Boating 101: How to Pick a Compass for Your Boat

Boating 101: How to Pick a Compass for Your Boat

Pick the Correct Compass for your Boat
Sometimes it’s the simplest things that we tend to overlook, and while it’s usually not a big deal, you never know when things can go wrong. For example, you have an amazing, top-of-the-line electronic navigation system on your boat, but do you also have a compass onboard? While your high-end navigation system may have all of the newest technological features, they can still fail or steer you wrong. A compass has stood up to the test of time because it’s simple yet effective. It’s no wonder that a compass is still considered to be an essential navigation tool, one that you should always have handy.

Having a compass aboard your boat is crucial, but you want to make sure you know what to look for when you are selecting one for your boat. Don’t go into this decision blind, check out our list of compass buying tips to help you pick the correct compass for your boat.

1. Generally, marine compasses are referred to as Class A, or Class B. Class A is typically used in large, commercial vessels while Class B compasses are used on lifeboats and leisure vessels.
2. You can purchase either a magnetic or electronic compass. Magnetic compasses utilize the earth’s magnetic field, but these compasses can be diverted away from magnetic north due to magnetic interference. While electronic compasses are affected by magnetic fields, sophisticated electronic sensors can compensate allowing for an accurate reading.
3. Always look for the wheel mark symbol, which denotes the compasses compliance and shows its approval.
4. Compasses typically come in three different shapes; flat, cylindrical, and conical. Flat-card style compasses are typically used in large vessels and are more stable in rough water, or when a binnacle is used and requires a higher viewing angle. Cylindrical compasses are usually utilized in small yachts. Lastly, conical compasses are suitable for those who often find themselves sitting at the helm and looking down to read the compass.
5. Common compass sizes typically are 2", 3", 3-3/8", 3-3/4", 4-1/2", 5", and 5-1/2. The larger the compass is, the easier it is to read. Also, a large compass is more stable when presented with heavy seas.
6. Know that there are five mounting styles available for compasses, a binnacle mount, bracket mount, bulkhead mount, flush mount, and a surface mount.
7. Make sure your compass has a built-in gimbal system. A gimbal system will help protect the compass from being jostled around by your boat by providing stability.
8. Look for a compass that features corrector magnets, which are the second set of magnets that help correct any deviation that occurs from electronic or magnetic interference.
9. When you are installing your compass, make sure that the compass’s lubber line is parallel with the keel along the boat’s centerline. By doing this, you can ensure that you get a proper reading.
10. There are different options available to you when it comes time to mount your compass. The most stable option that does not take up a lot of space is flush-mounted compasses that are mounted horizontally on the helm. If you are looking for other options that don’t require space underneath to install, there are also bracket, surface, and binnacle-mounted compasses to choose from.


New York Marine Trades Association
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