location of compass recess

Why do so many boats put the compass recess forward of the bow hatch?? That seems way too far away for easy and accurate reading.

My 1995 pintail has the compass recess over my shins, which is perfect. The compass is about 10 inches beyond my chart, and it’s easy to read at a glance. The newer pintail (and all the other current Valley designs I’ve seen) have the recess beyond the bow hatch. I’d think I would have to stare much longer to read a compass way up there.

Any paddlers with compasses mounted up there have comments? Is it placed up there to keep it from getting covered up by the blades of your split? Or was it a toe-room decision?

I was told the compass recess was moved further away from the paddler in order to reduce the chance of motion sickness.

It can be challanging for aging eyes and usually keep a strap on compass in the hatch in case paddling when it is too dark to see the installed compass.


– Last Updated: May-04-09 10:11 AM EST –

WilsoJ and I grew up as kayakers at the same era, and learned exactly this idea from mentors. I don't think either of us know for sure whether this actually is true, that it creates sea sickness. It may have been true that the kayaks were a bit shorter then and most paddlers did not have presbyopia, i.e., "old eyes"

Other reasons may have also be given. Avoids a stiff neck looking down and up again.

Gives hands free operation and placed ahead of paddler so can see direction kayak is actually headed more accurately.

Placing if farther forward and recessed may have also been a safety consideration, i.e., making sure it was well clear of rescue and recoveries, and not sticking out so it did not get broken.

But it is true that for balance sake alone, try looking down at yourself paddling and then back up towards where you are going while in rough water and you will immediately notice a significant difference in your ability to balance dynamically.

It is possible that this is merely an artifact of early kayak design, that is, most if not all early kayaks had high and curved foredecks, making it impossible to mount a flat compass anywhere without a custom modified mounting platform. Not sure, but it may have been valley that started giving us a custom mount area forward of the front hatch for the compass.

It is quite easy to buy some very good compasses that are detachable and mountable closer to you. One really unique arrangement is a relatively small but night glowing compass that mounts right on the middle of your paddle shaft! Seattle Sports has a compass that glows mightily in the dark and is easier to see in the fog as well. And most compasses are able to have LEDs to light them for increased visibility.

I am thinking of getting the Seattle Sports Compass myself just for that very reason.

If lack of a flat surface closer in is a problem for you, you can as I did on my Outer Island (18 footer, and mount forward of the front hatch would have been way far away) cut a hole in the front hatch itself and mounted the compass there.

Curious what other paddlers think about the history of this whole compass thing, an opportunity for me to learn something more!

bit of history
One source of forward mounting was a 5" forward deck plate.

“I recently discovered that many mid-touring Kayaks come with the standard 5 inch Forward Deck Plate commonly known as the “wallet storage pouch,” and patented by Beckson Marine, Inc. Bridgeport CT, 203-333-1412. (Manufactures like Dagger, Necky, Wilderness Systems, Valley, Kiwi and We-no-nah, are just a few examples).”

well, my earlier Valley design has the compass much closer, so at least in that one example the distant compass doesn’t seem to be an artifact of old-thinking.

I definitely agree with you that looking down steals your sense of your surroundings and makes balance more difficult. But I wonder if looking down for a 1-second glance at my toes is easier than having to stare at my bow for 3 seconds while I count how many ticks off of 220 that tiny lubber line is pointing at.

It’s a pretty academic point really. I’m not going to shop for a boat based on this, and I’m not having trouble with the location on my boat. Just wondering what you folks thought of the seemingly more common forward location on newer boats.

This is my totally unscientific opinion, but for those of us without aging yes, putting the compass out towards the nose also keeps your eyes on your destination or horizon. Moving the compass closer to cockpit, might lure your eyes downward?

I noticed this with my clip on compass clipped near the cockpit. I’d find myself looking down and watching the compass instead of where I was going. Before I knew it, I was a few degrees off and would have to work hard to re-correct.

By keeping your eyes forward and locked on a landmark, it would allow for a quick glance at your heading near the nose.

If you can’t see your destination on a long crossing, we all know that a few ticks on a compass can mean the difference between hitting your mark or missing it completly.

Interesting discussion.


for love or money

– Last Updated: May-04-09 10:47 AM EST –

Nate, this topic just hit my funny bone. Loaded with work this morning and not liking it!!!! So took off 20 minutes to research this!

It occurs to me that even though I am not into digital everything, it might be nice to have a digital compass in fog and rough weather. Just easier to read the heading!

Here is one example just for kicks. (a way bit on the large side, but much smaller ones can be found)


“keeps your eyes on your destination or

It seems so to me.

Manufacturing convenience
QCC mounts a Nexus in a modified front hatch cover. Far cheaper than having a dedicated deck mold for an accessory.


Having two separate hatch molds?

Having to buy another hatch to install a compass?

Actually can matter. In fog or dusk and when

Cannot take hands off paddle must have a compass u can read

I have a Seattle sports attachable charges up and visible in fog or dark

Red for night vision
The Seattle Sports led compass also has red led option to keep your night vision along with being detachable.

As opposed to
having two deck molds.


nothing really to add
to the conversation other than that I agree with Nate. Without even having “old” eyes, I’ve long wished to find a boat with a recessed fitting this side of the front hatch. Looking down at your spray skirt is one thing. But no one is talking about that. Having a compass you can actually read makes a big difference. My eyes aren’t old, they’re just bad. :wink:

One deck mold…
All Brit boats and several US, have the recess built in whether there is a compass or not… add a compass anytime you wish or don’t…

if you like going in circles . . .
Then finding an older pintail will satisfy your desire for a compass aft of the bow hatch. :slight_smile:

Tideplay, there are lots of fluxgate compass options. Check out a dinghy racing e-tailer. Should be able to find something simpler and smaller (although probably not much cheaper) than the one you posted. Should have dim red backlighting for night use too. A standard digital sailboat instrument is 3" square. Might even fit in the nexus 70p recess. Now wouldn’t that be cool! :slight_smile:

Very cool

It’s because most sea kayakers…
…are over 40 and suffer from the “short arms” syndrome. The farther away the compass, the better! :wink:

I didn’t promise cheap!

– Last Updated: May-05-09 11:28 AM EST –

Here's a typical sized sailboat instrument. These will always have a separate sensor, and require a 12v power supply, so likely unsuitable for installation in a sea kayak, but they might fit the recess!


This second one is cool because it's self-contained and solar powered, but obviously the geometry of the display is oriented towards dinghy sailors. With a little more looking you might find one that has a single display straight back, since there's clearly a market for these on small racing boats.

Ffor QCC
the STANDARD mold for the deck has no recess. IE, it was cheaper for QCC to make a second mold for the front hatch incorporating a compass recess.