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The Magnetic Compass

Navigational instrument for finding


Corrected on 10 Mar11 (1+1)

18 Oct 08 1
What is the use of a Magnetic Compass

• A magnetic compass (standard compass) is

meant to provide direction for steering and for
taking bearing of a an object from a ship.
• It used to be the only compass on board earlier,
but now it is essential as a reserve compass
incase the gyro-compass fails.
• It is also required for setting ships course when
starting the gyro-compass.
• In most of the Merchant vessels, it is fitted on the
monkey bridge, with a periscope system for
making it seen on the bridge.

18 Oct 08 2
A bit of Physics

• The known relationship between electricity and

• Electrons move about within the nucleus of an atom.
• This movement creates magnetic field around each
• Every substance has the potential for acquiring
magnetic properties.
• But it shows up only in the magnetic substances like
iron, nickel and cobalt where the fields of all
electrons get aligned.
Earth’s Core

18 Oct 08 4
How does a magnetic compass work?
• A magnetic compass works
because the Earth is like a
giant magnet, surrounded by a
huge magnetic field.

• The Earth has two magnetic

poles which lie near the North
and South poles.

• The magnetic field of the Earth

causes a magnetized 'needle'
of iron or steel to swing into a
north-south position when
hung from a thread or made to
float in a bowl of water.
18 Oct 08 5
True – Magnetic - Compass

• Before discussing Magnetic compass error, it is

essential to get following three terms clearly

• True North
– Where the North Pole lies.
• The Magnetic North
– Where the Magnetic North Lies
• The Compass North
– The North to which the ships compass points
Compass Error
• Compass Error (CE) is the difference between the
True North and the “North” shown by a ship’s
magnetic compass.
• During his voyage in 1490, Columbus observed that
his magnetic compass does not point exactly at the
True North and the error varied from place to place.
• These differences were investigated in the 17th
century by Edmond Halley who was a scientist and
an astronomer. This error was termed as “Variation”.
• It was even thought at this time that the “Variation”
could help in finding ‘The Longitude” which was a
red herring and had to wait invention of a

18 Oct 08 7
Compass Error
• When iron ships began to replace earlier wooden
ships, it was was observed that ship’s own
magnetism also affected the needle of ship’s
magnetic compass needle.
• Electrical and electronic equipment further affected
ship’s magnetic compass needle.
• These cumulative error created by ships magnetism
was termed as “Deviation”
• To steer a correct course or to read an accurate
bearing of an object, it is essential that both these
errors are corrected and also allowed for.
• Once again remember that Variation is caused due to
earth’s magnetic properties and Deviation is caused
due to Ships own magnetic properties.
18 Oct 08 8
Why Does variation Occur
• Variation is caused
because the earth’s
magnetic and
geographic poles do not

• Magnetic North Pole is

at 70 Deg North and
097° W.

• Magnetic South Pole is

at 72 ° South and 154 °

18 Oct 08 9

• Variation changes in
space as well as in time.

• Variation changes from

place to place as the
magnetic material in the
Earth’s crust is not
uniformly distributed.

• Variation changes from

year to year as the
earth’s magnetic poles
tend to wander.

• ALWAYS use the

compass rose which is
nearest your current DR
• It is used to Determine
Magnetic and True

• Outer ring is in True.

• Inner Ring is in Magnetic.

• Variation for an area is

shown on the compass
rose of the chart for that
area, together with the
amount of annual increase
or decrease.

• Deviation is the angle between

the magnetic North and North
shown by ships compass.
• Deviation is caused by effect of
ship’s magnetism on the needle
of the magnetic compass.
• Ships own magnetism caused by
– Ships Hull
– Electrical and Electronic
– Cargo
– Ships own equipment

• Deviation can not be completely

eliminated but minimised, accurately
measured and then compensated for.
• The task of minimising and measuring of
deviation is done by a specialist called
‘Compass Adjustor’.
• He prepared a Deviation table which
provides the value of deviation for every
15 degrees of ship’s head.
Magnetic Compass Error: Deviation
18 Oct 08 15
r 18 Oct 08 18
Types of Magnetic Compass

There are two basic types:

• Dry card magnetic compass
As name suggests, this
compass card is suspended in
the air.
• Liquid magnetic compass
As the name suggests, this card
is afloat in liquid.
18 Oct 08 19
Dry Card Magnetic Compass - Compass Bowl

• The compass card

is enclosed in a
brass bowl with a
transparent glass
top. The vertical
distance between
the top of the
compass card and
the glass is such
that even if the
bowl is inverted,
the card would not
disengage from the

18 Oct 08 20
• A light, aluminium ring about 254
mm (10 inches) in diameter
attached to a brass hub (centre
piece) by a silk cord which is
threaded in and out through holes
in the ring and the hub.

• The tight silk cord acts like the

spokes of a bicycle wheel. There is
no other connection or support
between the ring and the hub

• Silk cord is used because it does

not shrink or stretch due to
moisture or changes in
atmospheric temperature.
18 Oct 08 21
Dry Card Magnetic Compass - Directive Elements

• Three to four pairs of needle magnets, of differing

lengths are suspended, parallel to each other, below
the compass card such that the ends of all magnets
form a circle.

18 Oct 08 22
Dry Card Magnetic Compass - Compass card

• It is made of a number of
rice paper segments which
are stuck to the aluminum
ring and the silk cards
using water proof adhesive.
Rice paper is light in
weight and does not get
affected with moisture and
temperature change.

• Card support The hub

cap fitted with sapphire
bearing surface rests on a
pivot tipped with iridium
providing frictionless
support for the compass
18 Oct 08 23
The lubber line
• On the forward, inside part of the
bowl, there is a small projection
with a line marked on it. This line
is called the 'lubber line’
Lubber’s Line • It represents the direction of the
ship's "head. The compass is
fixed on the "centre line of the
ship with the lubber line aligned
towards forward.
• The reading of the compass card,
which coincides with the lubber
line, is the compass course of the
ship at that time.
• In some compasses, there are
three more lubber lines
indicating starboard beam, port
beam and right astern.

• Spare Cards :Spare cards

are always carried on
board and replacement
can be carried out on the
ship itself. Each card has
a serial number and is
accompanied by a test
certificate from its
manufacturer. Change of
card entry should be
made in mate’s log book.

18 Oct 08 25
Liquid Magnetic Compass – Why Necessary

• The dry card compass is too sensitive for steering

purposes, especially in bad weather.
• Even small disturbances cause the dry card to
• In the wet card compass the oscillations are damped,
without loss of accuracy, by immersing the card in a
• The card therefore has a 'dead beat' movement.
• The ring magnet wet card compass is the most
efficient type of marine magnetic compass.

18 Oct 08 26
Liquid Magnetic Compass - The card

• The wet card is made of mica

and is only about 15 cm in
diameter. The graduations
are photographically printed
on it. The card is attached to
a nickel silver float chamber
that has a sapphire cap.
• The cap rests on an iridium
tipped pivot.
• The sapphire has a polishing
effect on the iridium tip.

18 Oct 08 27
Liquid Magnetic Compass - The card

• The smoothness of rotation

of the compass card thus
improves over the years.
• Though the weight of the
wet card is considerable,
the buoyancy of the float
chamber suitably reduces
the load on the pivot. This
arrangement is practically

18 Oct 08 28
Liquid Magnetic Compass - The directive element
• This is fitted below the
card, enclosed in nickel
silver to avoid corrosion.
• In older types it consisted
of two cylindrical bar
magnets, one on each side
of the float.
• In modern wet card
compasses the directive
element is a ring magnet
fitted around the base of
the float.
• The ring magnet offers less
resistance to movement
and causes less turbulence.
18 Oct 08 29

The bowl is filled with a mixture of distilled water and

pure ethyl alcohol and the mixture has the following
• Low freezing point - about -30°C.
• Small coefficient of expansion.
• Does not discolour the card.
• Low relative density .- about 0.93.

Expansion of Liquid:
Accordion-like expansion chamber is fitted to the bowl
compensate for expansion/ contraction of liquid.
18 Oct 08 30
Liquid Magnetic Compass - The Suspension
• The bowl of the wet card compass
is suspended by gimbals just like
that of the dry card compass.
• This bowl, being considerably
heavier than that of the dry card
compass, does not have a glass
hemisphere of alcohol and water
attached to its underside.
• Instead, a ballast weight consisting
of a ring of lead, enclosed in brass,
is attached along the
circumference of the underside of
the bowl to bring its centre of
gravity below the gimbals.

18 Oct 08 31
Liquid Magnetic Compass - The Suspension

• On the outside of the compass bowl,

there are two athwartship projections,
called gimbals, at the same level as the
compass card.
• The gimbals are triangular in cross-
section, apex downwards.
• These gimbals rest on 'V' shaped
depressions in a horizontal ring called
the 'gimbal" ring' which encircles the
compass bowl
• The gimbal ring itself is pivoted at its
forward and after sides.
• If the ship rolls or pitches, the bowl
would remain horizontal because its
centre of gravity is well below the
Wet and Dry Card Comparison

18 Oct 08
Wet Card Dry Card 33
Comparison – Wet & Dry Compasses

• Oscillations of the card are greatly reduced by the

dense liquid within the bowl and any induced
movement is more or less eliminated.
• The wet compass is not as sensitive as the dry card
compass is. Consequently, it makes an excellent steering
• A dry compass card may sometimes suffer from
stickiness of movement caused by wearing down of the
sapphire. Such dry compass card can be replaced with
a spare held on board.
• Wet compass compass can not be repaired on board. In
stead a spare wet compass bowl is carried on, where

18 Oct 08 34
The Binnacle
• The Purpose

• The Location

• The Construction

• The Fittings for Compass Swinging

• Fittings for Navigation

• Periscope arrangement for helmsman

• Care and Precautions

18 Oct 08 35
The binnacle

18 Oct 08 36
The binnacle
• The binnacle is a cylindrical container made
of teak wood and brass
• No magnetic materials are used in its
• Even the screws are of brass and the nails of
• The compass bowl is slung inside the top
portion of the binnacle.
• The middle portion is accessible by a door
and contains an electric bulb.
• Light from this bulb passes upwards through
a slot, through an orange coloured glass
fitted over the slot, through the bottom of the
compass bowl, to illuminate the compass card
from below.
• The orange color ensures that the night
vision of the observer is not adversely
18 Oct 08 affected. 37
The binnacle
• The intensity of illumination
is controlled by means of a
mechanical shutter, fitted
over the slot, which is
operated by a lever jutting
out of the after part of the
• Electrical dimmers are not
fitted because their
fluctuating magnetic fields
would interfere with the
accuracy of the compass.
18 Oct 08 38
Corrector magnets
• In the centre of the lower half of
the binnacle, there are a number
of horizontal holes, both fore & aft
and athwartships, for 'hard iron'
or 'permanent' corrector magnets
which are meant to offset
undesirable, disturbing, magnetic
effects caused by the ship's steel

• These holes are accessible by

means of doors in the binnacle.

• The number of corrector magnets,

and their distances from the
compass card, are decided by a
qualified 'compass adjuster'
during the 'compass adjustment'
of the ship.
18 Oct 08 39
Corrector magnets
• The lower two-thirds of the
binnacle has a vertical brass tube,
at-the centre, in which slides a
'bucket'. This bucket has some
magnets in it called 'heeling error
• The bucket is held in position by
a brass chain.
• The number and location of each
magnet in this bucket, and the
distance of the bucket from the
compass card, must not be altered
except during compass adjustment
by a qualified compass adjuster.
• The doors giving access to the
corrector magnets should always
remain locked and opened only
during compass adjustment.
18 Oct 08 40
Other Correctors • Flinders bar
– This is a soft iron
(diameter about
7.5to 10 cm)
inserted in a 60 cm
long brass case,
fitted vertically on
the forward or on
the after part of
the binnacle.
• Quadrantal
– These are two 'soft
iron' spheres
which are fitted in
brackets, one on
either side of the
18 Oct 08 41
The helmet
• The top of the binnacle is
provided with a large brass
Helmet helmet.
• This protects the compass
bowl from direct sunlight,
rain, spray, dew, frost, etc
during non-use.

18 Oct 08 42

18 Oct 08 43
The compass projector

• Most modern ships have only one magnetic compass which

serves as the standard and also as the steering compass. It
is of the 'ring magnet wet card type and is fitted on the
monkey island.
• A projector arrangement allows the relevant part of the
standard compass card and the lubber line to be seen by
the helmsman in the wheel house.
• The compass projector requires no special maintenance
except that the lenses and the mirror should be kept free of
dust, salt particles, etc.
• The top of the objective lens, where dust could settle, is
accessible for cleaning through a door in the binnacle.

18 Oct 08 44
The Advantages of the compass projector
• Being located on the monkey island, it is less affected by the
electromagnetic field of the bridge and therefore has better
directional properties.
• Off-site location of the compass saves bridge space.
• It also affords that all essential equipment and fittings needed
for steering are located exactly on the centre line of the ship.
• Since there is no magnetic compass in the wheelhouse,
restriction imposed by the norm of 3 meters 'safe compass
distance' while siting electro-magnetic units in the
• The cost of the compass projector is offset by the saving in
cost of additional steering compass and its binnacle in the
• The compass projector requires no special maintenance
except keeping the lenses and the mirror free of dust, salt
particles, etc.

18 Oct 08 45
Repeaters and Pelorus

• Gyro repeaters mounted on the bridge

wings are located in stands somewhat
similar to the binnacle. These instruments
display directional information on the
basis of electrical signals received from the
ship's master gyrocompass. Gyro
repeaters on the bridge wings are used in
taking bearings on objects outside the ship.
Movable sighting vanes on the face of the
gyro repeaters are aimed at the object in the
same manner in which rifle sights are lined
up. True bearings are read directly by
observing the degree on the compass card
with which the crossbar of the sighting vane
lines up. Relative bearings may be read
from an outer dumb compass ring on the
repeater stand.

18 Oct 08 46
General Points for Care & Maintenance of
• Access doors to corrector magnets always to be
locked and keys in safe custody.
• Varnish the wooden part of binnacle. Do not
paint them.
• Soft iron spheres & their brackets to be painted
to prevent rusting.
• Polish brass parts of binnacle regularly.
• Keep away all magnetic materials.
• Switch off binnacle light during daylight hours.
• Do not remove the brass helmet of the binnacle
to prevent damage due to salt, dust, spray, rains,
dew, frost and direct sun.
• Remove and store separately the azimuth mirror
when not in frequent use.
18 Oct 08 47
Removal of bubble

• A bubble may form in the bowl owing to the fact that some
of the liquid has somehow escaped from the bowl. This is a
rare occurrence and must be remedied by following the
manufacturer's instructions.
• In modern compass, the bowl is gently inverted and the
bubble enters the bubble trap. Gently upright the bowl.
• In other compasses:
– 1) Tilt the bowl until the 'filler hole‘ comes uppermost.
This hole is provided on the side of the bowl.
– 2) Unscrew the stud/screw provided.
– 3) Top up with ethyl alcohol. If this is not available,
distilled water would do.
– 4) Screw the stud back into place.
18 Oct 08 48
Magnetic Compass - Pluses & Minuses
• Little maintenance required
• No power source required
• Durability

• Does not seek True North
• Affected by surrounding materials
• Cannot be used near the poles
Other Effects on Magnetic Compass

• Local Magnetic Anomalies

• Suns Spot Activities
– Ultra Violet Rays – Short Phenomenon
– Charged Particles
• Of Longer Duration
• More Intense

18 Oct 08 50