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A Complete Guide To The Nautical Compass

At the time of its conception, the compass revolutionized navigation as we knew it. A compassí reliability made it a constant companion of choice for ships and travelers alike. While the compass has since been overshadowed by GPS, compasses offer a decorative and functional ensemble.†

The compass is a marvelous implement that revolutionized navigation methods in its time. A must-have on any journey, a compass was the mainstay of travelers on foot and on sea. GPS has since taken the compassí place as the most-used navigational tool, but the compass remains as an attractive and wholly functional item.†
A single nautical compass has a dozen different functionalities and attributes. Providing latitude with the aid of a sextant as well as calculating heading and longitude are among a few of the ways a nautical compass can be used. A nautical compass is not only built to last with salt and rust resistant metal, but is highly functional.†
Ancient China around 240 B.C. claims the privilege of being the birthplace of the compass. The compass went through three major changes; from water-based, to dry-based, to the liquid magnetic base of modern day. This technology was adapted for sea voyages, and was spread through the use of the Silk Road. The Olmec cultures of South America have been discovered to have once used magnetic lodestones, which would make the lodestones the very first compass. A land based compass retains half of the endurance and longevity a nautical compass has.†
While on journeys as distantly westward as to the African coast, nautical compasses were used, but were frequently thrown off or broken. These compasses used magnetic lodestone needles and water as a medium agent. Nautical compasses, like most seafaring instruments, would become most popular in Europe during the early 1300ís. A sure fire way to discover if a nautical compass is genuine is to look for names engraved on the inside shell or on the back, as navigators would have these carved in to remind them of home on a long voyage.†
Though today stainless steel is considered the standard for nautical compass material, bronze was the old world standard, and brass compasses are most often seen in beach decor. Steel is an altogether cold metal, and bronze nautical compasses carry a warmer shine that many find appealing. The ship captainís compass of choice was a dry compass, a remarkable item suspended in a clear glass orb by a ring called a gimbal. A dry compass outstrips both its water and liquid cousins in the aesthetics department- being both elegant and shapely. As dry compasses require a stand to set them on, one can also take customization of aesthetics further.†
Nautical compasses of today are usually set by the helm for easy accessibility. Nautical compasses are a definite must have in case the GPS system on a modern ship fails. Many people underestimate the power of the compass itself, but when used alongside a sextant, the compassí capabilities truly shine. Though hardly ever thrown off, compasses can be confused by magnetic anomalies, but these are extremely rare on the open seas as compared to land. The nautical compass was created knowing the harshness of the open ocean, and as such maintains high dependability.†
Very little cleaning or oiling is required of a nautical compass, and they maintain themselves well. Dusting or polishing as desired is optimal. Silver is a special exception to this clause, as silver or silver plated compasses require to be buffed annually.†

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George is an avid collector and connoisseur of all things nautical- nautical decor, model boats, historical artifacts, etc. He has written articles for several large manufacturers and retailers of model ships, and he is a master ship builder himself. He brings a unique perspective from both the retail and the consumer side of the nautical decorating and model boat building markets.

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