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.
If a person walks completely around either Pole, he crosses 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. 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. 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 in such a voyage, although it was successfully undertaken in the early 1980s by Ranulph Fiennes.
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 through the Strait of Magellan. In June 1579, Drake landed somewhere north of Spain's northernmost claim in Alta California, which is known as Drakes Bay, California. Drake completed the second circumnavigation of the world in September 1580, becoming the first commander to lead an entire circumnavigation.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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 verified person to walk around the world between 20 June 1970 and 5 October 1974.