Is the Binnacle Compass Obsolete? - SailNet Community

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Old 03-31-2010
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Is the Binnacle Compass Obsolete?

No, really. I had either a major insight or a real case of heresy tonight, thinking about a chartplotter with radar overlay and saying to myself, gee, that's wasted at the nav station, that REALLY should be at the helm and daylight readable. (Ka-ching!)

I mean, binnacle compasses are great, reliable, don't really care what state your batteries and all are in, but if you're on the helm and threading an inlet or rockhopping, do you really give a damn about the COMPASS? Which could just as easily be located by the hatch, or repeated with big bright numbers on the mast? (Or displayed on the heretical fancy display, ahem.)

And I started thinking, gee, that binnacle compass really is in the wrong spot. What should be there is not some fancy pod, but a daylight readable display, or a repeater of one that's at the nav.

Has anyone given over to this kind of heresy? Does it seem, well, like maybe the time has come? (And if it has, suggestions for a good display system with repeater so the helm/nav can both have it?)
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Old 03-31-2010
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One thing I know for sure is that I will never own a boat that has no binnacle compass.

When I'm hand steering at the wheel, the compass is the best reference to holding any form of course.

When the chips are really down and you're into DR navigation (it can happen to anyone) you can't do without a compass. It doesn't help knowing where you were yesterday and how far you have come since and at what speed if you don't know your heading. Even getting a fix from CN depends on knowing more or less where you are. So if you can't get a decent position by DR you're pretty much screwed. So unless you want to spend every spare moment taking sights so that you can stay within reach of the last fix, you need a compass.

If you're on an ocean crossing and everything goes down and you have no compass, you can sail in the general direction of the nearest continent ussing the sky and provided you have enough food/water, you'll probably get to land eventually. But does anyone want that ball-ache?

Anyone who says they will never lose all their toys are kidding themselves. They can and it's not hard. As far as I'm concerned, a boat without a proper steering compass is like a pub with no booze.
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Old 03-31-2010
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the compass will never leave my helm no mater what goodies are in use ,ive had black outs on all electronics ,offshore ,in thick fog ,in major traffic lanes etc.also when at sea a plotter alot of times is fairly useless to new crew trying to steer a course
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Old 03-31-2010
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While the compass may be redundant in a world of electronic gizmos, it's a necessary redundancy.
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Old 03-31-2010
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HS,

While I agree with the others that I'd never be without the faithful Ritchie, I am not as dead set as others on it being mounted at the steering binnacle. Heck, that's not even an option on a tiller-steered boat.

The best compass arrangement I've experienced was on my brother's NY36, which had twin bulkhead mounted steering compasses, mounted port and starboard on the trailing end of the coachroof (forward end of the cockpit). This allowed the helmsman to sight straight up the compass while seated on the coaming and facing forward on either tack.

So, if you're like me and rarely steer from directly behind the helm, the binnacle-mount is less than ideal. If money were no object, I'd purchase and install two bulkhead-mounted compasses in lieu of the binnacle version.

Then again, for all the same reasons, I don't think I'd put my electronic nav equipment at the helm either. About the only time I steer from behind the helm is when motoring. And if you have autopilot, all the more reason to not put it all back there....
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Old 03-31-2010
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Garmin needs to read this thread. I had decided to install their Model 546 Chartplotter on my binnacle. Bought one, then found out there is a powerful magnet inside to keep the SD card door closed! They claim it can not be removed, which I expect is CYA baloney. So I returned it. A curious design decision from an otherwise great company. Their view is that a binnacle compass is unnecessary thanks to the miracle of modern electronics. I would like to take their designer for a little cruise with the compass removed on the Muscle Ridge Channel in Maine in July.

If you want to see this for yourself, go to WM, pick up a compass and carry it to the 546. Notwithstanding this rant, I still like the 546. Does anyone have experience getting the magnet out of it?
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Old 03-31-2010
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Aaaaand you have just been struck by lightning, everything electrical has just crapped out Oooor your batteries have just gone flat everything electrical has just crapped out Ooooor perhaps the main fuse has just blown and you know you have a spare somewhere but where but again everything electrical has crapped out.

What now skipper.

Remember it is not IF it is WHEN will your electrical gubbins fail.

You need a binnacle compass and a paper chart with a running plot on it.

OK maybe if you are on a small body of water and never out of sight of land then it is not important but if there is the remotest possiblity of being in a situation where you need to steer a course to safety then you need the above.

Just this year I heard a prolonged exchange between a San Juan coastguard and a sailboat coming from the north who had lost their GPS Plotter and had no idea where they were or what course to steer.

Last edited by TQA; 03-31-2010 at 09:21 AM. Reason: spelling
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Old 03-31-2010
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Well, some of us are presbyopic and couldn't READ a chartplotter if it was mounted up by the companionway, making a "helm" installation necessary if it is to be used in the cockpit at all. Steering from the high side makes that problematic but I wouldn't spring for two helms and dual displays.

All I'm hearing is that the compass is a really good thing. I KNOW that, the problem is that it is hogging valuable real estate. Like a stunning hottie sitting on the genoa winch, it may be nice to look at but do you really want it RIGHT THERE when it can so easily be moved someplace else? With no loss of function?

You ever drive a J/24 with a binnacle compass? Of course not, there's no binnacle. If the boat is overloaded there might be a compass next to the companionway--and it works perfectly well up there.

If I were spending all my time crossing trackless oceans and that was the main criteria...maybe. But it isn't, and I'd rather steer by a star or something "out of the boat" than keep watching something down by my navel.

Of course the electricals will all fail someday. So might the rigging. Meanwhile...someone get that blonde off the winch, or teach her how to trim the genoa!
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Old 03-31-2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hellosailor View Post
Well, some of us are presbyopic and couldn't READ a chartplotter if it was mounted up by the companionway, making a "helm" installation necessary if it is to be used in the cockpit at all. Steering from the high side makes that problematic but I wouldn't spring for two helms and dual displays.
Where there's a will there's a way....... Rube Goldberged as it may have been this is what I did on my previous C320 to take care of the problem.



On the C28 before that ..... no chart plotter but I rigged my little Garmin 48 on a smaller version of that swing arm for all around viewing.

Now on my NC without a binnacle I mounted the 'stand alone' chartplotter on a track with swivel to see it from either side. If I have to move inside I simply unplug it, bring it in to the inside station where I have another track and plug it in next to the Radar .... and another compass of course.




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Old 03-31-2010
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i have the same set up as pollard's brother on my tiller steered nimble 30 . i would never be without a compass.
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