How to Properly Read a Compass While Boating

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It is imperative to learn how to read a compass for marine navigation because a compass is the most crucial navigational tool aboard a boat. A compass can help point you in the right direction even if you have no reference on the horizon or in the sky (such as the sun or stars). A GPS is awesome because it can show you where you are headed, but only a compass can tell you the direction in which your vessel is pointed…and that, believe me when I tell you…is a VERY different thing.

Ok so, how do you read a compass? It’s simple. First, you need to throw right and left out the window. Those directional aids are relative. North, south, east and west are constant, and constant is a necessity in marine navigation…in any navigation, for that matter.

Next, you need to know about cardinal points. A cardinal point is simply the points halfway in between, such as northeast, northwest, southeast or southwest. Halfway in between those are your secondary cardinal points, such as north-northeast and so on. If someone tells you to head north-northeast, for example, you will have a pretty good idea of what direction you need to go.

Also, a compass is marked in degrees on the circle that surrounds it. So, if the people at the marina you want to visit say you need to head west, point your boat west. When the needle reads west, you are doing just fine. Then if they have given you a heading of 250 degrees, just make sure you point your boat in the direction that specifically points that compass needle to 250 degrees on that circle…and voila, you will reach your destination as planned!

Oh, and just make certain you keep metal objects away from your compass, as they can mess with the magnetics and give you a false reading. Happy trails!