13 Different Types of Compasses

When the compass was invented? How does the compass work? What are the different types of compasses in this modern world?
13 Different Types of Compasses

Many things have changed and converted with the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. These changes led to the speedy development of industries and exploration across the globe. Different types of compasses were invented to improve trade and commerce with other nations and establish new trade routes. These compasses have different compass parts for the ease of voyagers and explorers. Let us look at them in detail.

History of Compass

According to researchers, a person named Pincus the Elder wrote about a shepherd named Magnes. He mentioned that the shepherd told everyone about how the nails of his shoes and the iron point of his staff clung to the rocks of Mount Ida. However, people were unable to figure out the reason at that time, but in actuality, the rocks of Mount Ida were rich in magnetite so, iron was attracted to them. Must read what is an oil change?

The magnetic compass was invented in China during Han Dynasty which was called South Pointing Fish. Although being invented, the Chinese did not use it for navigation purposes at first, but for fortune-telling and geomancy. (Also read Why Facebook is banned in China?)

Parts and Working of a Compass

Parts and Working of a Compass | 13 Different Types of Compasses

A simple compass consists of a magnetic needle that always points towards the north. This needle is free to spin and points towards the north because it lines with the lines of magnetic force of the Earth. The compass card inside the device is usually marked with directions. With advanced improvements and changes in the past, the needle was fixed into a dial and placed in a liquid-filled capsule. The working mechanism varies between the different types of compasses. (Also read Who Named Our Planet Earth?)

Earth’s magnetic poles are not the same as the geographical North and South pole. A compass always points towards a magnetic North pole. A person using the compass has to make the necessary adjustment to locate the true north. The magnetic poles are nearby but not in the exact location as the geographic poles. 

So, now read on to know the 13 different types of compasses.

1. Lodestone Compass

Lodestone Compass

The Chinese discovered that a lodestone will always point in the same direction if hung loose. These were the first compass, and later, a magnetized steel needle was used instead of a lodestone. The compass was used for navigation on land and water in the 11th century. (See What Is The Space Needle?)

2. Naval Compass

Naval Compass

The Chinese developed the Naval compass after the Lodestone one. It was just a magnetic needle floating in a bowl filled with water. The magnetized needle was not fixed to anything so that it could freely move and rotate to stay in a horizontal position for navigation in the sea. Between the 12th and 13th centuries, compasses were available in both floating and dry forms for the ease of sailors. (Also read What is a Steamboat?)

3. Magnetic Compass

Magnetic Compass

Among different types of compasses, the magnetic compass is well-known. A magnetic compass has a magnetic needle or card which points toward the Earth’s magnetic poles. The card aligns with the magnetic lines of the magnetic field of Earth. (See What are the Names of Coldest Places on Earth?)

4. Gyrocompass


A gyrocompass consists of a rapidly spinning wheel. The rotation of the wheel interacts with the rotation of the Earth. This process continues unless its rotational axis is parallel with the Earth. During this state, it points towards the Earth’s poles. It uses a special device known as a gyroscope, which always points in the same direction. (Also read How Do Roller Coasters Work?)

5. Card Compass

Card Compass

A card compass or a marine compass consists of a fixed needle. A card is placed in the fluid and rotates according to its orientation. This compass is used on boats as the moving card absorbs the motions caused by the moving boat and gives accurate results. It is more reliable than a needle compass. (See Where does Sea Glass come from?)

6. Liquid Compass

Liquid Compass

Liquid compasses also have a magnetized needle or a card placed on a pivot in a liquid-filled bowl. (Also read Why Ice floats on Water?)

7. Prismatic Compass

Prismatic Compass

A Prismatic compass (Lensatic compass) has a lid with a hairline and a lens or a glass prism. There is a compass card too at the base, and when it stops, the reading is available at the lens. These compasses use electromagnetic induction or liquid dampening mechanism. Some compasses have writings made with a combination of tritium and phosphorus that makes them glow in the dark. (Also read Why Do Rainbows Form?)

8. Orienteering Compass

Orienteering Compass

Among different types of compasses, an orienteering compass (baseplate compass) is a rectangular base compass made of transparent plastic with drawing lines to enable easy readability. This is also a liquid-filled compass with a magnifying lens for reading the map. Most commonly, this compass can be used for plotting. (Also read How Does A Magnifying Glass Work?)

9. Solid-State Compass

Solid-state Compass

Solid-state compasses are used in electric devices and have two to three magnetic field sensors. They are commonly in clocks, tablets, and mobile phones. (Also read Why smartphones are so popular?)

10. GPS Compass

GPS Compass

GPS (Global Positioning System) compass can use satellites in geosynchronous orbits over the Earth to locate directions and paths. It also enables us to locate the person’s exact location and position. For example, we track our Uber driver’s location with this type of compass. (Also read Why is Lyft cheaper than Uber?)

11. Thumb Compass

Thumb Compass

The thumb compass is a smaller version of a baseplate compass fixed on a thumb. (Also read What makes left handed people different?)

12. Qibla Compass

Qibla Compass

The people of the Muslim community use the qibla compass to get the exact direction of Mecca so that they can face in that direction while praying. (Also read What does Islam say about astrology?)

13. Astrocompass


Astrocompass uses the positions of various astronomical bodies as suggested by its name. The current time and geographical position are used in the form of longitude and latitude. By using this positioning, it shows the true north. And in the polar region, it is considered more reliable than a magnetic compass or gyrocompass. (Also read 18 Fun Facts About Space)

So different types of compasses are used for various benefits and are fixed on various devices. Share your interesting stories about using the compass and which compass you have not tried out yet from this list! (Also read How Does an X ray Machine Work?)

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