02 November 2009

GEAR: compass for sea kayak

I often wondered what that recess in front of my bow hatch was.
Well, I have been told it was not designed for the snow dome that I mounted there :-)
OK, jokes apart I want to talk about sea kayak compasses.
I am not a big fan of GPS and while I know that are great in featureless coastal areas to pinpoint your position or when visibility is really low I prefer the old deck mounted compass.
I use a few different styles on my kayaks.
My Impex Currituck came with a Silva 70P mounted in the recess.
(For mounting instructions click here)
I think that compass is great: always there when needed and relatively out of the way.
I heard some kayakers with poor eyesight lament visibility issues since it's too far away from the cockpit.
In my case the Silva 70P is occasionally covered when I stow my sail on deck.
The mast base (red, in the above picture) is positioned in front of the compass and the folded sail covers the compass dial.
I have therefore started to use a different compass: the Suunto Pioneer.
While the rose is smaller and the cardinal points are not as bold, the casing allows me to mount the Suunto in alternative spots on the deck.
Suunto mounted on VCP hatch cover
The Suunto Orca comes with bungee cord style attachment, the Pioneer with a plastic base that can be hard mounted on the deck while allowing the compass to be removable.
I don't like the bungee style but I also don't like drilling any unnecessary holes in my deck.
On one kayak, the preferred position for the Suunto is the hatch cover.
Drilling holes in a rubber hatch cover could compromise waterproofness.
I therefore created a fibreglass base for the Suunto that would give me a flat surface for my mounting hardware.
using the existing holes in the rubber casing I threaded some cord to keep the Suunto in place on the fibreglass base plate
On the base I stuck some industrial strength touch tape (aka Velcro).
The self adhesive pads are water resistant and will stick to most surfaces like the proverbial sh*t to a blanket.
The Scotch branded touch tape is extremely tenacious and won't "fuzz up" after a while loosing it's holding power.
Scotch brand touch tape uses little interlocking "mushrooms" for its holding power even when wet
And while I like the holding power of the this touch tape I am not totally confident that a good knock won't dislodge the compass.
I tethered it with a small cord to one of the deck lines.
I also use a 3rd type of compass: the Silva 70UNE.
Basically the same as the 70P this compass is not designed for a recess in the deck (not all my kayaks have one).
Silva 70UNE on my SeaBird's deck, the "black tubes" are paddle parks
This Silva kayak is unique since it has a small light inside the rear handle that can be turned on for night navigation.
If you have ever tried to navigate in the dark you will understand that shining a flash light onto the compass to check your course is not the way to do it: you will loose your night vision.
The Silva 70UNE light is just strong enough to illuminate the compass' dial but not overpowering to kill your night vision.
On the other hand the Suunto can be adapted to night illumination by slipping a very small chemical light stick between the compass' base and its rose.
I purchase my light sticks from a fishing shop: they are designed to be used in conjunction with a fishing lure for night fishing.
prying the base open to slip in a mini light stick

And last but not least this little gem.
A "budget" compass that I picked up on a road trip to China.
To this day I still can't figure out to where it is pointing....
I guess the saying it's true: cheap, good: pick one :-)


  1. excellent. exactly the info i wanted. thanks.

  2. Excellent write up. You are however missing one more from that list. The Silva Adventure 58 Kayak like this http://www.aboveandbeyond.co.uk/.silva-compass-adventure-58-kayak_7318860151798.htm is what i have and find it does the job perfectly. Not as permanent as the 70UNE as it just clips round, but its never let me down yet! Cheers, J

    1. Joshua, thank you for your contribution. I am aware that there are several other compasses well suited for sea kayaking; I just mentioned the ones I use.

  3. Thank you very much for all that you do, truly appreciated, informative, and above all, entertaining :-)

  4. where did you get the paddle pocket / 70 UNE nylon assembly?

    1. the paddle pockets are a DIY set up that I have made: http://gnarlydognews.blogspot.com.au/2009/03/shop-sea-kayak-paddle-park.html


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