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Thread: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

  1. #1
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    Default Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    I have been debating where to locate a fixed compass on my H28, being loath to mount a bulkhead compass in the Huon Pine paneling, but am now wondering whether to even bother with one??? I have always preferred my hand held compass personally anyway.

    I have sufficient sea time to consider myself decently experienced, both in long distance offshore sailing and on commercial marine vessels and I have to say that I don’t recall referring to any mounted compasses all that much other than as a quick reference before pulling out my hand held compass (or going to the radar).

    GPS and chart plotter aside, I pretty much always use my Plastimo hand held compass for all coastal nav’ chart work (which I still like to do regardless of chart plotters) and any time that I need to take a bearing (land-marks, other vessel etc) and for maintaining a course when night sailing - particularly on a cloudy night.

    But that’s just me - any thoughts???

    (I have a B&G Vulcan 7 GPS/Plotter in the stbd panel that also provides a compass display)


    [IMG]IMG_3984 by Greg Larkin, on Flickr[/IMG]


    [IMG]IMG_3900 by Greg Larkin, on Flickr[/IMG]


    [IMG]IMG_3903 by Greg Larkin, on Flickr[/IMG]


    Last edited by Larks; 09-10-2022 at 09:39 PM.
    Larks

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    Nice job on the paneling Larks!
    I have one on my 'big' boat as well as a Garmin Fishfinder/GPS. If I am day sailing, I seem to leave them both at home. I have yet to sail with it nights. Mood lighting shot with moon in background in the driveway. I also have binocs with an illuminated compass.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    My first schooner had a lovely large Danforth-White Constellation. I made a verge ring to help keep track of tacking angles for DR in the most common fog. But the fog rolled hard from Chatham down to Hyannis so I kept a hockey puck type for DR in the dory after work.

    Use what suits your needs but I'm all for a honest well swung ship's compass, a tattle-tale compass over my berth, and both a hockey puck and compass binocs for piloting.

    Older wooden boats, like mine, are usually easy to locate with no deviation but sometimes owner's wishes and poorly located magnetic influences . . . One boat I had to prepare deviation cards for under sail, engine on, and radar on. Solved the speaker magnets in the VHF and SSB by relocating those units.

    But usually I could chase down and get rid of deviation.
    Last edited by Ian McColgin; 09-10-2022 at 07:27 PM.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    I have a nice one in the binnacle, but that's mostly used at night. The one on the aft side of the pilot house is the day compass. i didn't make the hole - the FO did, but I replaced his cheap POS compass with a good one. it has a red dial & shows well from the 5-6' away location.
    "If it ain't broke, you're not trying." - Red Green

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    I've sailed thousands of sea miles and I cannot imagine doing passages without a fixed compass. Knowing the deviation is important. Hard to figure that out with a hand held compass. That said, I find bulkhead mounted-compasses hard to use. It may be me, but I always have to take a second or two to figure out the course being steered. If you don't have a pedestal to mount the binnacle I've seen compasses that mount into a horizontal surface such as a bridge deck, with a flat glass that sits flush. Pretty neat I think.

    I've followed your build, Greg, from the beginning. I'm in awe about your achievement. Congratulations.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    I believe the value of a fixed compass in modern sailing is in maintaining a heading in the pitch black and surfing down the seaway. Gps and plotters aren't fast enough.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    I am with Ian.

    I replaced the binnacle compass with one that I like better. Out went the perfectly nice Rigel and in came a rebuilt Sestrel Major.

    This really is a fabulously good compass. I’m not alone in saying that - the RNLI methodically buy them when they come on the market and recondition them.




    There’s a Sestrel Radiant hand bearing prismatic compass which I bought new in 1973. It has been overhauled twice.

    There’s a Sestrel tell tale compass over my bunk.

    Not visible in the picture, because it is struck below, is the Sestrel Moore standard compass ahead of the companion hatch with its nice azimuth ring. Also not visible is the Sestrel Minor spare compass which leads a very sheltered life as it’s only for use with the emergency tiller.

    I’ve just realised that I have five Sestrel compasses on one boat!
    Last edited by Andrew Craig-Bennett; 09-13-2022 at 07:18 AM.
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  8. #8
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    Quote Originally Posted by John B View Post
    I believe the value of a fixed compass in modern sailing is in maintaining a heading in the pitch black and surfing down the seaway. Gps and plotters aren't fast enough.

    I do agree about the value of a compass for night sailing over the GPS JB, though I started using my Plastimo hand held years ago when I was navigator on an IOR racing yacht up in Malaysia and Thailand over a few of years of delivering yachts and racing up there. I could follow our bearing when down below at the chart table and didn’t need to switch my brain to a different compass face when on deck so found that I just kept using the hand held when helming as well. So, for me, it became the most familiar and easiest one to keep a course on through dark, cloudy and monsoonal wet nights when there was no fixed reference to steer to.
    Larks

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  9. #9
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    Quote Originally Posted by John Little View Post
    I've sailed thousands of sea miles and I cannot imagine doing passages without a fixed compass. Knowing the deviation is important. Hard to figure that out with a hand held compass. That said, I find bulkhead mounted-compasses hard to use. It may be me, but I always have to take a second or two to figure out the course being steered. If you don't have a pedestal to mount the binnacle I've seen compasses that mount into a horizontal surface such as a bridge deck, with a flat glass that sits flush. Pretty neat I think.

    I've followed your build, Greg, from the beginning. I'm in awe about your achievement. Congratulations.
    Thanks John. I should have mentioned that I’m setting up the H28 purely for coastal sailing - anyone in the future who might decide to do an offshore passage can worry about setting the boat up to suit themselves. For me the immediate need for a compass would be night passages and checking vessel bearings for collision avoidance as well as for coastal nav’ practice and redundancy in case of the failure of three GPS units (a hand held back up of some sort, the Vulcan 7 and my Garmin Inreach explorer unit ).

    Re deviation with a hand held compass - I have actually once gone to the effort in the past of checking deviation in different positions on the Salar 40 that I lived and cruised on for a year (because I had plenty of time to do so at the time) and found that on deck any deviation was negligible, as in unmeasurable and of no impact on coastal nav plotting (taking running fixes etc).

    For the sake of maintaining a course in the dark of night I’d say that deviation isn't an issue, (unless perhaps your trying to balance closely against a stay or something to take a bearing and then I could imagine it being unreliable).
    Last edited by Larks; 09-10-2022 at 09:35 PM.
    Larks

    “It’s impossible”, said pride.
    “It’s risky”, said experience.
    “It’s pointless”, said reason.
    “Give it a try”, whispered the heart.

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  10. #10
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Craig-Bennett View Post
    I am with Ian.

    I replaced the binnacle compass with one that I like better. Out went the perfectly nice Rigel and in came a rebuilt Sestrel Major.

    This really is a fabulously good compass. I’m not alone in saying that - the RNLI methodically buy them when they come on the market and recondition them.




    There’s a Sestrel Radiant hand bearing prismatic compass which I bought when in 1973. It has been overhauled twice.

    There’s a Sestrel tell tale compass over my bunk
    I know the Sestrel compasses Andrew and once had to source a dozen Sestrel Navigators for a job here but had to get them shipped in from OS as I couldn’t find a source for them in Australia.



    But you guys have had me thinking more about options - my alternative for mounting a fixed compass would be a flush mount like a Ritchie Voyager flush mount or Kestrel Navigator (if I could get one) the on the deck port side about 150mm out from the companionway and about 100mm in forward of the bulkhead.... (I have actually already run wiring to that position for a compass backlight but had since been rethinking whether to bother with it....). Somewhat close to the engine controls but no other electronics, metals or electrics around it.

    There won’t be any decks mounted winches or clutches near by, everything will be at the mast, so it “should” be pretty safe from being knocked around.

    The other option that I had toyed with but abandoned was on the aft deck just behind the tiller.....????




    Last edited by Larks; 09-10-2022 at 09:42 PM.
    Larks

    “It’s impossible”, said pride.
    “It’s risky”, said experience.
    “It’s pointless”, said reason.
    “Give it a try”, whispered the heart.

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  11. #11
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    I have a separate and smaller drop board for the companionway that has a pretty good compass (face view and top view) mounted in it with an internal red light.
    It gets used in the fog and at night, and that's about it.
    And it never gets foggy here as in Maine, a compass is pretty much mandatory there, where it can turn to pea soup in about three minutes, or just enough time to get a reciprocal course...
    Or you can always just listen up for lawn mowers and anchor.

    edit: bulkhead mount
    this one
    BA21F6E3-419B-45E3-B3F4-E0C36E9B1832.jpg
    Last edited by Canoeyawl; 09-10-2022 at 09:57 PM.

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    An application no one has pointed out is this: if you're not all teched out with an actual GPS compass, the magnetic compass, if swung and deviation known, is the way to 'see' the difference between heading and CMG, thus leeway or effect of current etc. Worth it for that, for me.
    Brian
    ETA: the fluxgate compass component of GPS is cool, if ya gots one, I still like knowing I have a min tech way to see heading.

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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    I like navigating with a compass and paper charts, mainly coastal navigation.
    I use a Cassens and Plath Zeta/2 in brass for this work.
    The GPS devices ( 2 of them) are just back up.

    kompas.jpg
    (this is an similar one, not my boat)
    Last edited by dutchpp; 09-11-2022 at 02:24 AM.

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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    Quote Originally Posted by Canoeyawl View Post
    I have a separate and smaller drop board for the companionway that has a pretty good compass (face view and top view) mounted in it with an internal red light.
    It gets used in the fog and at night, and that's about it.
    And it never gets foggy here as in Maine, a compass is pretty much mandatory there, where it can turn to pea soup in about three minutes, or just enough time to get a reciprocal course...
    Or you can always just listen up for lawn mowers and anchor.

    edit: bulkhead mount
    this one
    BA21F6E3-419B-45E3-B3F4-E0C36E9B1832.jpg

    I like the idea of the drop in washboard with a compass in it, I’m not sure if it’d work at this stage in my case (having pretty much allocated any possible storage space where it might live when not in use) but it’s a good idea.
    Larks

    “It’s impossible”, said pride.
    “It’s risky”, said experience.
    “It’s pointless”, said reason.
    “Give it a try”, whispered the heart.

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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    Quote Originally Posted by dutchpp View Post
    I like navigating with a compass and paper charts, mainly coastal navigation.
    I use a Cassens and Plath Zeta/2 in brass for this work.
    The GPS devices ( 2 of them) are just back up.


    (this is an similar one, not my boat)

    I don’t kid myself: as much as I say that I still like to use the charts and keep my knowledge and skills up with practical chart use, compass and coastal nav exercises, the chart plotter and GPS really are now the primary nav’ option and I’m setting everything up on this rebuild accordingly.
    Larks

    “It’s impossible”, said pride.
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    “Give it a try”, whispered the heart.

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  16. #16
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    Quote Originally Posted by Larks View Post
    I don’t kid myself: as much as I say that I still like to use the charts and keep my knowledge and skills up with practical chart use, compass and coastal nav exercises, the chart plotter and GPS really are now the primary nav’ option and I’m setting everything up on this rebuild accordingly.
    Which is a logical thing to do, however I sail in the Waddensea, the Riddle of the sands water, the sea that dries out every tide ( see pic), the accuracy of the plotter GPS combination is limited over here, some of the channels can change place in 1 tide.
    The very shallow draft of my boat helps as well and its all sand almost no rocks.
    waddenzee.jpg
    Last edited by dutchpp; 09-11-2022 at 06:28 AM.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    I also have a White Constellation installed, and use it exclusively to steer.
    My first boat had a nice old portable German compass in a wooden box. Stowed it below when docked, put it in the cockpit sailing.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    We are obliged to carry a compass, so I made a little open fronted draw under the middle thwart. One can see it in the closed position, or slide it out for a better look when sitting out.

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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    I have a Plastimo Contest bulkhead mounted compass, a B&G Vulcan 9 and two B&G Triton 2s in the cockpit.

    Most of our coastal sailing is racing and we use Navionics on an iPad as our primary source of nav data, backed up by the B&G stuff.

    One thing to mention about the Vulcan. I may not have got mine set up properly but, unlike with Navionics on the iPad which has a useful line showing where you are heading based on the course over the ground, I've only managed to get the Vulcan to show the boat's position on the chartplotter and things like tacking angles. I not been able to persuade it to give me a COG line. Normal process therefore is to check COG on the iPad, adjust the course accordingly, then read the heading on the B&G and sail to that, repeating at intervals as needed.

    I don't think anyone has ever steered to the Plastimo bulkhead compass. I guess it's there if we need it sort of thing.

    That being said we don't get much in the way of fog, currents or rocky outcrops here, so navigation is pretty straightforward.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    Yeah Sestrel. With the aim of a lifetime purchase in mind I paid the money for a Sestrel conquest bulkhead compass for Waione in the 80's. It was a big purchase for a young guy of my means at the time.
    Unfortunately for me and as I learned after the repair bills, Sestrel had been bought by the accountants and speculators, they'd cut some corner and every compass they made from that period dissolved its seals and became utterly useless. The company may have even bankrupted over it. Andrew will know( I think the subject has come up before).
    So Sestrel = crap is what springs to my mind each time the brand name comes up. Mine now is one of those John Brown units on a big bronze stalk, needs a cubic foot of space just for it and nothing else, but it looks nice and you can hold a course in nil visibilty while surfing down a wave.
    John Brown became Sestrel I think.

  21. #21
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    Those of us that live in places like Maine mount compasses. For you a compass in a box with a battery run or plug in light may be just fine in the style of the old flat dory compasses. Bring it out when you need it. And then you will really need it.
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  22. #22
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    Since most of my sailing has been racing, I've primarily used the compass to track windshifts. Nighttime sailing offwind I'm stuck going by compass, but have never liked it. When I have I've had a good binnacle compass or a pair of bulkhead mounted ones. I use my handheld for piloting, but that's about all.

  23. #23
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    Quote Originally Posted by John B View Post
    Yeah Sestrel. With the aim of a lifetime purchase in mind I paid the money for a Sestrel conquest bulkhead compass for Waione in the 80's. It was a big purchase for a young guy of my means at the time.
    Unfortunately for me and as I learned after the repair bills, Sestrel had been bought by the accountants and speculators, they'd cut some corner and every compass they made from that period dissolved its seals and became utterly useless. The company may have even bankrupted over it. Andrew will know( I think the subject has come up before).
    So Sestrel = crap is what springs to my mind each time the brand name comes up. Mine now is one of those John Brown units on a big bronze stalk, needs a cubic foot of space just for it and nothing else, but it looks nice and you can hold a course in nil visibilty while surfing down a wave.
    John Brown became Sestrel I think.

    I didn’t know that JB and hadn’t seen the thread on them. We had them spec’d for supply by a client for a project so I had kinda’ always taken it from their specific knowledge and usage requirements that Sestrel were the ducks nuts in durability.
    Larks

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  24. #24
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    I sail small open boats on the Great Lakes--no tides, no currents, and infrequent fog in the summer. For 90% + of my sailing (which is rarely more than a few miles off the mainland), eyeball navigation and terrain association are sufficient. Actually, more than sufficient--they are ideal. Maximum navigational certainty with minimum fuss.

    That said, this past summer my brother and I made a 10-mile passage in Georgian Bay on a sunny blue-sky day, and landed on a nice island for lunch. Ten minutes later we were completely fogged in. Could barely see the water from the beach. As the next leg of our journey involved a passage along some significant shoals, we stayed ashore for a while.

    Had that fog hit 20 minutes earlier, it would have gotten interesting.

    But, I always carry a hand-bearing compass, tied in under the gunwale. When I need it, I lay it flat on the thwart lined up with the boat's centerline. This was the closest I've come to actually needing it during the daytime.

    I wonder: is climate change going to bring more frequent fogs on the Great Lakes? Warmer moister air meeting cold/cool water?

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  25. #25
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    John B (post #20, above).

    This is what little I know of the firm of John Browne & Son and their trade mark “Sestrel”.

    John Browne was born in 1842 and died in 1935. He was a nautical instrument maker and I think he started manufacturing in Brightlingsea then moved to Barking in the 1920s. All his products have the trade mark “Sestrel” on them and this is a contraction of SEnsitive STeady RELiable.

    This name turns up on compasses (made in house) and on clocks and I have a pair of 1920s “night glasses” - a type of binocular used at night with low magnifying power and large lenses - with the “Sestrel” name on them. Sestrel also supplied, but did not make, nice sextants. All these items were made for them, but to their (high) specifications, by good makers (eg their clocks are commonly made by Smiths).

    John Browne were important makers of magnetic compasses for ships and aircraft as well as for fishing vessels (their original market) and of course the yacht market.

    They did very well through the 1970s but then things went pear shaped very fast. The British shipbuilding and aircraft building industries collapsed. The British fishing fleet collapsed. And cheap plastic compasses took over the yacht market.

    Henry Browne went bankrupt and the brand was sold to Lilley and Gillie.

    Sirs Navigation bought the rights and the equipment for making the hand bearer and the Major but they have given up now having become eye-wateringly expensive.

    I don’t think that Lilley and Gillie were much interested in keeping the brand going - they were taking out a competitor in the ship market - and the brand was sold on and rattled round a bit which is when the quality issues started and very soon finished it off.

    An actual Sestrel is repairable. They did use plastic in some compasses in the 1970s but these are still good quality.

    One repairer whom I can strongly recommend is Barry Philips of BPSC Marine in Southampton. Barry was with Henry Browne and after they folded he set up Rigel who also made good compasses. He rebuilds Sestrels for the RNLI.

    https://www.bpsc-marine.co.uk/
    Last edited by Andrew Craig-Bennett; 09-13-2022 at 01:21 AM.
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  26. #26
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    We put our compass on the cabin top, port side of the companionway. I wouldn't be without it, but if you are comfortable with the handheld for long stretches at night I don't see why you should cut another big hole. Does the handheld have a light? That is critical.

  27. #27
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    Quote Originally Posted by J.Madison View Post
    We put our compass on the cabin top, port side of the companionway. I wouldn't be without it, but if you are comfortable with the handheld for long stretches at night I don't see why you should cut another big hole. Does the handheld have a light? That is critical.
    No light in the Plastimo hand-held Jon, which I don’t mind, I keep a red/white torch on hand when night sailing anyway. But more and more I’m thinking of doing what you have done on Julia and mounting a compass on top as I mentioned above. I won’t have a dodger protecting it but I can’t see it being at risk there anyway.
    Larks

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  28. #28
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?



    My friend has one of these Silva types, with several mount brackets around the boat, it can be mounted vertical and horizontal and used as a handbearing unit. One model comes with a built in light.

    Köp Silva Kompass 70UNE på happyyachting.com

  29. #29
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    I have GPS, chartplotter, radar aboard my boat. I also have a compass. I like to use them in concert, getting my course from the GPS and then steering it by compass.

    Kevin
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  30. #30
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    I'm with you, Kevin, but without radar.

  31. #31
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    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    Curious as to what might pop up, and not much did.
    Sestrel nautical ships compass. Made by Henry Browne and Son Ltd, of Barking, who made aviation and nautical compasses, clocks and dials. The company made compasses form, notably, Spitfires, Tigermoths and Concord. Henry Browne was born in Lewis, Sussex in 1842 and died in Barking in 1935. His company was a well respected English instrument maker that had been making and selling fine quality compasses, ship's clocks, inclinometers, sextants, and chandlery items for over 140 years. It started in a factory in Brightlingsea, Essex and moved to Barking in 1929. The Trade Mark brand Sestrel was used on all their equipment. Their “Dead Beat“ compass design is well dampened and serves to reduce oscillations. It is reported that this design compass was fitted to many Allied ships during WW II. The company went through a boom period in the 1970s but collapsed in the 1980s due to the popularity of cheaper plastic compasses over tradition brass ones. Over the more recent years, there has been a consolidation of British instrument makers and the firm of Henry Browne & Son has changed hands a number of times. At last count, it became part of Lillie & Gillie of London for what may be the second time
    I've no doubt all the problems are long gone but getting screwed is what comes to my mind each time the brand comes up

    To expand on my thoughts from earlier, I agree with what Kevin and Thad and others are saying,a compass is a backstop now. The reality is a chartplotter or GPS of some sort and the true value of a compass is for keeping a course in a low vis dynamic situation where the gps simply cannot keep up with the movements of the vessel. The light is absolutely imperative.
    I learnt that with an early touch screen plotter on a boat I was crewing on to Tonga, a useless T%t of a thing( the plotter) that shot off to africa every rain drop or spray drop that hit it. There was a battery problem on the boat so night watches became progressively more difficult as the compass light dimmed and we moved to torches ghosting the card as we surfed along our merry way.
    At that point in time in very rough seas and going fast in the dark with no stars , the absolute most important component on that boat was the compass, I just wish it had been up in my grille as I think back.
    Last edited by John B; 09-12-2022 at 07:42 PM.

  32. #32
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
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    Hills of Vermont, USA
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    45,521

    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    Losing compass lighting would suck.

    The Plastimo pictured above with the red dial is what I have & I find it both easy to read & like the red at night - it doesn't seem to have to be very bright to be legible. I realize I'm an old phart, but I find it much easier to steer a course by compass - though getting the bearing from a plotter makes it easier. I've watched the S-I-L steer by the plotter & as my dad would say to me as a kid "that course would break a snake's back". His isn't really that bad, but IMO not as good as it would be steering by compass.
    "If it ain't broke, you're not trying." - Red Green

  33. #33
    Join Date
    Jun 2003
    Location
    Central Coast, Ca
    Posts
    35,368

    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    My plastimo hockey puck has a light...

  34. #34
    Join Date
    Apr 2015
    Location
    St. Helens, Oregon
    Posts
    4,973

    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    Had the binnacle light go out on a delivery, but my LED headlamp had a red light so we just taped it over the compass and that worked fine

  35. #35
    Join Date
    Aug 1999
    Location
    Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK
    Posts
    28,488

    Default Re: Mounted compasses - how many of you actually use them?

    Two separate lighting circuits, each with a rheostat. And another one for the spare compass!

    I developed a hatred of Plastimo compasses when I had to replace the light on a friend’s boat as we headed into the Thames estuary in gathering gloom and a rising wind.
    Last edited by Andrew Craig-Bennett; 09-13-2022 at 06:34 AM.
    IMAGINES VEL NON FUERINT

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