"Round the world" redirects here. For the airline ticket, see Round-the-world ticket.

Circumnavigation — literally, "navigation of a circumference" — refers to travelling all the way around an island, a continent, or (usually) the entire planet Earth. The first world circumnavigation in history was the Magellan-Elcano expedition which sailed from Spain in 1519 and returned in 1522 after having crossed the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian oceans.

Global circumnavigation

In principle, if a person walks completely around either Pole, they will have crossed all meridians, but this is not generally considered a "circumnavigation." A basic definition of a global circumnavigation would be a route which covers at least a great circle, and in particular one which passes through at least one pair of points antipodal to each other.[1] In practice, different definitions of world circumnavigation are used, in order 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, would technically be a circumnavigation, but practical difficulties generally preclude such a voyage.

The first single voyage of global circumnavigation was that of the ship "Victoria", between 1519 and 1522, known as the Magellan–Elcano expedition. It was a Spanish voyage of discovery led initially by Ferdinand Magellan between 1519 and 1521, and then by Juan Sebastián Elcano from 1521 to 1522. The voyage started in Seville, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and after several stopovers rounded the southern tip of South America. It then continued across the Pacific discovering a number of islands on its way, including Guam and the Philippines. After Magellan's death in the Philippines in 1521, Elcano took command of the expedition and continued the journey across the Indian Ocean, round the Cape of Good Hope, north along the Atlantic Ocean, and back to Spain in 1522. Elcano and a small group of 18 men were actually the only members of the expedition to make the full circumnavigation.

However, depending on one's interpretation of "circumnavigation", the first person to circumnavigate the Earth in his lifetime was Ferdinand Magellan. Although he was killed before completing the 1519 to 1522 voyage, he had sailed to Malacca twelve years previously, from west to east. The longitudinal distance of those combined voyages amounts to an angular distance slightly greater than 360 degrees, as Malacca is further eastward than Magellan's Philippines deathplace.

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 later improvements in technology and rising incomes that made such trips relatively common.


The nautical global circumnavigation record is currently held by a wind-powered vessel.

Wind powered

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.

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.[2] The map on the left 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 latitudes predominantly blow west-to-east it can be seen that there is 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.

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.[3]

The current wind powered circumnavigation record of 45 days 13 hours 42 minutes 53 seconds was established by Loïck Peyron on the maxi-multihull sailing yacht Banque Populaire V and completed on the 6th of January 2012. 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.

The current mechanically powered circumnavigation record of 60 days 23 hours and 49 minutes 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.


Since the development of commercial aviation many thousands of people have flown around the world. Some regular routes, such as the old Pan American Flight One (and later, although briefly, United Airlines Flight One), circled the globe, and today planning such a trip through various connections is quite simple.

The first successful attempt to circumnavigate the planet Earth by air occurred in 1924, flown by aviators of the U.S. Army Air Service in a quartet of Douglas World Cruiser biplanes.

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

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. Thus, for example, Steve Fossett's global circumnavigation by balloon was entirely contained within the southern hemisphere.

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 36,787.559 kilometres (22,858.729 mi) long (which is the length of the Tropic of Cancer). The course must include set control points at latitudes outside the Arctic and Antarctic circles.[4]

In ballooning, which is totally 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).[5]


The first person to fly in space, Yuri Gagarin, also became the first person to complete an orbital spaceflight in the Vostok 1 spaceship, in 1961. Early NASA space missions included only sub-orbital spaceflights.


According to adjudicating bodies Guinness World Records and Explorersweb, Jason Lewis completed the first human-powered circumnavigation of the globe on October 6, 2007.[6][7] This was part of a thirteen-year journey entitled Expedition 360.

On July 21, 2012, Turkish adventurer Erden Eruç of Around-n-Over completed a solo human-powered circumnavigation in 1,026 days.


A true circumnavigation of the world must pass through two points antipodean to each other. Norris McWhirter, founding editor of Guinness, 1971.

[A] true circumnavigation of the Earth must: start and finish at the same point, traveling in one general direction, reach two antipodes, cross the equator, cross all longitudes, cover a minimum of 40,000km. AdventureStats by Explorersweb

People have both bicycled and run around the world, but the oceans have had to be covered by air travel, making the distance shorter than the Guinness guidelines. 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 3000 km 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 verified person to walk around the world between 20 June 1970 and 10 October 1974.

Notable circumnavigations





  • On October 6, 2007, Jason Lewis completed the first human-powered circumnavigation of the globe.[14][15]

See also


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