We live in the age of satellite tracking. Modern GPS navigation devices are so widely used these days that it’s hard to imagine why anyone would ever bother using a conventional compass.
But here’s the ugly truth:
As useful as these high-tech gadgets are, they are prone to malfunctions, interference, dead batteries, and weak signals.
In short, modern GPS technology can and will fail.
And when it does, having the best kayak compass – and knowing how to use it – can help you find your way out on the water.
Here’s everything you should know before getting a kayaking compass!
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In A Rush? The Winner After 38 Hours Of Research:
Brunton Dash Mount Compass
Why is it better?
- Direct-reading dial ensures easy-to-see, reliable readouts, regardless of the weather
- The reciprocal bearing makes reading your back bearing a breeze
- It boasts a high degree of accuracy with 5-degree graduations
- Heavy-duty and water-tight construction for added durability
- Permanent on-deck mounting on the kayak’s bulkhead, dash, or deck surface
- Fits into existing, manufacturer-ready recesses for a flush fit and a factory-installed appearance
- Low-profile design minimizes chances of accidental damage
- Backed by a limited lifetime warranty
A Quick Comparison of the Top Kayaking Compasses Of 2022
I’ll go through each model in detail further down, including their technical specification, advantages, and disadvantages as well as my own opinion on each of them. But if you’re in a hurry and just want to know the results of our comparison, here they are at a glance:
Kayaking Compasses Buying Guide: Things To Look For & Features To Consider
Much like any other kayak accessory, you want the compass to be tough enough to handle everything that kayaking – and Mother Nature – throws its way.
And by “tough,” I mean made of quality materials, waterproof, and shock-resistant.
I mean, your compass is in for at least a few whacks with the paddle, accidental knocks, and bumps in transportation, occasional wave splashes, and exposure to cold weather.
It should survive in harsh marine environments for years to come without breaking, leaking, or showing too many signs of wear and tear.
Pay special attention to the fluid inside the dome, which should remain clear at all times. Also, it shouldn’t turn to ice – even in freezing temperatures.
Readability – Easy to Read
You want to be able to read it at a glance from the comfort of your kayak’s seat. It would be best if you didn’t have to strain your eyes or lean over every time you want to check the compass; simple as that.
And what good is it if you can’t see what it says, anyway?
You want to make sure that the compass you choose features a large dial and easy-to-read markings. Some may even have lights that make the dial more visible in the dark, but unless you typically go kayaking at night, such features are optional.
Also, pay attention to the reading angle and how it will affect readability depending on the mounting location.
There are several ways to mount a compass to your ‘yak or boat – and the mounting you choose ultimately depends on what’s more convenient for you.
For instance, if you’d prefer permanent mounting, a rugged kayak compass that’s held in place by screws would be a better choice. But if you plan on moving the compass from one kayak to the other – I’ll talk about this in a second – go with a mounting solution that allows it.
On that note, here are the two most common types of kayak compasses mounting styles:
- Tie-Downs – This type of kayak compasses mounting uses bungee cords and deck rigging found on the kayak’s bow and is easier to attach and detach on the go.
- Deck/Bulkhead Mount – In this case, the kayaking compass is permanently installed using screws, either directly to the deck, in a built-in recess, or via a mounting bracket. Unless the mounting bracket is a detachable one, the compass is fixed in place.
If you regularly use more than one kayak, using a compass that’s permanently fixed to one of them may not be the best solution:
You’ll either have to buy more than one compass or get a single compass to mount on only one of your kayaks.
Getting a removable kayak compass will save you a lot of money since you’ll be able to move it from one kayak to the other without too much hassle.
Removable kayak compasses come with a downside – they’re not as durable as their permanently mounted counterparts. I’d say the convenience is worth the risk, though.
Since Earth is tilted on its axis, there’s a difference between the magnetic north and true geographical north, referred to as declination. The two differ by about 500 kilometers.
If you were buying a compass for on-land navigation – hiking, for example – I’d recommend one that allows you to make declination adjustments.
But with a kayaking compass, things are a bit different:
Nautical charts feature two compass roses – the outer one that indicates true north and the inner one that shows the magnetic north.
So, when you’re using nautical charts, you don’t necessarily have to adjust the marine compass – but it’s a useful feature, nonetheless.
Lastly – and think this one should go without saying, given that we’re talking about navigation devices – you want the kayak compass to have a high degree of accuracy.
I mean, you want the compass to be reliable – and it won’t be of much use if it’s not accurate. Worse yet, relying on an inaccurate compass when navigating in open water could land you in trouble; throw you off your direction of travel and end up leaving you stranded.
And sure, some slight inaccuracies here and there – although not ideal – may not be such a big problem. However, majorly disruptive ones should be a definite deal-breaker.
How Do You Use A Kayak Compass?
Although a relatively “old-fashioned” navigation device, a compass can be handy when you find yourself paddling in remote areas.
If you know how to use one, a compass can help you navigate the waters, land, and even the skies. And unlike all your Kayak GPS or other high-tech GPS devices, your compass can never run out of battery or fail due to signal interference.
I don’t even expect you to use a compass as your primary navigation device – but as a backup, it’s virtually indispensable.
Compasses detect the magnetic field created by the Earth spinning on its axis and flows from one pole to the other. The magnetized needle inside the compass reacts to this magnetic field, rotating freely, and only comes to rest when pointing to the North Pole.
Anyway, back to the point; here are a few pointers on how to use a kayak compass:
- Adjust The Declination – This step isn’t always necessary. However, if you do need to adjust the declination, make sure you use the specified declination value for the area in which you’re kayaking.
- Orient The Map – Make sure the travel arrow points toward the top of your map, then rotate the degree dial until north (N) is lined up with the arrow. Align the baseplate with the edge of the chart and position yourself so that the magnetic needle lines up with the orienting arrow.
- Take The Bearing – Twist the degree dial to line up the orienting arrow with the magnetic needle’s north end. Then, see where the travel arrow is pointing and how it lines up with the degree dial. And remember, bearings are always relative to the location.
FAQ – Commonly Asked Questions On Kayaking Compasses
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about kayaking compasses, along with their answers.
What is a Kayak Compass?
A kayak compass is a navigation tool that uses the Earth’s magnetic field to help find your way whilst out on the water. It tells you which direction you’re heading, so you can stay on course even when visibility is poor or the landscape is unfamiliar.
Kayak compasses usually have a large dial and easy-to-read markings, and are typically secured to the kayak in one of two ways: tie-downs or deck/bulkhead mount.
They come in two main types: floating and fixed. Floating compasses have a magnetic needle that moves freely, while fixed compasses have a needle that’s attached to a rotating disc.
How Does a Kayak Compass Work?
Kayak compasses work the same way as regular compasses – using the Earth’s magnetic field to orient itself. A compass is made up of a small, lightweight magnet that hangs freely from a pivot point. When the magnet is free to swing, it will always align itself with the magnetic north pole – this serves as a reference point for determining direction, which is essential for navigation.
Do You Need A Compass For Kayaking?
How Do You Mount A Kayak Compass?
To mount a kayak compass, you’ll need to find the right spot on your kayak.
The compass should be mounted within easy reach and be visible at all times, so you can quickly check and set your bearings while out on the water.
Where you mount it will depend on the type of kayak, the style of the compass, and whether it has a mounting bracket that you can use. If your compass doesn’t have a bracket, you’ll need to purchase an after-market bracket or improvise. You can use bungees, straps, elastic cord or suction cups to attach the compass to your kayak.
Once it’s securely attached, make sure the compass is level before you start paddling.
Best Kayak Compass – Top 7 Reviews & Recommendations
Overall Best Kayak Compass
Brunton Dash Mount Compass
If you want your compass to have a permanent spot on your kayak, it doesn’t get much better than the Brunton Dash Mount Compass.
This low-profile compass can be installed into the pre-existing recesses on your kayak, providing a flush-mount, factory-installed look. Even the rugged, heavy-duty construction shows this kayak compass was built for the long haul.
Moreover, its accuracy and readability are every bit as impressive:
Brunton’s compass features a direct-reading disc with 5-degree graduations and reciprocal bearing. So, besides excellent visibility – even in challenging conditions – it makes reading the back bearing quick and easy, too.
And yes, it’s expensive – but with everything it offers, I wouldn’t dare to call it “overpriced.”
- Deck-mount compass
- 4 x 3 x 3 inches
- 8.3 ounces
- Dial size not specified
- Excellent readability and 5-degree graduations
- Flush-mount design for a factory-installed look
- Reciprocal bearing for easier reading of your back bearing
- Heavy-duty construction and low-profile design
- It’s one of the most expensive options on my list
- A glow-in-the-dark night-viewing system would’ve been nice
- Installation requires drilling holes in the hull
Brunton’s kayak compass is incredibly durable, highly accurate, easily readable regardless of weather, and fits flush on your kayak’s deck; it may be the best compass money can buy.
Best Surface-Mount Kayak Compass
Ritchie Navigation’s XP-99 is another kayak compass that combines accuracy, durability, and readability – enough to go head-to-head with my top pick – but in a slightly less expensive package.
Super-durable, composite construction and a diaphragm, which extends its temperature operating range, make this compass suitable for use in extreme conditions – perfect for sea kayaking
Furthermore, it features a 2.75-inch direct-reading dial, complete with large markings, ensuring excellent readability. Another cool feature is the movable bezel’s so-called memory indicator; this compass “remembers” where you’re headed.
As for installation, you have two options – strapping it down or going with a more permanent, screw-in mounting solution.
It’s not the most lightweight or compact option I reviewed, but that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker.
- Surface-mount compass
- 6.9 x 6.2 x 7 inches
- 12 ounces
- 2.75-inch dial
- Built-in diaphragm extends its temperature operating range
- Two ways to mount it on the deck
- Direct-reading dial and large markings
- Movable bezel with a memory indicator
- Heavier and bulkier than most kayak compasses I tested
- Installation may require drilling holes in the kayak’s hull
- Doesn’t come with mounting screws
If my top pick is a bit too expensive, Ritchie Navigation’s XP-99 is an excellent alternative. The mounting flexibility alone makes it worth considering!
Best Tie-Down Kayak Compass
Seattle Sports Sea Rover Deck Compass for Kayaks
Accurate, waterproof, easy to use, with heavy-duty, marine-grade construction to boot – that’s how I would sum up the Seattle Sports Sea Rover deck compass.
This easy to mount, tie-down model, features two adjustable nylon straps and quick-release buckles, allowing you to secure the base plate anywhere on the kayak deck with ease – should space be limited onboard, it can also be attached to deck bags or deck lines.
The direct-reading dial measures roughly 2.4 inches across, sits on top of a simple but durable rubber base and has easy-to-read markings. Best of all, the compass features two sets of markings for visibility from the top and sides.
It’s not the most lightweight compass I’ve used, but 12 ounces won’t push you over the kayak’s weight limit.
- Tie-down deck compass
- 2.5 x 7.5 x 2.6 inches
- 12 ounces
- 2.4-inch dial
- Heavy-duty waterproof construction
- Two sets of easy-to-read markings on the dial
- Quick attach base plate with adjustable straps and quick-release buckles
- Fits snug and flush with the kayak’s deck
- Not the most lightweight kayaking compass
- It doesn’t have an LED backlight for nighttime use
- The clips don’t look like they’ll hold up
Seattle Sports’ Sea Rover boasts marine-grade construction, a high degree of accuracy, and two sets of markings for hard-to-beat readability – and at a reasonable price, too.
Best Cheap Kayaking Compass
TurnOnSport – Suction Dashboard Kayak Compass
If money is tight, this TurnOnSport boating compass may be what you need. The surprising part is that it doesn’t seem to compromise a lot to stay within the pocket-friendly price range.
A full size marine compass that is waterproof and equipped with an easy-to-read dial – which lights up when needed – and large markings. It also features a movable top cover that shields the dial from direct sunlight.
Easy to install – there are two ways to mount it – using two screws or the EVA sticker. So, it can be installed on virtually any flat surface.
Also, it comes with two power cords to connect the compass to a 12V power supply – although I’m not exactly thrilled with this feature.
- Surface-mount compass
- 5.5 x 4.7 x 4.4 inches
- 11.3 ounces
- Dial size not specified
- EVA sticker and screw-in surface mounting
- The dial lights up for nighttime use
- Allows for declination adjustments for true north
- A movable sun cover
- Super-cheap kayak compass
- The two power cords aren’t ideal for kayaking scenarios
- Backlight feature requires a 12V power supply
- Installation may require drilling into the hull
TurnOnSport’s compass is flat-out cheap; there’s no other way to put it. It’s a solid choice for a limited budget – although not the most kayak-friendly one.
Best Kayak Compass For Night Use
The Ritchie Navigation X-11Y is an excellent option for those new to kayaking who prioritize simplicity over high-end features .
It’s a no-frills handheld compass that, although tiny and straightforward – it weighs a mere 4 ounces – still offers the basic functionalities you’ll need on the water:
The compass features a 2-inch direct-reading dial with prominent markings and bright-yellow silicone-rubber housing. Plus, it uses little glow sticks to illuminate the compass at night.
I’d say it’s a bit cluttered for reading at a glance. Other than that, though, I have no complaints readability-wise.
Moreover, it has a built-in roller diaphragm, giving the compass an extended temperature operating range.
- Handheld orienteering compass
- 2 x 5 x 7 inches
- 4 ounces
- 2-inch dial
- Compact design and rubberized housing
- Roller diaphragm ensures extended temperature operating range
- Comes with a lanyard
- Can be illuminated using the included glow sticks
- The dial is a bit cluttered for at-a-glance readings
- The small light sticks aren’t particularly effective
- The compass may develop air bubbles inside
You shouldn’t expect any top-of-the-line features. However, the Ritchie Navigation X-11Y is easy to use, inexpensive, and it lights up; pretty impressive for a low-priced kayak compass!
Best Kayak Compass For Fishing
Ritchie RA-93 Kayak Angler Compass
Ritchie RA-93 Angler marine compass is, as the name implies, the perfect choice for kayak anglers. Getting to and from your favorite fishing destination is what this compass does best – although it doesn’t come cheap.
The compass features an easily readable 2.75-inch direct-reading dial, coupled with a no-glare gray finish. Moreover, it has a movable sun shield and built-in green lighting for nighttime visibility.
Besides excellent readability, the RA-93 also boasts overall ease of use, starting with the built-in compensators for deviation adjustments. It installs directly to the deck, but you can quickly detach the compass when needed, thanks to push-button removal.
- Surface-mount compass
- 6 x 6 x 6 inches
- 6.4 ounces
- 2.75-inch dial
- Built-in compensators for deviation adjustments
- LED backlight for night use
- Large, easy-to-read dial
- Movable sun shield and anti-glare properties
- Push buttons for quick removal
- It’s one of the most expensive kayak compasses on the list
- You have to connect it to a 12V battery to use the backlight
If you’re into kayak fishing and need a reliable, easy-to-read marine compass with high-end features, it doesn’t get much better than the Ritchie RA-93 Angler.
Best Kayak Compass Sea Kayaking
Sun Company Seaturtl Kayak Compass
Sun Company Seaturtl kayak compass is a popular buy within the water sports community, generating a buying pull equal to the earth’s magnetic field, and it’s easy to see why.
Reasonably priced and well robustly constructed with a rubberised housing. Its liquid filled, full sized dial makes it easy to read even in the choppiest of conditions. Equipped with a built-in hood that serves a sun visor to reduce glare, when out on the water, then doubles as a lens protector when in storage.
The 4 adjustable elastic cords with ABS clips make for a hassle-free installation process. And, if like me, you’re someone who owns multiple kayaks you will be glad to hear that it is suitable for both flat and curved hulls – it will even fit your paddleboard, should you own one.
My only criticism is the lack of luminated dials for low light conditions – it would really benefit from the addition of a simple built-in backlight or iridescent painted dial marking – surprised Sun Company hasn’t thought of this.
- Full-size marine compass
- 4.1 x 4.1 x 2,9 inches
- 8.8 ounces
- Dial size not specified
- Heavy duty with a robust rubber housing
- Suitable for both flat and curved kayak hulls
- Full-sized, liquid filled, easy-to-read dial
- Adjustable elastic cords for easy mounting – suitable for kayaks and paddle boards
- Adjustable hood for not in use protection
- Base isn’t fully flat, housing has a slight lip, so extra packing might be needed
- Not suitable for night kayaking, could benefit from a built-in light
If you’re looking for a go-anywhere navigation aid then the Compass Seaturtl is without question one of the best compasses available to buy; its price, construction and flexibility make it a choice for any style of kayaking adventure.
Best Kayaking Compass: Conclusion
While some of these compasses had a few “rough spots,” you can still expect each one to help with navigation without any major performance-related hiccups.
If that’s the case, which one’s the best kayak compass, then?
Well, my vote goes to the Brunton Dash Mount Kayak Compass.
It’s rugged and dependable, boasts a high degree of accuracy, and has a direct-reading dial that makes it easy to see – even when the conditions get rough. Plus, most expedition kayaks already come with a manufacturer-ready recess made with this exact compass in mind!
Your choice comes down to your preferences, your kayak’s design, and the mounting style that works for you.