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Using a Compass

I am certain that you know that the needle of a compass has the habit of swinging round until it points in one definite direction.

If you followed the direction indicated by one end of the needle you would come out at a spot north of Canada, about 1400 miles from the North Pole. The reason for this is that at this spot there is a powerful magnetic force. It is this force which attracts the north point of the needle and make it point to "Magnetic North".

North is only one of the compass points. Every sailor knows the other points of the compass by heart, and so should a Scout. I have talked about north, but that is only because we usually think of north as a starting point. That is just for convenience-we could just as well use south.

Using a Compass

Explorers seldom refer to compass points. They use compass degrees instead because they are more exact.

When you look at the compass chart you will notice that it is marked not only with the points, but also with figures running clock-wise from 0 at the north point round to north again which also has the figure 360. So any point can be given either as a compass name or as a degree number. Thus, east is 90 degrees, south is 180, west is 270, and so on. Instead of saying S.E. we can say 135 degrees.

How a Compass Helped My Career

Knowing the right way to use a compass helped to give me a good start in my army career.

It was this way.

With a number of other young officers I was being tested in surveying. We had to take a reading with our compass to a certain spot, and from there to another point, and from there to a third point. If one did it correctly, this last reading should land us exactly at the spot whence we started.

Compass work means extreme care to take an accurate reading.

Compass work means extreme care to take an accurate reading.

But it means extreme care to take an accurate reading. If you misread your compass by not much more than a hair's breadth you would fail. Only one of our party had been exact enough to succeed, and who do you think that was?

Little me!

As a result of this and a few good marks in other subjects, I got promoted with extra pay, with which I was able to buy the best horse I ever had.


Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell (Chief Scout, London, UK)

Date of Creation


Learn A Continuation:

to the next page: Finding the North without a Compass

Back in The Past:

to the previous page: Finding the Way

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