Ever wonder about getting lost on the open waters while kayaking? (Scary, huh?)
As a paddler, you need to be at least somewhat knowledgeable about both land and maritime compasses. It’ll help you chart your routes through open waters and go exploring on land beyond the shore – all without getting lost.
Yes, satellite tracking and GPS technology have changed the way navigation is done. But even then, being savvy with a conventional compass is a must before you ride the waters in your new kayak.
Plus, newer things like a GPS may run out of batteries or lose network while you’re in the water – leaving you high and dry (or not dry). In this article, you’ll learn how a compass works and what to look for in a compass for your next kayaking adventure.
1. Brunton Dash Mount Compass
The Brunton Dash Mount Compass is a heavy-duty kayaking compass that you’ll physically mount onto your kayak. It weighs just over 8 ounces and it measures 4″ x 3″ x 3″ – making it a solid size compass.
Its direct reading disc makes it easy to navigate in the fog or crappy weather, and some users have even mounted it upside down (based on the layout of their yak) and it reads perfectly fine.
It’s very easy to read in any type of weather, and it’s also easy to mount. You may also prefer to disregard the plate it comes on and instead install the compass in a recessed slot on your kayak.
One thing this compass is missing is a glow-in-the-dark or some other type of night viewing system. Carry a flashlight if you’re paddling at night so you can read this compass.
Overall this is one of the absolute best kayaking compasses you can buy and we strongly recommend it.
2. Sun Company SeaTurtl Kayak Compass
The Sun Company SeaTurtl Kayak Compass weighs only 8.8 ounces and has elastic cords that allow you to strap the compass directly to your kayak with ease. It also has a soft bottom that helps it stay in place when it gets wet – this is especially useful for choppy waters.
The base size is just over 6 inches (both length and width) but allows you to read and navigate with ease due to the big display.
It’s incredibly durable, too.
The Sun Company SeaTurtl Kayak Compass can handle any type of weather condition and abuse, and it doesn’t leak – which is essential for anyone serious about kayaking. Finally, this compass does feature a lifetime warranty.
3. Seattle Sports SeaRover Deck Compass
The Seattle Sports Sea Rover Deck Compass for Kayaks and Paddle Boards is slightly bigger (and heavier) than the Brunton 58-Kayak Marine Compass, and is a heavy-duty compass. Unlike the Brunton, the SeaRover doesn’t use elastic straps to buckle the compass down.
Instead, it has durable straps that hold it in place that also feature quick-release buckles in case you want to pop it off of your boat without a hassle. The underside of this compass is slightly curved, so it sits nicely on the top of a kayak.
The Seattle Sports Sea Rover Deck Compass for Kayaks and Paddle Boards comes with excellent visibility (even in foggy weather) and high durability – two of the most important qualities in a kayaking compass.
- Easy to read - large compass with easy to read markings allows you to clearly see your direction of travel
- Easy on and off - quick attach base plate fastens easily to deck rigging, deck bags, and wherever you can securely lash it
- Specialized - built for tough marine use
- Dimensions - 2.5" X 7.5" X 2.6"
4. Suunto Orca Kayak Compass
If you’re someone who likes to jump out of your kayak to go exploring or camping on land, this is the compass for you. The Suunto Orca Compass was made to be easy to detach as needed and re-attaches easily with elastic cords.
The thermoplastic mount keeps it safe from harsh weather conditions, and it also glows in the dark if you’re out kayaking after the sun goes down. This feature alone makes it incredibly useful, as it’s one that many compasses don’t have.
On the downside, you might find issues with leakage (in rare cases). So we recommend making sure yours isn’t cracked or damaged in any way after you get it. Another downside is that it only features a 5-year warranty.
For the price, easy of detachment, and luminous capsule, though, we still recommend the Suunto Orca Compass.
- Easily mounts to most kayak decks
- The Suunto deck mounting compass comes with a mesh pouch for storage after removal
- The luminous capsule glows in the dark when you're out after hours
- This item is not for sale in Catalina island
- It has a durable thermo plastic mount and elastic cord with clips that can attach to any kayak
5. X-11Y Ritchie Navigation 2-Inch Dial Sport Kayak Compass
One of the less expensive models, we found the X-11Y Ritchie Navigation 2-Inch Dial Sport Kayak Compass a great compass for paddlers who are new to kayaking.
It has all the basic features you want, including the ability to light up with the use of mini glow sticks like these, which are basically little glow sticks that are often used for fishing lures. This will keep the compass lit for a few hours – just enough time to safely make it back to shore in most cases.
You can also keep the compass around your neck if you want – it comes with a bright green lanyard. This is also good if you want to go to land and explore a bit.
One thing to watch for is air bubbles. If water gets in this compass, you might have an issue with air bubbles, though it’s not common.
Our take is this – it’s a less expensive compass, so you’re not going to get top of the line features. If you’re looking for something easy and inexpensive that also lights up (again, a feature not many compasses have) this is a great option.
- Easy to read 2 inch direct-reading Dial
- Built-in roller diaphragm
- Silicon impact resistant case with neck lanyard
How a Compass Works
To get all scientific on you… there’s a magnetic field that’s created with the earth spinning on its own axis. This field flows from one pole to the other.
The one on top of the earth is the North Pole (yes, where Santa Claus lives) and the one at the bottom is the South Pole.All compasses come with a thin strip of metal that acts as a pointer. This strip is attracted to the Earth’s magnetic flow, which makes the needle float, swing, or rotate freely and align with the Earth’s axis.The needle comes to rest only when it’s pointing to the Earth’s true North Pole. Most compasses have a marking on the needle edge that helps you look for true north; allowing you to find your way with ease.This tells you how important a compass is during a ride. So failure to choose the right one can get you into a hot mess while you’re out on the water.Like my wife says, don’t always trust your own innate navigation abilities – get a compass.
What to Look for in a Kayaking Compass
If you’re a new paddler who’s just getting started, it’s fine to invest in a basic compass that does the job for you. At the very least, you’ll learn how to use it and decide when and where you’ll need it.But if you’re a pro, go for a heavy duty, durable, and well-featured one which operates flawlessly under the most severe conditions. Here are 10 things to keep in mind before buying a spiffy new compass for your ‘yak:
1. Lightweight and Size-Appropriate
It’s not the size, it’s how you use it…Well, that’s not entirely true with a compass. In fact, the size of the device is one of the most important features to look for.
Make sure the compass is lightweight and is designed to be handy. Something big and cumbersome will be more of a hassle than a help while you are out on the water.
2. Easy to Install
Some compasses come with screws that need to be drilled and others with just straps. See which one suits your skill, knowledge, and need.
Make sure the straps that come along with the compass fasten it securely to your kayak. Some also come with an elastic cord, which helps position in an easy-to-read way onto the kayak.
3. Declination Adjustment
The difference in the degrees between true north and magnetic north is called ‘declination’. This may vary depending on your location on the globe.
Making declination adjustments is an important element for accurate navigation. This way you can just set the declination and forget about it until you travel to a totally new place.
Make sure the compass you choose has this option. Some basic compasses don’t have this feature, but I think it’s a necessity.
4. A Good Warranty
It’s also important you make sure you go for a device that comes with a good warranty – lifetime is preferred. This way you can just buy one and be set for life (or until you lose it in the water).
Some cheaper models and/or smaller companies don’t offer this (or any warranty for that matter), so once your compass is damaged, you may have to shell out more cash for repairs or replacements.
5. Usage in All Weather Types
If you are an avid paddler, you may go out to charter waters under severe weather conditions.
Before you buy a compass, check if it’s designed with thermoplastic (or similar) material to withstand extreme cold and hot temperatures.
The material it’s made of needs to be durable. This means it should not endure too much wear and tear and is designed to last.
Compasses are now made with materials that not only withstand the test of time but also keep the device working perfectly for years. Meaning – don’t use your grandpa’s old compass from the turn of the century.
Kayaking isn’t a cheap hobby, to begin with, and you need to invest in a lot of gear and equipment just to get started. So price is an important deciding factor if you want to make practical financial decisions.
So be aware of the budget you have, then make a decision about which compass fits into it. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a solid one.
8. Easy to Read
You should be able to read your compass from a distance. When you mount it, you’re often up to a few feet away on a kayak (depending on the size).
So make sure the markings on the face of the compass are clear and big, and not be a strain to read.
An easy way to go for the right product is to go for a reputable brand. This should be one that manufactures kayaking or sports gear and is known for quality globally.
The top kayak compasses we’ve listed in this article all come from brands you can trust.
10. Features Over Looks
Go beyond outer appearance and looks. A compass is not going to be the sexiest thing attached to your kayak. Even some smart-looking devices can be aesthetically disappointing too.
Just be sure you know all the features and details of a compass before you take the plunge – regardless of how it looks.