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What Are Magnetic Compasses on Boats Used For?

May 2, 2022

What is a magnetic compass?

A magnetic compass is a device that assists the operator of a pleasure craft in determining direction and measuring the boat’s heading. This device contains a magnetic element that, when allowed to float freely, will align itself in a north-south direction, pointing towards the earth’s magnetic poles. It is a reliable way to determine direction that doesn’t require power of any kind or the ability to see land, the sun or the stars. It gives boaters a way to navigate when out of view of the shore or when visibility is reduced.

Canadian requirements for magnetic compasses on vessels

Since magnetic compasses remain functional when other navigational aids fail, they are vital boating safety equipment to have on board. According to Canada’s Navigation Safety Regulations, every vessel except those under 9 m in length that stay within sight of navigation markers must be equipped with a standard magnetic compass that is independent of any power supply.

Notes on the use of magnetic compasses

It’s important to note that magnetic compasses point to the magnetic poles, not the geographic poles. There is a slight difference between the two, called declination, that boaters must account for when determining their heading using a compass.

It should also be noted that due to the magnetic nature of these compasses, they are influenced by the proximity of metallic and electric devices and materials. They may produce erroneous readings if they are too close to iron, magnets, strong electric currents, etc.

Learn more about boating safety with Drive a Boat Canada

There’s a lot of important information boaters need to know in order to boat safely. That’s why individuals are required to pass an exam to obtain a boating license in order to operate a vessel in Canadian waters. Drive a Boat Canada offers a comprehensive boating safety course for those preparing to take their boating exam online. Register for the course today and check out our blog for more useful boating safety tips!