June 2008. The voyage followed the North Atlantic Ocean, Panama Canal, Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Suez Canal, Mediterranean Sea route in a westerly direction.



In 1922 Norman Macmillan (RAF officer), Major W T Blake and Geoffrey Malins made an unsuccessful attempt to fly a Daily News-sponsored round-the-world flight.[16] The first aerial circumnavigation of the planet was flown in 1924 by aviators of the U.S. Army Air Service in a quartet of Douglas World Cruiser biplanes. The first non-stop aerial circumnavigation of the planet was flown in 1949 by Lucky Lady II, a United States Air Force Boeing B-50 Superfortress.

Since the development of commercial aviation, there are regular routes that circle the globe, such as Pan American Flight One (and later United Airlines Flight One). Today planning such a trip through commercial flight connections is simple.

The first lighter-than-air aircraft of any type to circumnavigate under its own power was the rigid airship LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin, which did so in 1929.[citation needed]

Aviation records take account of the wind circulation patterns of the world; in particular the jet streams, which circulate in the northern and southern hemispheres without crossing the equator. There is therefore no requirement to cross the equator, or to pass through two antipodal points, in the course of setting a round-the-world aviation record.

For powered aviation, the course of a round-the-world record must start and finish at the same point and cross all meridians; the course must be at least 36,770 kilometres (19,850 nmi) long (which is approximately the length of the Tropic of Cancer). The course must include set control points at latitudes outside the Arctic and Antarctic circles.[17]

In ballooning, which is at the mercy of the winds, the requirements are even more relaxed. The course must cross all meridians, and must include a set of checkpoints which are all outside of two circles, chosen by the pilot, having radii of 3,335.85 kilometres (2,072.80 mi) and enclosing the poles (though not necessarily centred on them).[18] For example, Steve Fossett's global circumnavigation by balloon was entirely contained within the southern hemisphere.[11]



The first person to fly in space, Yuri Gagarin, also became the first person to complete an orbital spaceflight in the Vostok 1 spaceship within 2 hours on April 12 1961.[19] The flight started at 63° E, 45 N and ended at 45° E 51° N; thus Gagarin did not circumnavigate Earth completely.

Gherman Titov in the Vostok 2 was the first human to fully circumnavigate Earth in spaceflight and made 17.5 orbits on August 6, 1961.


Jason Lewis of Expedition 360 pedalling his boat Moksha on the River Thames in London, shortly before completing the first human-powered circumnavigation of the Earth (2007)

According to adjudicating bodies Guinness World Records and Explorersweb, Jason Lewis completed the first human-powered circumnavigation of the globe on 6 October 2007.[20][21] This was part of a thirteen-year journey entitled Expedition 360.

In 2012, Turkish-born American adventurer Erden Eruç completed the first entirely solo human-powered circumnavigation, travelling by rowboat, sea kayak, foot and bicycle from 10 July 2007 to 21 July 2012,[22] crossing the equator twice, passing over 12 antipodal points, and logging 66,299 kilometres (41,196 mi)[23] in 1,026 days of travel time, excluding breaks.[24]

National Geographic lists Colin Angus as being the first to complete a human-powered global circumnavigation in 2006.[25] However, his journey did not cross the equator or hit the minimum of two antipodal points as stipulated by the rules of Guinness World Records and AdventureStats by Explorersweb.[26][27][28]

People have both bicycled and run around the world, but the oceans have had to be covered by air or sea travel, making the distance shorter than the Guinness guidelines.[citation needed] To go from North America to Asia on foot is theoretically possible but very difficult. It involves crossing the Bering Strait on the ice, and around 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi) of roadless swamped or freezing cold areas in Alaska and eastern Russia. No one has so far travelled all of this route by foot. David Kunst was the first person that Guinness verified to have walked around the world between 20 June 1970 and 5 October 1974, by "[walking] 23,250 km (14,450 miles) through four continents".[29]

Notable circumnavigations

A replica of Magellan and Elcano's Nao Victoria, the first vessel to circumnavigate the planet
In 2012, the Swiss boat PlanetSolar became the first solar electric vehicle to circumnavigate the globe.


  • The Castilian ('Spanish') Magellan-Elcano expedition of August 1519 to 8 September 1522, started by Portuguese navigator Fernão de Magalhães (Ferdinand Magellan) and completed by Spanish Basque navigator Juan Sebastián Elcano after Magellan's death, was the first global circumnavigation[30][31] (see Victoria).
  • The survivors of García Jofre de Loaísa's Spanish expedition 1525–1536, including Andrés de Urdaneta and Hans von Aachen, who was also one of the 18 survivors of Magellan's expedition, making him the first to circumnavigate the world twice.
  • Francis Drake carried out the second circumnavigation of the world in a single expedition (and on a single independent voyage), from 1577 to 1580.[32]
  • Jeanne Baret is the first woman to complete a voyage of circumnavigation, in 1766–1769.[33][34]
  • John Hunter commanded the first ship to circumnavigate the World starting from Australia, between 2 September 1788 and 8 May 1789, with one stop in Cape Town to load supplies for the colony of New South Wales.[35]
  • HMS Driver completed the first circumnavigation by a steam ship in 1845–1847.
  • The Spanish frigate Numancia, commanded by Juan Bautista Antequera y Bobadilla, completed the first circumnavigation by an ironclad in 1865–1867.
  • Joshua Slocum completed the first single-handed circumnavigation in 1895–1898.
  • In 1942, Vito Dumas became the first person to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe along the Roaring Forties.
  • In 1960, the U.S. Navy nuclear-powered submarine USS Triton (SSRN-586) completed the submerged circumnavigation.
  • In 1969, Robin Knox-Johnston became the first person to complete a single-handed non-stop circumnavigation.
  • In 1999, Jesse Martin became the youngest recognized person to complete an unassisted, non-stop, circumnavigation, at the age of 18.
  • In 2001, the U.S. Coast Guard USCGC Sherman (WHEC-720) became the first Coast Guard vessel to circumnavigate the globe.
  • In 2012, PlanetSolar became the first ever solar electric vehicle to circumnavigate the globe.[36]
  • In 2012, Laura Dekker became the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe single-handed, with stops, at the age of 16.
  • In 2017, trimaran IDEC 3 with sailors: Francis Joyon, Alex Pella, Clément Surtel, Gwénolé Gahinet, Sébastien Audigane and Bernard Stamm completes the fastest circumnavigation of the globe ever; in 40 days, 23 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds. The voyage followed the North Atlantic Ocean, Equator, South Atlantic Ocean, Southern Ocean, South Atlantic Ocean, Equator, North Atlantic Ocean route in an easterly direction.
  • In 2022, the MV Astra, a former Swedish Sea Rescue Society ship became the first sub-24m motor-powered vessel to circumnavigate the globe via the southern capes.[37][38]




  • In 1841–1842 Sir George Simpson made the first "land circumnavigation", crossing Canada and Siberia and returning to London.
  • Ranulph Fiennes and Charlie Burton are credited with the first north–south circumnavigation of the Earth.[5]


  • On 13 June 2003, Robert Garside completed the first recognized run around the world, taking 5+12 years; the run was authenticated in 2007 by Guinness World Records after five years of verification.[42][43]
  • On 6 October 2007, Jason Lewis completed the first human-powered circumnavigation of the globe (including human-powered sea crossings).[20][21]
  • On 21 July 2012, Erden Eruç completed the first entirely solo human-powered circumnavigation of the globe.[22][23]

See also



  1. ^ a b Howie, Cherie (27 January 2018). "Kiwi airline exec breaks record for world circumnavigation on commercial airlines". New Zealand Herald. New Zealand Media and Entertainment. Archived from the original on 17 June 2019. Retrieved 17 June 2019.
  2. ^   The dictionary definition of circumnavigare#Latin at Wiktionary
  3. ^ Harper, Douglas. "circumnavigate". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  4. ^ "Definition of a Circumnavigation". 28 September 1924. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  5. ^ a b "1982: First Surface Circumnavigation via both Geographical Poles". Guinness World Records. 18 August 2015. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  6. ^ Humble, Richard (1978). The Seafarers – The Explorers. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books.
  7. ^ Wagner, Henry R., Sir Francis Drake's Voyage Around the World: Its Aims and Achievements, Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2006, ISBN 1-4286-2255-1
  8. ^ Martinic, Mateo (1977). Historia del Estrecho de Magallanes (in Spanish). Santiago: Andrés Bello. pp. 67–68.
  9. ^ Grun, Bernard (1991). The Timetables of History (3rd ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-74919-6.
  10. ^ "The WSSR Council announces the establishment of a new World Recordwork". World Sailing Speed Record Council (WSSR). Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d "Circumnavigations". Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  12. ^ "ISAF/World Sailing Speed Record Rules for individually attempted Passage Records or Performances Offshore, sec. 26.1.a, Record Courses". Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  13. ^ "ISAF/World Sailing Speed Record Rules for individually attempted Passage Records or Performances Offshore". Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  14. ^ "François Gabart: French sailor slashes around the world solo record". BBC News. 17 December 2017. Retrieved 13 February 2021.
  15. ^ Archived 14 August 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Taylor, H. A. (1974). Fairey Aircraft since 1915. London: Putnam Publishing. pp. 87–89. ISBN 0-370-00065-X.
  17. ^ "FAI Sporting Code Section 2: Powered Aerodynes: Speed around the world non-stop and non-refuelled". Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. January 2016. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 February 2016. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  18. ^ "FAI Sporting Code Section 1: Aerostats: Around-the-World Records". Archived from the original on 27 September 2011.
  19. ^ "NASA - NSSDCA - Spacecraft - Details".
  20. ^ a b Guinness World Records (6 October 2007). "Human Powered Circumnavigations" (PDF).
  21. ^ a b "Global HPC—Human Powered Circumnavigations". AdventureStats. Archived from the original on 1 October 2018. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  22. ^ a b "Guinness World Records – First solo circumnavigation of the globe using human power". Guinness World Records. 21 July 2012. Archived from the original on 19 March 2016. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  23. ^ a b "Media Kit – Project Summary Document" (PDF). Around-n-Over (PDF file linked from ""). 22 August 2012. Archived (PDF) from the original on 14 February 2016. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  24. ^ "Around the World in 1,026 Days". Outside Magazine (online edition). 1 February 2013. Archived from the original on 11 April 2014. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  25. ^ Duane, Daniel (2007). "Adventurers of the Year: The New Magellans". National Geographic Society. Archived from the original on 4 July 2012. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  26. ^ "Jason Lewis version of circumnavigation". 28 September 1924. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  27. ^ "Erden Eruc version of circumnavigation". Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  28. ^ Wafaei, Julie; Angus, Colin. "Colin Angus version of circumnavigation". Archived from the original on 20 January 2013. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  29. ^ "First circumnavigation by walking". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 12 January 2020.
  30. ^ Totoricagüena, Gloria Pilar (2005). Basque Diaspora: Migration And Transnational Identity. University of Nevada Press. p. 132. ISBN 9781877802454. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
  31. ^ Pigafetta, Antonio; Skelton, Raleigh Ashlin (1994). Magellan's Voyage: A Narrative Account of the First Circumnavigation. Courier Dover Publications. ISBN 978-0-486-28099-8.[page needed]
  32. ^ Coote, Stephen (2003). Drake: The Life and Legend of an Elizabethan Hero. New York: Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 978-0-312-34165-7.
  33. ^ Dunmore, John (2002), Monsieur Baret: First Woman Around the World, Heritage Press, ISBN 978-0-908708-54-3
  34. ^ Ridley, Glynis (2010), The Discovery of Jeanne Baret, Crown Publisher New York, ISBN 978-0-307-46352-4
  35. ^ Hunter, John, An Historical Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island, John Stockdale, London, 1793
  36. ^ Webster, Andrew (4 May 2012). "PlanetSolar completes first solar-powered boat trip around the globe". The Verge. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  37. ^ "Iain Macneil and converted lifeboat MV Astra set new world record". Motorboat & Yachting. 16 May 2022. Retrieved 17 May 2022.
  38. ^ Merritt, Mike. "Sailor Iain Macneil's epic global voyage sets record". The Times. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  39. ^ Penberthy, Natsumi (17 July 2014). "Teen makes youngest round-the-world solo flight". Australian Geographic. Retrieved 8 September 2020.
  40. ^ "Flight crew breaks record for circumnavigating globe via both poles". CNN. 11 July 2019.
  41. ^ "Fastest circumnavigation via both Poles by aeroplane". 11 July 2019.
  42. ^ "The first fully-authenticated run around the world record has just been accepted" (PDF) (Press release). Guinness World Records. Although Robert's record attempt finished in 2003, it has taken 5 years to collate and confirm the record evidence [...] We are very cautious to accept records like this because they are difficult to certify, however Robert has provided us with full evidence which enabled us to authenticate his amazing achievement. We initially evaluated 15 boxes full of credit card statements, receipts in Robert's name and other useful evidence, which supported Robert's presence in all of the 29 countries within the time specified. We then moved on to establish whether Robert had actually been running and started to look through an astronomical number of pictures and newspaper cuttings from different parts of Robert's route. We also reviewed over 300 time-coded tapes featuring Robert running at different locations during his journey. We could finally double check the route followed through statements from several witnesses, and passports stamps and visas...
  43. ^ "The first fully authenticated run around the world record has just been accepted" (PDF) (Press release). Guinness World records. Retrieved 29 September 2009.

Further reading

  • Joyce E. Chaplin (2013). Round About the Earth: Circumnavigation from Magellan to Orbit. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1416596202.