Boating & Marine Accessories

4 Steps Involved in Choosing a Compass

A magnetic compass is a critical piece of boating equipment. A properly installed compass can help to give a real-time reading on the direction headed.

Boat CompassGoing with the right compass for a motor-driven or sail boat can be a difficult process because of the wide-ranging choices in the market. Plus, this type of instrument should be seen as a must-have item of safety gear.

Here are four of the major issues to consider in the process of installing and adjusting the right compass:


A high-end compass should come from a reputable and established manufacturer. The best compasses rely on the latest engineering methods to ensure a dependable and accurate reading is possible at all times.

Mount Type

A compass is installed using one of several different types of mount systems. A preferred mount technique will relate to the set-up of the specific boat – which mostly relates to the space and layout of the piloting area. Common mount types include:

  • Bracket (easy to mount to the deck or dash area)
  • Flush (a space-saving option with its ability to recede into the dash)
  • Surface (similar in design to the flash unit, but rests on the surface of the dash area)
  • Dash (easy to mount in a vertical position)
  • Bulkhead (a practical choice to save space or avoid issues with interference)
  • Binnacle (comes complete with case and light-protecting lib)

Dial Type

  • Direct read – An easy to read dial like that direct read is intended to be read when in front and close to the eye level.
  • Flat card – A flat card dial makes it easy to read a compass that is flat on a deck or similar area.
  • Combi dial – A combi dial is a versatile option and makes it possible to read the compass in both a flat card and direct read, so able to permit reading of dial at any angle.


The size of compass dials can vary quite significantly from about 2 to 6 inches in diameter. Compass size is likely to match the size of the vessel and length of voyage. If planning to travel at greater distances, it benefits to have a large compass that is easy to read at regular intervals.

Compass size guidelines:

  • Motor-driven boat < 16-ft = 2 inch dial
  • Motor-driven boat < 20-ft = 2.25 inch dial
  • Motor-driven boat and Sail boat < 24-ft = 2.75 inch dial
  • Motor-driven boat and Sail boat < 28-ft = 3 inch dial
  • Motor-driven boat and Sail boat 25 to 34-ft = 3.75 inch dial
  • Motor-driven boat and Sail boat 29 to 42-ft = 4.5 inch dial
  • Motor-driven boat and Sail boat > 30-ft = 5-6 inch dial

Maintenance and Protection

A compass should be protected from long spells of exposure to direct sunlight when out of commission. Use the protective cover if applicable, to help minimize these issues. Also, to avoid issues with interference make sure to create a safe, non-magnetic environment that will not be disturbed by steel or iron items within close proximity.

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