How to Calibrate a Compass


Compasses were originally used by the ancient Chinese for feng shui purposes, but soon evolved into essential navigational tools. Initial designs were large and bulky, used primarily by mariners. The compass proved indispensable in finding a bearing or indicating a direction. Modern compasses are small, accessible and often digital; compasses are commonly found in personal electronic devices accessible to the layperson. The most important responsibility of a compass is orientation, making calibration vital to functionality.

Things You'll Need

  • Compass
  • Declination chart
  • Consult the corresponding user guide of a digital compass to activate the calibration mode. A wide array of compass makes and models exist; each has its own set of specifications for commencing the calibration process. Follow the instructions to activate the correct mode.

  • Hold the compass horizontal in the palm of your hand, with the face pointed toward the sky. Keep your hand and the compass perfectly parallel to the ground.

  • Make two complete revolutions with the compass in hand; taking care to keep the compass horizontal and parallel to the ground for the duration of both revolutions. Each revolution should last one minute. Tilting the compass during either of the revolutions might result in inaccurate calibration values.

  • Save this part of the calibration process, according to the user-guide instructions.

  • Record the degree value of the declination angle; this is the angle between true north and magnetic north. Declination-degree values vary depending on geographic location, and must be adjusted accordingly for maximum accuracy. Input your latitude and longitude into a declination chart to calculate the declination-degree value of your location.

  • Save this part of the calibration according to the user-guide instructions. Confirm that no error messages appear, that all bearings are accounted for and that the compass does not demand recalibration.

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