Frozen compass??

thinking of giving the gift of a compass to a friend for the Holiday. He lives in Cold A*% Minn, so I wonder will the liquid in a compass freeze if the kayak is stored in a barn???

Thanks in advance.

It shouldn’t
I’ve never had a compass freeze, including automotive types.

Nexus/Brunton/silva 70 p won’t

Best wishes from the frozen North


Mineral oil vs water
Most are filled fith mineral oil for dampening some like AquaMeter use water. Water freezes.

Mine dosen’t, (didn’t)
I don’t use it any more

Why a compass in this day and age? - think GPS !



Because GPS can (and will) fail
Then, if you’re in a situation where you need it to navigate (open water out of sight of land, fog bank sets in, etc.) you are screwed. Compass is a very nice piece of equipment to have and to learn how to use properly. Unless you only paddle small lakes and ponds and streams, in which case, never mind. You don’t need a compass.

there is real heavy fog, I use both a compass and a GPS.

I use a “go to” with the GPS in front of me…and verify my paddling with it. But I use the compass to actually paddle by.

way too difficult to just use the GPS and have to keep looking down especially if there are any significant waves to go with the fog. (waves with no wind sometimes from a front a long way away)

anytime the visiability is at or less than 1/10 th of a mile…I like to know where I’m going, since if I miss my Islands …it’s a long way back and the ore boats sneek up on you sometimes. nothing funny about a 1,000 foot boat that can’t turn to avoid you in the fog…or even a 600 foot one…or even a tour boat…or even …(long list)

Best Wishes


Seen it happen
I was paddling in Newfoundland 5 years ago, and while we were out paddling, an announcement came over the VHF that the GPS system was down and was expected to stay down for 4 hours. Had we been relying on it, we’d have been screwed if it were foggy.

I also recently had a GPS unit die on me while paddling - it kept shutting down for no reason & the basemap wouldn’t work. The manufacturer was good, and replaced the unit for free, even though it was several months out of warranty.

I always carry at least a hikers compass, and my Anas Acuta has a 70P permanently mounted on the deck. For my other boats, I have an Aquameter on a removable mount.

But when I’m paddling somewhere new I have both chart and compass, and GPS working. Chance of total failure then is about zero.

An oil filled compass won’t freeze …

– Last Updated: Dec-06-08 10:51 AM EST –

..... a compass is a good thing as long as you have a chart and know where you are (or reasonably close) to begin with .

I bought a new power boat once , 20' C.C. , was in the process of rigging it up but hadn't installed a compass yet . One bright calm day I decide to stretch her wings , so opened her up and headed down bay . Cruised for hours at 3/4 throttle just enjoying her capabilitys . Came across Blues breaking surface all over the place , so started chasing them with a big top water popper , catching one on every cast and then getting back on them . I must have chased them around for an hour or more before realizing they were getting harder to see in the distance . A fog had set in , although the Sun was still high above it . In reality it was probably more of a real thick haze , but the outcome is just like fog .

Finally I lost the blues altogether in the fog and that was that . Endless roaming but no luck , I had lost them for good this time . Then it dawned on me , where the heck are you ?? I knew I was many hours down bay , but which way is towards back home , where's the shore ?? I think the bay was only about 15 miles wide there .

Hmmm , the tide was running in when I left and it ought to be running out by now , so I'll just run back home against the tide . That sounded reasonable to me . I'll look for a sail boat and come along side along the way and ask him for a bearing . That ought to be a hoot !!

It took an hour before I came across one close enough in the fog to see . All that while I was wondering , what if I find I had went the opposite way instead of towards home ?? That would be a bummer having even longer distance/time to return .

Turned out the sailor confirmed I was going in the correct direction , a big thank you and on my way again . The fog lifted near my home range and there she was , the Bay Bridge , good ...

What's that you say , power boats aren't paddling ??

My point exactly !! Strokes in correct direction , mean more to a padler than a power boater , lol .

I don’t have that worry.
“the Bride” is always with me and she has a Map 76 also.

If I were paddling by myself, I would have redundancy.



GPS tells position, not direction.
A GPS can only show you which way to go when you’re moving (unless it’s got an electronic compass - which a few now have). Without that feature they only tell you which direction you have moved. That’s fine if you’re moving straight forwards, but if you’re paddling forward at 2 knots, and unaware that you’re being set to your right by a one knot current, you’ll think you’re facing north based on the GPS when in fact your bow is pointing NNW. That 30 degree error could really screw up your positional sense.

Aside from that, steering by GPS almost always results in a zig-zagging course. You see this very readily on sailboats. If someone is steering at night by looking at the compass the GPS track they make will be very straight, but if they’re staring at the GPS screen they’ll think they’re going straight when in fact they’re wandering back and forth all the time. That results in a longer path and more time/energy to get to your destination.

IMO, anyone who heads to sea without a compass and chart is unprepared. These are the basis of all navigation, and even if everything else fails, you can get out of nearly any navigational problem using those two tools. Also, it’s much harder to get the big-picture on a GPS screen when dealing with more difficult navigation.

The standard Nexus 70P …
… by Brunton claims it tolerates temps down to -30. Not sure if that’s Fahrenheit or Celsius, but either way, you’re good down to freezing.

Anyone installing a compass may appreciate my tech article:

Download the Nexus 70P manual here:

Good Luck!


I have a sea kayak compass.
And I never keep it outside. This is Fort Collins,CO, and climate wise, is alot like alaska. Just tell him to keep it in his house detached from the kayak, where its room temperature. then you can just put it on the kayak before you go. I got the compass as a gift, but I dont need it at this point in my life so I just keep it in the basement, which translates as my room. It might come in handy a few years down the road.

Next to impossible
If you had been checking your GPS for those four hours, you would have noticed that it was still telling you something and probably was still accurate within 15 meters . . . If you were smart enough to turn off WAAS. Someone would have to shut down 29 satellites which broadcast independently of each other to disable GPS. What probably happened is the local differential GPS station went offline meaning that your unit wouldn’t be accurate within 3 meters. With WAAS still turned on, this would have thrown you off, but turn it off, and you can be relatively accurate again. Since all aviation, marine traffic, civil engineers and military rely on the same 29 GPS satellites, it would be global chaos for it to be offline.

And also
most GPS basemaps don’t give you anywhere near the detail that a good marine chart or topo map (Inland paddling) give you about possible points of interest, reefs, rocks, and currents. You could be blindly paddling into a tidal race, and all you would know is your position on a GPS unless you had downloaded charts into it.

The biggest issue in the next few years will be newer paddlers who have a GPS, but know nothing about navigation. That makes the GPS a lot less useful as a tool. I took a great GPS navigation class about 6 years ago which integrated chart navigation into the lesson, and for me unlocked the real potential of a GPS as part of a navigation system.

When I’m paddling somewhere new, or on days when fog is either a reality or a possibility, I have not only the GPS and a chart and compass; I also have dividers and a plotter handy, and a course already plotted and entered into the GPS. It’s not only good practice, but I think it’s fun to pull the tools out every so often and figure out waypoints and course the old-fashioned way. In fact, I don’t get to do it often enough, IMO.

My compass is in the paddle shed
Its not heated. No ill effects.

I live in the North. Today it is a balmy 3.

So are 3 of ours
they’re permanently mounted to the decks of three of our kayaks. We keep them in the shed year-round, and have never seen a compass freeze, even at -10 F.

They won’t freeze
the fluid (refined kerosene) may thicken at extreme (-60F) temps and become less accurate (slugish) but they don’t freeze and break.