Boating for kids

Stuart wants to know: On the compass we use 360 degrees, why 360 and not 100 or 200? Who first used it and why?

POINTS OF THE COMPASS

Before the Magnetic Compass was discovered, early map makers would draw a small 16 pointed circle on the map, and place an "N" to point to North. These were the 16 Cardinal Points from which the winds were thought to blow. This drawing was called a "Wind Rose." When the magnetic compass came along, it was usually set on top of the Wind Rose pattern in order to help face the nautical chart in the proper direction. The wind rose started to become known as a COMPASS ROSE.

Since the 1100's, compass bearings have been split into 16 different directions:compass0820.gif (10905 bytes)


North - North North East - North East - East North East - East

East - East South East - South East - South South East - South

South South West - South West - West South West - West

West North West - North West - North North West - North


This was all the accuracy a Mariner's Compass had to offer then. By today's standards, it was not very accurate. As spherical mathematics improved, it became more customary to give bearings in units of "Degrees" from Geographic North. In the 1920's, it became an accepted practice to indicate direction, called HEADING or BEARING, by a single number (0 to 360) representing degrees of a circle as measured clockwise from True North.

The development of the compass instrument itself represents quite an achievement, however the actual use of this instrument is more of an art form. The Compass is not by any means a complex instrument. Anyone from 9 to 90 should be able to learn compass operation with just some practice and understanding a few simple principles.

For more information on compasses and navigation see The History of Navigation.

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