Outfitting Your Sea Kayak - Compass Tip

by Charles Underwood
From the June 1999 WrapAround

Here’s the problem:

Its launch time on the second leg of a 6-day paddle, and you’re stalled in thick New England fog. Your outfitter, the firm of Dowe-Cheatya-Andhow, lies ahead, across 5 miles of open water - with the necessary permits and re-supplies - and will gladly charge the customary dollar per minute for delivery delays.

compass3.gif (310615 bytes) compass2.gif (264488 bytes)

Relying on a handheld compass and luck, you obtain an azimuth. Visibility is about 75 feet; waves small as you start your tack. Tense, really doesn’t come near describing your erratic paddling as you juggle the compass between strokes for a second reading, then third and fourth… Shortly, your partner can’t help but notice the ‘zigzag’ course and tosses out a few choice expletives that would make a sailor proud. Zigzag is an understatement, you think. You would panic but you’re distracted by the fact that every time you attempt to re-confirm your azimuth, Mother Nature splashes a ton of water against your face.

Most of the morning’s bedlam could have been avoided if you had mounted a compass on your boat, (but you didn’t want to drill holes in your kayak, you say !)

Whether one paddles lakes or coastal regions, a mere few moments in the fog or at night, will convince the staunchest disbeliever of the necessity of a compass. For about $55, and a few minutes work, a compass can be mounted - no drilling required.

I recently discovered that many mid-touring Kayaks come with the standard 5 inch Forward Deck Plate commonly known as the "wallet storage pouch," and patented by Beckson Marine, Inc. Bridgeport CT, 203-333-1412. (Manufactures like Dagger, Necky, Wilderness Systems, Valley, Kiwi and We-no-nah, are just a few examples).

Further, most locate the deck plate amidships toward the bow. In these models the deck plate is an ideal spot to mount a compass. In fact, the turning knob holes correspond with compass mounting holes which solves the need to drill! Of course, a deck plate mount permits portability at the twist of a turn (when you remove the underside line). So simple is this whole idea, that the week after mounting my compass Beckson’s technical department expressed quite an interest quizzing me about my this new contrivance.

To begin: Unscrew the deck plate on your boat and detach the retainer line. Now with deck plate in hand, go to a Marine store and buy a good compass. One reliable suggestion, is the "Kayaker" Model S-59W, with its 2 1/4 inch high visibility dial (lubber line and moveable bezel) from Richie Navigation, Pembroke, Ma. 781-826-5131, that sells in the neighborhood of $55. It fits over pre-drill holes on the 5 inch deck plate. To install, first try a dry mount of compass to plate to ensure that lubber line faces aft when the deck plate is twisted into position on the boat. This is accomplished by trial and error. After confirmation, use epoxy on the rubber gasket for a permanent job. Next, secure the compass to the plate from the underside using 2 one inch #6 metal screws with round cap nuts. These are available a hardware store. They should be nonferrous metal such as brass or bronze. Although harder to obtain, bronze is stronger and will not corrode in salt water. Stainless Steel contains iron (ferrous) and will affect a compass.

compass1.gif (14789 bytes)Position the dial towards the aft.

Line up on pre-drill holes, use 2 # 6 brass or bronze screws and cap nuts for smooth underside.

A second plate permits a nice interchange and adds an element of security. For a short day paddle leave on the normal deck plate. For longer trips switch to the compass-mounted plate. Call Matt at Beckson to order an extra plastic deck plate for $10, half of what Kayak manufactures charge. Remember to discard the deck housing that comes with it).

Copyright 1999, Charles Underwood. All rights reserved.