Protect Your Compass from Enemy #1!

Your sailing compass has few equals when it comes to reliability. Lose all electronics aboard your boat, and your compass could get you and your sailing crew or partner home safe and sound. But there is one simple factor often ignored–it’s almost too easy to overlook. Forget this and your compass could be damaged. Not deviation–or the influence of metals. Not even close! Read on to discover how to fight this enemy in just under two seconds–with total success!

Use It or Lose It – Practice Yields Familiarity

Like most of navigation, the more you use your magnetic compass, the easier it will be when you need it most. Even if your GPS or plotter are working fine, practice these simple easy-to-do functions when possible:

  • Steer an accurate sailing course.
  • Compare a charted or natural range to determine compass error.
  • Take bearings to verify your electronic navigation.
  • Check the compass against a charted channel direction.
  • Run a measured mile under power to make a speed vs. RPM table.
  • Practice navigation with just compass and dead reckoning.
  • Take drift bearings to ships to establish risk of collision.
  • Track squalls or other weather threats that surround you.
  • Fight Enemy #1 with This Two Second Protection PlanIn previous articles we discussed how deviation–metals or electric current–near the compass can cause errors. Indeed, the magnets on the back of your compass card are attracted to current. I still believe the best cure will be the simple “Rule of 36″. Keep any metals, cell phones, laptops, watches, knives, cameras, jewelry or glasses at least 36″ away from your steering or hand bearing compass. Make this standard operating procedure aboard your small sailboat.


    Deviation comes in a poor seconds to one giant of the universe–the sun. Nothing will shorten the life of a compass like this big celestial star. And in particular direct sunlight.

    Binnacle compasses are more vulnerable because they are exposed in their bowls just in front of the wheel. Keep the binnacle hood down at all times when not in use. This includes when on autopilot in daylight hours. Open the hood just to steer the boat or check the course or your navigation.

    No binnacle hood? No problem! If you have no binnacle hood or if you use a bulkhead mounted magnetic sailing compass, cover it with light-leak-proof material like Sunbrella or one of the fabrics used on sail covers or canvas. Even an old hat will do in a pinch. Cover the compass bowl, lash the cover in place with some bungee cord and you’re done! Fast and effective. What could be easier?


    Use these easy sailing tips to protect your trusty sailing compass from the ravages of direct sunlight. Save money and replacement costs too–wherever in the world you choose to go sailing or cruising!

    Courtesy of

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