hand held compass

I’ve gone through more hiking compasses than you can shake a stick at. The problem is they always seemed to get gunked up by salt water and sand. Has anyone got a good solution to the hand held compass problem? What do you use or how do you keep your compass from getting gunked up? For this thread I’m asking about hand helds, not a deck mounted compass. For taking quick bearings off to the right or the left.

Try this
A hand held marine sighting compass like the Plastimo Iris 50. You may find you don’t need a hiker’s compass if you are using charts only.


– Last Updated: Jul-17-10 6:56 AM EST –

For taking bearings, you can't beat a hand bearing compass. No exposed moving parts, so sand and water aren't a problem. The Plastimo is very accurate (to a degree, easily) and can be read in the dark.

It's about a hundred dollars though, and is the size and weight of a hockey puck. (Mine generally stays on the sailboat).

keep using the handheld as they are a lot better for use with charts, etc. Wash with hot water to get the grit out.

Buy it from REI and it is seizes up they will replace it under their lifetime satisfaction guarantee.


Has a good sighting compass that I use. Very quick/easy to use. Kinda pricey though.


"Buy it from REI …"
The first half of your post I agree with and it’s what I’ve been doing. The second half (return it to REI) seems unethical. Sure, the first time when I was caught off guard by the phenomenon, that’s what I did. Ruined a backpacking handheld by taking it into the marine environment. But I can’t do that over and over again knowing that will happen in advance, even if their policy lets me.

I was just wondering if anyone knew any ‘secret’ handhelds out there that it didn’t happen to. I guess it’s a stupid question, there’s no magic, it’s going to happen to all of them. Guess I’ll have to go back to my Ritchie http://ak.buy.com/db_assets/large_images/626/202294626.jpg, but it’s so inaccurate (only measures to within 5°), and I really like the straight edge of a handheld compass working with a chart.

Better for charts?
I too used to think that hiker’s compasses are better for charts, until I got some training and our instructor forbade us using them. It’s much simpler to take your chart bearings from the chart’s magnetic rose using whatever straight edge you have, then follow the magnetic course with your marine compass.

Because many of us start our outdoors careers as hikers, we learn to use orienteering compasses with topo maps, adjusting for local magnetic variation. None of that is necessary with marine charts, so there is no point in having an orienteering compass (unless, of course, you want it to do double duty with both charts and topo maps).

compass rose
I came at kayaking from sailing, not orienteering, so to me using hand-bearing compasses and chart plotting tools was my default. But there are a number of reasons that doesn’t work so well on a kayak. Most importantly, how often are you able to fold your chart to a lap-top size and actually have a compass rose in the frame? Secondly, transfering a bearing to the rose on a curved deck is tricky and sometimes inaccurate. I find it much more convenient and accurate to simply use an orienteering compass and the nearest line of longitude on the chart. Measuring an accurate true bearing, and adding our westerly deviation is plenty easy, IMO, and quicker and more accurate than other options I’ve tried.

My orienteering compasses haven’t jammed up yet. I think the one in my vest now has been in there for a couple years now. I’ll have to look at what brand it is.

You’re right…
…but only if you are doing the navigational heavy-lifting from the cockpit.

It can be argued, however, that best practice is to do all your navigational calculations on the beach and write them with grease pencil on your deck. In that case, an orienteering compass is unnecessary and may in fact complicate things. Both ways work: I have moved from the first way to the second because it is simpler.

Doing the homework before launching is always good, but that doesn’t mean that a hand-held compass is unnecessary. With only a deck-mount, if you want to get a bearing off an island at “four o’clock”, you’d have to turn the boat around to point at it and then return. A hand-held is just easier for that.

Since I’m on fresh water, I haven’t had a problem with my tiny Silva sighting compass - guess it’s a 426. Not that I use it much, actually…

My little Silva was fine
Had it in the PFD pocket all days but the surf beach ones, and it still works as before. I rinsed it in fresh water when possible but that didn’t happen every day. It’s a basic hiker’s compass that cost about $15.

I’d say . . .
I’d argue that no matter how much of your navigation work you’ve done on the beach beforehand, you still need to be able to measure bearings and distances quickly on your deck. Plans change, weather changes, you get blown off course, and you need to be equipped to do navigation on the fly.


– Last Updated: Jul-20-10 4:29 PM EST –

Right now I take a Suunto M-2 as my hand held.
No need to really have to justify taking one but, when doing a trip where you don't actually know where or which place you will be making camp I can plot my brains out with a chart & rule only to find out that in real life I've had to chose a completely different course for any number of reasons and need to take the handheld and say ok we are going to go on bearing such & such till our next break and see if the route is passable, if not we will make our next decision from there.

Any way it's a simple handheld that I use but I spoil it either by keeping it in a water proof waist pouch and if I need to I will keep it also in a plastic baggie.

This particular one has a small corner magnifiyer cuz if I loose/break my glasses I need all the help I can get to read anything at all even if it's just one word or number.

( though I would like to know how I can keep my jack knifes from getting all corroded by salt.)