All boats from modest cruiser to megayacht have at least one need in common—the ability to safely get from point A to point B. Having a magnetic compass on board has always been a standard for the prudent mariner; however, modern navigational systems require the electronic heading information provided by an electronic (fluxgate) compass. Here’s a look at both magnetic and fluxgate compasses—how they work, what they do and considerations for proper operation.
No other device has facilitated navigation and exploration more than the humble magnetic compass—a simple, reliable device that’s helped mariners navigate the oceans of the world for centuries. A basic magnetic compass consists of a pivoted, horizontal compass card suspended in a gimbal-mounted composite or non-ferrous metal bowl. The card rotates so that “0” degrees or “North” points to magnetic north.
While it’s true the magnetic compass often takes a back seat to more modern navigational electronics, don’t let that fool you into thinking there isn’t a need for one on board. As it operates by utilizing the Earth’s natural magnetic fields, when the IC chips are down, it remains the only piece of navigational gear that doesn’t require power to show direction and the way home.