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Author Topic:   Compass vs. GPS/Plotter
Goosedog posted 03-02-2004 05:42 PM ET (US)   Profile for Goosedog  
Based on the good information and pictures here, I had been planning to install a Ritchie SS1000 compass directly in front of the helm on my 170, with a Garmin 188C to the starboard side the compass. However, it seems that placing the 188C directly in front of the helm would be easier to view/use/etc. - and I assume I will be using the GPS/plotter as a primary, with the compass as backup. My current thought is to install the 188C at the helm for easier use, do away with the expensive compass and carry a handheld compass as backup. When away from its inland lake home, the boat would be used for occasional 10 mile runs in the Atlantic and inshore/backwater exploration. Any thoughts? Given the limited space, is the mounted compass preferred or necessary? Thanks.
cape_rover posted 03-02-2004 06:10 PM ET (US)     Profile for cape_rover  Send Email to cape_rover     
I would mount the compass. On the day you forget your hand held compass, your GPS will fail and the fog will roll in. For a $120 bucks its not worth it.
LHG posted 03-02-2004 06:17 PM ET (US)     Profile for LHG    
Prudent, professional and traditional Marine design always puts the compass directly in line with the wheel, both sail and power. I have never seen anything else, and BW always did this too. It's really the only place a compass can go.

Whether the new age of electronics will change all of this remains to be seen, but for me, it never will. I have yet to see a GPS unit that can REPLACE a compass. See Cetacea Page 2.

The Ritchie unit you are referring to is excellent and highly recommended. Be sure to get one with the blue Power Damp Plus card. I like big compasses on a Whaler, not those wimply little things.

Traveller posted 03-02-2004 06:47 PM ET (US)     Profile for Traveller  Send Email to Traveller     
Back in the days before GPS, I had a LORAN unit unable to locate my position in the ocean or a heading back to the Ft. Pierce Inlet. I was about 20 miles NE of the inlet, and it was cloudy. I remembered my heading from the inlet to where I thought I was, and steered a reciprocal course on the compass back to the inlet. I was never so glad to see the buildings on the north side of the Ft. Pierce inlet! Electronic stuff will fail at the worst time - I think it might be part of "Murphy's Law." I consider it "necessary" to get a good compass and mount it where you can see it while steering the boat.
cmarques posted 03-02-2004 07:49 PM ET (US)     Profile for cmarques  Send Email to cmarques     
Most may disagree but here's how I mounted my gps and compass on my Dauntless 160 console. I mainly use the gps but can still clearly see the compass if needed.

I also carry an E-trex loaded with same waypoints in an emergency kit just in case.


Jerry Townsend posted 03-02-2004 08:30 PM ET (US)     Profile for Jerry Townsend  Send Email to Jerry Townsend     
With all respect to a lot of people - but, in my mind, a compass isn't much good unless you know exactly where you are AND have a good map AND know how to use them. As such, I don't see much of a benefit for a compass - yet, I still have the compass on my 17 Outrage.

As Traveler points out - and everyone knows - electronic equipment sometimes fail. Certainly, should one have but one GPS system and it failed, you would be up the creek.

But, this spring, I will remove the compass (since I will be out of room) and put in a GPS/chart system running on on-board power - AND have a hand-held GPS as a back-up. Then, from a safety analyses basis - the only failure that can cause a problem is the failure of a lot of the GPS satellites. Of course, the hand-held has to know where "home" is.

Certainly in Idaho we don't really need a GPS/ChartPlotter except on Pend Oreille (beautiful big water in northern Idaho). However, this year I plan on going into Puget Sound, the Strait, and B.C. water - and I have seen the fog. ---- Jerry/Idaho

Moe posted 03-02-2004 10:59 PM ET (US)     Profile for Moe  Send Email to Moe     
Mount a good quality compass that can take rough water. A good compass has gotten me out of unfamiliar swamps so thick I couldn't see the sky. I didn't need to know exactly where I was or have a map. I just had to know generally where I was and in what general direction I needed to head to get home, without walking in circles. Sooner or later, I'd get to the road. Same thing applies to a cloudy night and fog in a boat. It may not put you at your harbor entrance, but it can get you close. GPS or not, I wouldn't have a boat without a compass and a paper chart.

Where you mount it is up to you. Whaler gave me no choice to put it directly in front of me with the jet ski console on the 150 Sport, so I had to mount it off to the left side. I can lean over and get directly behind it for an accurate reading... no biggie.

They didn't give me a choice to put the GPS/Chartplotter in front of me either, but if I had the choice, that's where it would go. It has to be mounted off to the right and canted toward the pilot (or he has to lean over to see it). Being canted means it's harder to see the fishfinder feature from the starboard side of the stern.

If you're going for the 188C without a swivel mount, put it in front of you facing straight aft. If you opt for the new 178C with swivel mount, you can put it starboard, and point it wherever it needs to face at the time. This also will make it easier to see from the stern if someone is at the helm.


Richard Quinlivan posted 03-03-2004 12:00 AM ET (US)     Profile for Richard Quinlivan  Send Email to Richard Quinlivan     
Before you go to 100% GPS you should know that it is possible at any given time and location for the GPS constellation in view to have poor geometry and not provide a solution. I have personally seen this situation a couple times on the Finger Lakes in Upstate NY.

I also don't believe that there are enought satellites for the FAA to certify the system as a sole means of navigation. With that in mind a compass is a good backup as is a map and up to date knowlege about where you are at any time. The GPS is a great aid to acquiring that knowlege but if things turn ugly you still know where you were not long ago and have a way to get back.


bigjohn1 posted 03-03-2004 06:10 AM ET (US)     Profile for bigjohn1  Send Email to bigjohn1     

Before relying on a GPS or any other electronic "goodie" for navigation, become competent in the use of a compass. It is a basic navigation skill you will likely need some day. My opinion comes from one who has ventured off-shore in small boats out to 50 miles for years. Also, I have seen people who buy new boats, get all sorts of electronics, and then don't know squat when it comes to properly using them to save their butt and get them home.

Big John

First Thought posted 03-03-2004 09:16 AM ET (US)     Profile for First Thought  Send Email to First Thought     
I'm sitting here looking at the manuals for 2 GPS units, a NorthStar and a Garmin,in both manuals there is the disclaimer that the unit should not be relyed on as the sole means of navigation. Before you decide to do without a compass you might want to consider that every Navy and Coast Guard vessel carries backup nav systems and a compass. In fact, when I got my captain's license one of the things you had to demonstrate was the ability to navigate to a point using only a compass, no gps allowed. I spend several years as a volunteer with a local search and rescue group and I cann't count the number of times we searched for overdue boaters that turned out to be lost and their nav system failed and they had no compass. Just my opinion, but I would not get rid of that compass.
Knot at Work posted 03-03-2004 09:32 AM ET (US)     Profile for Knot at Work  Send Email to Knot at Work     
Let me illustrate a reason why a compass is needed.
Say you are chasing Kings.. (substitute your favorite fish) and are running circles all over the place. Your little handy dandy notebook (fused and borrowed from watching blues clues with my 3 year old) GPS craps itself you are now 7 miles from land in the beautiful Gulf of Mexico (again substitute your favorite body of water or Great Lake)

Now how are you going to reorient yourself? How are you gonna get back? You can of course Dead Reckon but I suspect without a compass, chasing the sun and clouds will get you more lost and following birds can send you deeper out to sea.

It is a cheap investment.

Our Navy still uses a good old fashion compass and refuses to get rid of nautical charts and a compass regardless of all the GPS and technology.

food for thought

erik selis posted 03-03-2004 09:41 AM ET (US)     Profile for erik selis  Send Email to erik selis     
I agree with you 100% Jeff.


Goosedog posted 03-03-2004 10:05 AM ET (US)     Profile for Goosedog    
Thanks to all for the helpful responses. To be clear, I did not propose to use the GPS as a sole means of navigation. I would carry a compass and chart as a backup. Admittedly, the handheld compass would not be as effective in rough seas. However, I intend to venture offshore only 3-4 times per year. I would not make a run solo, so I would have someone to assist with the bearing. With that in mind, I don't want to use that prime real estate on my tiny console for a backup device that would primarily be used if my GPS craps out on one of those rare runs -- if the handheld compass and chart could do the job in a pinch.

I do like the traditional look and utility of the mounted compass at the helm. Still undecided. Again, thanks for the help and shared experiences.

DaveH posted 03-03-2004 10:23 AM ET (US)     Profile for DaveH  Send Email to DaveH     

Handhelds are only as good as the person operating them. They must be kept level to work properly and you need experience to read a compass. Are you willing to allow a second person who may or may not have any experience to guide you home when offshore? I feel you are penny-wise and pound foolish in your allocation of space on your console.

If something can go wrong, it will. I see many problems with your planning. My 2 cents.

Goosedog posted 03-03-2004 10:27 AM ET (US)     Profile for Goosedog    
DaveH, fair enough.
Goosedog posted 03-03-2004 10:55 AM ET (US)     Profile for Goosedog    
Alright, you talked me down -- mounted compass at the helm it is. Now to convince the wife I really do need the color chartplotter/gps/sounder for our weekend cruises around the lake. Thanks for the helpful insights.
Knot at Work posted 03-03-2004 11:06 AM ET (US)     Profile for Knot at Work  Send Email to Knot at Work     

one more consideration, the Compass port side top of Console, 188C GPS/Chart Plotter on STBD side of consoel as suggested by Moe. this is how I am configured. I have had absolutely NO problems in this configuration and I do use my richie comp for nav and bearings.

The best part of the logic to persuade your wife is this....the 188 has DEPTH and SPEED and FISH so that is the main reason to get it.

I love the 188.

VHF Radios go with the ICOM if you want I am gonna claen my boat this weekend and I will gladly shoot you a picture

Goosedog posted 03-03-2004 11:13 AM ET (US)     Profile for Goosedog    
Knot, please do. My email is in my profile. Thanks.
Captain Billy posted 03-03-2004 11:52 AM ET (US)     Profile for Captain Billy  Send Email to Captain Billy     
Look at using a Ram mount for the GPS. I use one for my 162 on a 15'. I also have a compass, VHF, and fish finder up there. The Ram will allow you to mount the GPS to the side and then swing it up to be in your main view.
andygere posted 03-03-2004 05:01 PM ET (US)     Profile for andygere  Send Email to andygere     
I find that it is much easier to steer to the compass in most conditions than to the display of the GPS. Yes, I have a decent sized display, but angle, vibration and less than instant updating of the GPS make the compass a better tool for steering a course. I set my course by the GPS, then steer to the heading it supplies using the compass. You may want to consider this when deciding how to configure the arrangement of your instruments. Also, don't overlook easy access to the GPS controls. These are difficult to operate in bumpy conditions, so keep that in mind.
JohnJ80 posted 03-03-2004 09:08 PM ET (US)     Profile for JohnJ80  Send Email to JohnJ80     
You definitely should make sure that you mount the compass so that you are straight in line with it from where you steer. Put some attention into this since doing it any other way can be a serious problem (if you care about reading it while you are driving).


jimh posted 03-03-2004 11:36 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The compass and helm are traditionally mounted on the vessel center line, although in many small power boats the helm tends to be offset to starboard.

I agree the compass should be in-line with the helm and prominently visible to the helmsman. It is the best way to steer a boat when in an open sea.

If you are a coastal boater and familiar with landmarks, you can steer on a landmark, but if you are over the horizon and on open water, you need a compass to steer by. Even in sight of land, if you are not familiar with the landmarks on the shore you need a compass.

You can also use the compass and GPS in concert. For example, last summer we are heading South down the Malaspina Strait off the coast of British Columbia. We have about a 25 mile run down this wide body of water and there are no landmarks discernible to us 25 miles ahead that tell us where to aim the boat. I eyeball the course line from the chart, guess at the variation and deviation, and hold the boat on a compass course for a few minutes. Then I check the GPS to see what we have actually been making in terms of a true course made good. I factor the difference and recalculate the new compass course. Now we are good for an hour or more of running down the big new water we've never seen before.

When I get tired I can give the wheel to Fleet Commander Chris. The first thing she is going to say is, "What's our compass course?" Then I tell her "One-Three-Five" and I know she is all set. I go have a break and admire the scenery. Soon we are down to Jervis Inlet and we can pick up some shoreline features and tell where we are.

Pluggin' in a $500 chip into a $2000 GPS/Plotter is nice, but sometimes it is more fun to just go with a chart and a compass (and a GPS as a back up or more accurate compass).

jimh posted 03-03-2004 11:42 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
If you're not just goin' round in circles on some little lake, here is another reason to have a compass.

We like to explore new water and we have a lot of fun doing it. We often get into some situation where we are looking for an Aid to Navigation (ATON). Maybe we are sitting at a buoy and looking for the next one. I can glance at the chart and see that the next buoy is on a heading of, say, 205-True.

If I have a GPS only, I don't really know where 205-True happens to be. But if I have a compass I can immediately see where 205-T (well, 205-Compass and figure out the true bearing) happens to lie and look in that direction. Maybe with my gaze focused in the right heading I can see the next buoy. Even if I can't see it yet, at least I can start heading that way.

With a GPS you have to head some way for a while to find out what way you've been heading. That can make some navigation awkward.

diveorfish posted 03-04-2004 11:33 AM ET (US)     Profile for diveorfish  Send Email to diveorfish     
I always assumed that a compass, dead ahead, on top of a boatís dash/console was just non-negotiable standard equipment. Given time, anything electric on a boat will probably malfunction. If this happens in mist, fog or any other inclement weather, you will need the compass.

More importantly though, you need to know how to READ the compass and TRUST it without hesitation.

When I was still very new to boating, GPS/Chart plotters, etc., my buddies and I launched out of Vallejo Marina and headed north up the Napa River to go fishing. This river is about a couple of hundred yards wide and you can only go north or south. It starts to get foggy and visibility is probably about 100 feet or so. Since the river only flows north-south itís hard to imagine getting lost so Iím not really paying any attention to my compass or GPS. Anyway, while cruising up the river we had to stop briefly and turn around to rescue a baseball cap that had just blown off the head of one of my passengerís while underway. After a successful ball cap rescue operation, I throttle up and get under way again. Unfortunately, during the rescue effort, we got turned around by the current and we just happened to be heading 180 degrees in the wrong direction, south. Since it was still foggy, nobody noticed that we got turned around and we, especially me, were convinced that we were still heading north.

After a few minutes I glance down at my GPS/Chart plotter device and it looks like we are heading south instead of north. My first thought is maybe Iím reading it wrong. Or, maybe I had it on some weird display because this thing has so many bells and whistles. Next, I glace at the compass. It shows that I am going south also. Since I was still new to mounted compasses, Iím thinking that maybe I am reading this boat compass wrong as well. At this point, I am still totally convinced that I am going in the right direction and either I am reading my equipment wrong or it is malfunctioning. I keep motoring along and fiddling with my GPS trying to figure out what went wrong in a vein attempt to not look like and idiot and admit that I may be going the wrong way in spite of the fact that I have thousands of dollars worth of navigational gear onboard. In my mind though, I am still pretty convinced, although my confidence is beginning to crumble, that I am going the right way even though my gear was telling me different. After about 10 minutes, or so, we come up on a huge bridge that looks suspiciously like a bridge that we passed some 20 minutes ago. All of the sudden the idiot light goes off in my head and my buddies and I are now shocked that we had been going the wrong direction for quite a while. Needless to say I won the moron award that day.

Moe posted 03-04-2004 03:14 PM ET (US)     Profile for Moe  Send Email to Moe     
Let me encourage those, who for one reason or another, can't mount the compass dead ahead of them not to dispare. As long as you can get it close, it ISN'T a serious problem. You can lean over a bit to put yourself directly behind the compass when it's critical.

This is no different than adjusting your truck mirrors so you see traffic in the lanes beside you, and having to lean a bit to see traffic directly behind you.

Even if you look at it at a shallow angle, the error is usually less than most variation or deviation, and you can get used to accounting for it


Tom W Clark posted 03-04-2004 03:21 PM ET (US)     Profile for Tom W Clark  Send Email to Tom W Clark     
The compass does not necessarily go directly in front of the helm. On center console Whalers built in the mid 1970s the console had a pad located on the top of the console for a compass.

This pad was in the middle of the console, NOT in line with the helm.

On my 1983 Outrage I put my compass dead center. I did this because in fact that is where I stood most of the time, not directly behind the wheel.

Also be aware that the metal in the steering helm will have an effect on the compass. You should play around with different locations on the console to see where the magnetic influence of all accessories is the least.

JoeH posted 03-05-2004 01:33 AM ET (US)     Profile for JoeH  Send Email to JoeH     
Diveorfish, I don't think you get the moron award unless you fail to learn from it. I had a similar experiance hunting where no matter what I did I couldn't make it work out right. Pre hunt planning ( think float plan? )saved the day. Lesson learned, big laughs all around but a new appreciation for paying attention. Thanks for putting your story out there. Joe
diveorfish posted 03-05-2004 12:23 PM ET (US)     Profile for diveorfish  Send Email to diveorfish     
JoeH: The weird thing about it was, I was so sure that I was going in the right direction that it overrode what my eyes were telling me from two distinct sources. Normally I have a good sense of direction and know where I am at all times. That day I got turned around and was too cocky to entertain the thought that I might be wrong. Itís kind of like the situation where they train pilots to trust their instruments instead of their senses. Fortunately it only cost me about 40 minutes and a few of gallons of gas. For a pilot it would be a lot worse.
Moe posted 03-05-2004 02:11 PM ET (US)     Profile for Moe  Send Email to Moe     
I got a chance to pilot an aircraft vertigo simulator/trainer once. Talk about weird! Your body is seriously telling you one thing and the instruments another.


CHRISWEIGHT posted 03-05-2004 03:18 PM ET (US)     Profile for CHRISWEIGHT  Send Email to CHRISWEIGHT     
was amazed to see a friends new larson 18sei came with a bright new fm/am radio and speakers bot NO COMPASS.

Agree with all said before.

1, I always confirm gps compass with standard equipment compass on whaler.

2, have been round in circles trying to navigate in fog with hand held compass.

3, GPS is hard to operate in any kind of lumpy sea, and is often not as clear as magnetic compass

4, if you can always preprogram you waypoints before you leave home( pc chart and parallel rule etc)much harder to do them under way.

5, always remember the rough bearing home so that when the corrosion caused by salt water/air does crap the electronics all is not lost(regularly clean the fuse and holder contacts in the inline fuse which is floating around inside the console, coz it will fail).

DaveH posted 03-05-2004 05:07 PM ET (US)     Profile for DaveH  Send Email to DaveH     

The same thing supposedly happened to JKF Jr. off Martha's Vineyard. He didn't pay attention or lost horizon bearing in the fog at night and created a hole in the water with his airplane. All signs on the wreckage pointed to pilot error.

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