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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?