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Equipment | Compass


This is, ultimately, the most fundamental, important navigational device on the boat. If everything electronic fell apart, the good-old compass would provide the critical information to get where we wanted to go. It is also the oldest instrument, dating back thousands of years, to China. It has only one moving part and basically never needs servicing.

We have a traditional compass, a magnetised card bathed in oil, mounted in a brass binnacle in the middle of the cockpit, the most central position in the boat, directly in front of the helmsman.

But, of course, we rarely steer the boat by hand. Most of the time, it is an autopilot that is steering, and it consults an electronic fluxgate compass in the less fashionable, dinghy space under the cockpit.

The Cetrek fluxgate compasses are rather boring-looking black plastic boxes; built for function not appearance. Solid-state devices, with a single cable. No glamour or romanticism here. The future may be digital, it may be smaller, neater and more accurate, but it hardly has the same charisma.


We still use a hand-bearing compass for coastal navigation and collision avoidance (checking to see if another ship is changing its relative bearing with respect to us, irrespective of our own yawing in the sea that may be running).

This job used to be fulfilled by a small floating compass card on a handle, not unlike a small version of the binnacle compass or those still used for scuba diving, but is now replaced by an Autohelm fluxgate compass that is accurate and very simple to use. This was one of the first digital products developed for recreational saiboats and is a real winner, maybe 15 years old now?




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