If you have ever gotten lost when kayaking, you know just how scary the experience can be. Whether it’s the first time you are going kayaking or have been doing it for years, you need to have some knowledge about both maritime and land compasses.
Unless you only paddle in small inland rivers and lakes or tend to stay close to the shore where you can easily rely on visual landmarks to find your way back, a compass and the right skills to use it will come in handy.
Top 5 Best Kayak Compasses (Summary)
For more detailed and complete product reviews on benefits and features, keep reading.
It will help you navigate your routes through open waters and go exploring further beyond the shore without worrying about getting lost. While GPS technology and satellite tracking have changed the way, we do navigation, being savvy with a conventional compass is a skill that you need before you can even think about riding the waters in your kayak.
Additionally, GPS may run out of batteries or experience signal issues when you are on the water, leaving you with no way of getting back to the shore. In this article, you will learn how a kayak compass works and how you can easily install one in your kayak for your next adventure.
11 Best Kayak Compasses – Comparison With Pros and Cons
Ritchie Navigation Kayak Compass is a high-grade product that is carefully crafted and optimized with features that ensure a satisfactory experience at all times.
It uses a hardened steel pivot and triple cup sapphire jewel movement that is microscopically matched to provide smooth dial operation. This feature enables it to achieve fast lock-on even under the most severe conditions.
A 12 volt green light provides adequate illumination at night. It is equipped with directive force magnets that are attached to the back of the dial, which seeks and lock on to the magnetic north.
The compass has superior accuracy and provides a smooth and rapid response at all times. It is easy to install and remove.
- Optimized to work adequately under the most severe conditions
- Superior accuracy
- Easy to mount
- Internal fluid might evaporate because of the sunlight
Shoreline Marine Kayak Compass is made with the finest materials, making it a good contender for a premium, heavy-duty compass. It has a jeweled pivot assembly that contributes to its function.
Also, contained in this illuminated compass is a zero-spin facility. This tool is equipped with features that will be extremely useful for a water enthusiast.
While in the dark, the lighted dial yields a light source suitable for seeing at night. When it comes to reliability, it has 12V and UV protection that helps to prevent damage by sunlight rays.
This product can be easily set up and used without the need for expert knowledge. It is a multifunctional tool that will prove useful for any angler.
- Reliable UV protection
- Can be used in the dark
- Has a broad heading for skimming navigation
- Might be prone to fluid leakage
Seattle Sports Sea Rover Deck Compass is designed for people who want the best. The device is mainly for kayaks, but it can also be used for other activities as it contains various beneficial features.
Markings are easy to read, allowing you to clearly see your direction of travel. It is built with heavy-duty materials, making it suitable for high impact situations.
It has a quick attach base plate that can be easily fastened to deck riggings, bags and any other place you wish to attach it. Quick-release buckles allow for easy attachment and removal.
A simple but elegant design can appeal to any modern man. It is made with durable materials and can last for a long while.
- Markings are easy to see
- Base plate attaches easily to deck rigging
- Works effectively under severe marine conditions
- Markings might change color after repeated exposure to sunlight
Ritchie Explorer Flush Mount Compass is designed to serve as a functional tool and is a perfect fit for any cruiser, regardless of expertise level.
It has an internal green light for seeing clearly during low light conditions and built-in compensators that easily adjust for deviation.
A set of powerful directive force magnets allows for fast heading lock-on. It has a scientifically matched pivot dial movement that is composed of sapphire jewel and hardened steel.
A high-temperature composite construction allows for an extended operating range. It comes with 12-volt lighting and has a movable sun shield for extremely bright lighting conditions.
- Easy and swift mounting process
- Has built-in compensators that handle easy adjustments
- Can be used in low lighting conditions
- Fluids might evaporate after some time
Brunton Dash Mount Compass is a device that can be used in everyday situations. It comes equipped with various features that are useful and beneficial.
In-built recesses allow you to mount it on boats and kayaks for a smooth and elegant look. It has a reliable reading and heading with a direct reading disc that makes it easy to interpret.
It has 5-degree graduations that ensure optimal accuracy. The reciprocal bearing makes reading your back bearing fast and reliable.
The device is lightweight and easy to install without the need for extensive knowledge. It is compatible with most boats and kayaks.
- Mounts easily on deck surfaces
- Easy to read and interpret
- Case is liable to crack after extended exposure to the sun
Sun Company SeaTutrl Compass is designed for adventurous and courageous people who want equipment that is reliable and superior. It has unique features that make it a game-changer and necessary tool in your survival kit.
This marine compass comes with an adjustable hood that protects it from damage by the sun rays while it is in use. It is a heavy-duty, full-sized compass that is mounted into a rubber frame.
It is a fluid-filled compass with easy to read markings that are easy to interpret. The V-shaped housing is intended to fit into curved or straight hulls.
Adjustable elastic cords and nylon clips are UV resistant for getting a snug fit on kayaks and boats. There is a foam pad underneath the dial that protects the hull from scratches.
- Easy to use
- Heavy duty product that can withstand extreme conditions
- Fits snugly on hulls
- Straps can’t be shortened and this might make it difficult to mount
Ritchie Navigation Explorer Marine Compass is for kayaks and boats and was developed with the purpose of ensuring a satisfactory performance consistently.
Whether it’s a day or night trip, this device is adequately designed to serve optimally. It has built-in compensators for seamless adjustments, direct force magnets for rapid response and accuracy and a steel pivot.
An easy to read, direct-reading dial and internal green light serve well for illumination during the night. It is designed to provide accurate readings in the most extreme situations.
A surface mount apparatus is easy to install. It features a movable sun shield that protects the fluid contents and helps it to last longer.
- Green illumination feature
- Provides seamless adjustments to deviation
- Offers a high level of accuracy and rapid response
- Might not work if used in other vehicles
Silva 58 Kayak Compass is uniquely designed with a sensible approach. It is compact but packed with a wide range of features.
The surface is embodied with a unique design, making it attractive at first glance. Aside from its look, this little instrument has a cluster of high-functioning features.
The compass is created with the purpose of giving users adequate essentials. Added as part of its features is a permit for navigating and orientating.
The compass dial gives an explanatory breakdown of all the readings and it is easy to set up. Therefore, making it suitable for first-time users and experts alike.
- Navigation is seamless
- Easy to install
- Might experience a small amount of deviation
Explorer Surface Compass is created to appeal to people with all kinds of personalities. It is equipped with features that provide optimal performance at all times of the day.
It has a simple and straightforward installation process that can be easily figured out. Setting up this device is easy and, within minutes, it is stable and properly installed.
The green light makes the markings visible. This is a beneficial feature for nighttime or low lighting conditions. It features a pad underneath the dial that protects the mounting surface.
Built-in compensators regulate deviation at a standard level, while the directive force magnets are responsible for speed and smooth performance.
- Has a green light illumination for dark hours
- Built-in compensators control deviation
- Displays accurate readings
- Calibration might be a bit difficult to achieve
X-11Y Ritchie Navigation Compass is compatible with any cruiser as it is handheld, but it doesn’t come with a surface mounting.
The steel pivot and sapphire jewel movement are scientifically fitted to match perfectly. It features high-quality components that can stand the test of time.
The compass has a built-in roller diaphragm and it is responsible for operating temperature within different ranges. It also includes an international safety yellow case for a long-lasting experience.
When it comes to its resistance, it is built with a silicon case alongside a neck lanyard. The sports equipment glow sticks have a high range of intensity and are about 1’5″ inches thick.
- Features a silicon impact case that enhances safety
- Illumination displays a glowing light for visibility
- Has a direct-reading dial that makes readings simple
- Does not have a surface mount
Ritchie Navigation XP-99 Compass can be used in boats and kayaks without electricity, radio signals or satellite communications.
This piece contains a suitable dial size that enhances visibility and markings that are easy to interpret. It also features compensators that account for deviations and increase its accuracy.
This product is best suited for heavy-duty use and under extreme conditions. The construction of the frame and diaphragm blend together and they serve to extend the temperature operating range.
It can be used for different activities without the need for expert knowledge. It has a protective feature that reduces the harmful effects of the sun glare on its markings.
- Features an easy to read dial-reading
- Accurate and responds seamlessly
- Installation process is effortless
- Fluid might dry off if exposed to the sun for a long time
What Is a Kayak Compass
A compass is a navigation tool that helps show direction relative to the four cardinal points north, east, south and west. A kayak compass, however, is different from the traditional compass that we are all used to.
What makes it different? Every marine compass has a magnetized disk that is marked with 360 degrees and points north always. The disk is contained inside an unmarked case that tends to rotate around the disk to tell you the direction you are headed in.
There are different types of kayak compasses. For one, a deck-mounted kayak compass can be attached to the deck of your kayak.
This way, the case is aligned permanently with the keel line of the kayak, which comes in handy when you are kayaking since then you can read the compass even when you are paddling.
If you had a hiking kayak, you would be forced to stop paddling to read the compass. A permanently mounted compass is ideal for people who are always forgetful to ensure that you never leave it at home.
Additionally, such a compass will not fall off in case you capsize. A removable one, on the other hand, is ideal if you are worried about someone getting their hands on it since you can always remove it when you are not kayaking, although, for added security, you could always carry your pistol and other gear in a range bag.
Benefits of Using a Kayak Compass
Just like you would become an expert angler with your inflatable kayak or a kayak that’s suitable for big and tall guys, there are a few benefits of using a kayak compass that you need to be aware of.
Helps in Navigation
This is the most obvious use of a compass, including the traditional ones. It would be unwise for you to get in your kayak to explore an unknown new area without any navigation tool.
While there have been a lot of technological advances in the way satellite tracking and GPS work, compass navigation skills are a must-have if you have a kayak. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much you spend on things like GPS since no single technology is foolproof.
Reliable and Efficient
If you are thinking about kayaking in a remote area, GPS alone will not cut it. As mentioned, electronic devices are susceptible to failure at some point. While GPS is a great tool to have with you, you need a backup when your tech fails and that’s where kayak compasses come in.
You never know just how important basic compass skills are until you get lost, whether hiking or kayaking. Having this knowledge could be the difference between getting lost and getting found. In some instances, it can mean the difference between life and death the same way you would wear waterproof gear to protect yourself from the rain when fishing.
Ensures That You Stay on Course
Having a dedicated kayak compass ensures that you always stay on course when you are on the water. Mounted compasses, for instance, come in handy since they are aligned with the kayak’s nose and remain attached, ensuring that you can always read the compass even when you are paddling.
Kayak compasses are built in such a way that they can withstand wear and tear, including extreme temperatures and rushing water. They are also easy to use in addition to being durable, making the perfect companion for any passionate angler who doesn’t mind exploring unknown waters.
How Does a Kayak Compass Work
Naturally, when the Earth spins on its axis, it creates a magnetic field that flows from one pole to another. The one at the top is the North Pole and the bottom one is the South Pole. Every compass comes with a thin metal strip that acts as the pointer.
The strip is attracted to the magnetic flow of the Earth, which is responsible for the needle floating, rotating freely and aligning to the Earth’s axis.
The needle only comes to rest when it’s pointing to the Earth’s true north. A majority of compasses have a marking on the needle that helps you look for the true north, which is what allows you to find your way with ease.
This is the main reason why a compass is a must-have when you are kayaking, just like you would mount your fish finder on a kayak to scan for fish easier. Failure to choose the right one will leave you in a mess out on the water, especially when you have decided to explore unknown waters.
How to Choose the Best Kayak Compass
There are so many things that you need to keep in mind when you are kayaking like using a kayaking dry bag that’s light in weight. A kayak compass is one of the few things that you can’t afford to leave at home when you are going exploring.
GPS and satellite technology will only help you so much until, just like with any other technology, they fail. When that happens, you need a backup navigation tool, hence the need for a kayak compass.
However, when you are buying a kayak compass, there are so many things you need to keep in mind to ensure that you are getting a compass that is not only practical but durable.
If the compass you have cannot withstand the abuse, then it’s not going to give you value for your money. When you are buying a kayak compass, go for models that feature tough domes and housing. Such don’t leak after a few bumps, break when they are dropped or detach from their mounts.
Additionally, the fluid inside the compass should remain clear even after prolonged use and the dial should always spin easily when you are changing course. If you are into cold weather kayaking, one other thing you need to ensure is that the liquid inside the compass doesn’t turn into ice.
When you are at home, throw the compass in a freezer for a few hours to see if the liquid changes. If it turns into ice, for your safety, you are better off buying another compass. Just like you want the best trolling motor for kayak, the last thing you want is to be stuck in harsh weather with a compass that doesn’t work.
Easy to Read
A compass that can’t be read at a glance is, to say the least, useless. A lot of compasses are designed to be read at a specific angle from above or straight on. The first thing you need to determine is where you are going to mount the compass where you can read it easily.
Additionally, go for a compass that has a larger and well-marked dial to ease navigation when you encounter tough situations like harsh weather and turbulence. If the markings are too small and can be easily mistaken when reading, there is no need for investing in such a compass.
If you own more than one kayak, then a removable compass makes more sense rather than buying a compass for each kayak. Additionally, when you are transporting a kayak to and from the water, a permanent compass might be subjected to hard knocks that could damage it.
In such a case, a removable compass will not only save you the trouble but can save you money in the long run. The only downside is that removable kayak compasses are not as durable as their permanently mounted counterparts.
The difference that is experienced in degrees between the magnetic north and the true north is what is called declination. This, however, varies depending on where you are on the globe.
Making declination adjustments is one of the most important elements when it comes to navigating accurately. In such a case, you can set the declination until you get to a new place.
When you are buying a kayak compass, ensure that the product you buy has this option, which is something that some basic compasses don’t have.
An obvious statement, especially considering that we are talking about compasses. A good compass needs to have a high degree of accuracy to be effective and not to mention knowing how to use it will come in handy when you are on the water.
When you are kayaking, the chances are that a slight bit of accuracy on the compass will not be a problem, but anything majorly disruptive will be a problem.
In terms of accuracy, it is important that you buy a compass from a well-known and trusted brand because that way, you are assured of always being safe regardless of where you are kayaking.
Size and Weight
While some people may feel that the size of the compass doesn’t matter but how you use it does, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The size of your kayak compass is the most important feature that you need to consider when you are buying one. You want a compass that is of the right size such that you can easily read even when you are paddling, especially when it comes to permanently mounted compasses.
When it comes to size, go for a compass that is light in weight and that is designed to be handy. A compass that is big and heavy will be more problematic than helping you find your way home.
Ease of Use and Installation
When it comes to kayak compasses, there are two types on the market; a mounted one and a removable one. The tie-down or removable compass is the simplest to install, but it is not the most durable. The mounted compass, on the other hand, is screwed directly into the kayak or a mounting bracket.
This means that the compass will always remain on your kayak and you don’t run the chance of forgetting it at home. Such compasses are highly durable and one thing that you need to ensure when you are buying one is that what you are getting is easy to install and use.
Just like with any other product you buy, it is important to ensure that the compass you get has a good warranty, preferably a lifetime warranty.
Products that have a good warranty are likely to be of high quality because it means that the manufacturer has complete faith in their product.
When you get a compass that has a lifetime warranty, you are set for life until maybe the time you end up losing it in the water.
Cheaper models and not so well known companies don’t offer any warranty and if they do it’s for a few months which means that should your compass be damaged; you will be forced to spend more money replacing it rather than repairing it.
Kayaking is an expensive hobby that requires you to invest in a lot of equipment and gear to get you started like a saltwater baitcasting reel.
As such, if you want to make practical decisions when it comes to your finances, then the price of the compass is an important factor to consider.
Determine your budget and then work within that to get a compass that fits into that since you don’t need to break the bank for a kayak compass.
Brand plays an important role in determining whether the product you are about to buy is of high quality or not. To be on the safe side, you are better off choosing from a well-known and reputable brand since such companies have years of testing and research behind their products.
How to Mount a Kayak Compass
Mounting of a kayak compass can be done in two ways depending on the type of compass that you buy.
If you buy one that has straps, you can temporarily clamp it to the side of the kayak. A fully mounted compass, on the other hand, is screwed directly to the kayak or on the mounting bracket.
Step 1 – Remove the compass from the package
Start by removing the kayak compass from the package and dry-fit the assembly into the deck recess to ensure compatibility. Lay the black plastic plate in the recess as straight as possible and then drill through one of the corner holes with a bit that is large enough to take the bolts you want to use.
Step 2 – Slip a bolt through the hole
Next, slip the bolt through the first hole you made to hold the fascia plate in alignment and then proceed to drill the next hole.
Slip the other bolt into the second hole that you have made and then repeat that with the remaining holes. After that, remove the fascia plate as well as the bolts and set them aside.
Step 3 – Remove the brass mounting plate
The brass plate normally has undersized holes that are meant to accommodate the self-tapping screws that are included in the package.
As such, it must be drilled a bit larger if you are using 6-32 bolts. Remove the brass plate from the compass globe and flatten the protruding tabs using pliers, then using the 9/64″ bit enlarge the holes.
Step 4 – Return the brass plate
Return the plate to the compass globe and then drop the assembly in the recess and lay the black plastic fascia plate atop the hole works.
Step 5 – Slip the bolts
Slip the four bolts through the fascia, brass plate, and the kayak deck. There should be about a quarter-inch of bolt protruding into the cargo compartment of the kayak.
After that, slip the rubber washer and then a flat stainless steel washer onto a bolt and tighten the nylock bit to hold it in place. Repeat this with all the other bolts, although you can still loosely install the self-tapping screws.
How to Use a Kayak Compass
Step 1 – Adjust the declination
The north on a map is easy to find since it’s at the top. Depending on where you are on the globe, however, the true north and the magnetic north will always differ, a difference known as ‘declination.’
Before you can adjust the declination, you need to find the declination value in your intended trip area. Topo maps list it, but this changes over time; hence check the revision date or consult the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) magnetic declination.
Step 2 – Orient the map
Once you have adjusted the declination, you need to orient your map. Start by placing the compass on the map in case of a removable one with the travel direction arrow pointing towards the top of your map.
After that, rotate the bezel such that the north is in line with the travel arrow direction. Slide the baseplate until one of the straight edges aligns with either the right or left of the map edge. While holding the map and the compass steady, rotate your body until the needle is within the outline of the orientation arrow.
Step 3 – Take the bearing
Bearings are relative to a specific location and as such, following the same bearing from two different places will not necessarily get you in the same direction.
Set the compass on the map such that the straight line of the baseplate is in line with your correct position as well as the destination. Ensure that the direction of the travel arrow is pointing in the direction of where you are going.
After that, rotate the bezel until the orientation lines on your compass are in line with the north-south grid lines as well as the right and left edges of the map. Look at the index to read the bearing.
After that, you can use the compass to follow the bearing of the direction. Hold the compass, making sure that the direction travel arrow is pointed away from you.
Rotate your body such that the travel arrow is facing the bearing you just captured and you can follow that to your destination. You can practice this before you go kayaking the same way you would use a kayak for beginners until you become an expert.
Does More Spending Mean More Quality
When it comes to kayak compasses, more spending does mean more quality. A good compass needs to be durable, have a warranty, preferably a lifetime one, easy to read, easy to install, accurate and have a declination adjustment option.
High-end compasses from well-known and reputable brands will have all these and, as such, give you value for your money. However, you don’t need to be fixated on the price since some compasses are not worth the high price.
Rather, to be on the safe side, consider going through premium compass reviews to see what other users are saying about the compass that you are about to purchase.
Do’s and Don’ts With a Kayak Compass
- Do ensure that you have mapped your course before you leave by picking up the most recent charts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
- Do study new charts so that you are well prepared for your trip since you will know how to read maps as well as being aware of the landmarks along your route.
- Do keep track of the progress you are making as you go. Mark the distance as well as the time it takes you to travel between different landmarks on your charts.
- Do consider having two compasses; one that you can mount on the kayak and another one you keep near your chart. The mounted compass provides constant readings of the direction while the handled one is helpful in navigation.
- Don’t get too fixated on the price of the compass you are about to buy, although those from well-known brands are likely to be of high quality.
FAQ About Kayak Compasses
Why do I need a compass for kayaking?
Having a kayak compass will come in handy in navigating unknown territories. While GPS and satellite tracking can still work, electronic devices can fail any time and when they do so, you need a backup navigation tool like a kayak compass.
If you enjoy kayaking, the worst thing that can happen to you is getting lost when exploring unknown waters. You need something to guide you back unless you are kayaking in small inland rivers and lakes or intend to stay close to the shore.
A kayak compass is designed to help in navigation and could be the difference between life and death. You can either get a standard kayak compass that you can keep with all the time or one that you mount on your kayak. Mounted kayak compasses are durable and they help you keep tabs on your direction even when you are paddling.
When you are buying a kayak compass, ensure that the one you get is easy to install, accurate, has a declination adjustment option and is easy to read even when you are paddling through turbulent waters and harsh weather.