If you are interested in maritime navigation, then chances are you have heard the term ‘boxing the compass.’ But what does it mean?
Boxing the compass was a navigational practice used by traditional mariners to travel at sea, which used all 32 points of the compass.
Nowadays, navigators use 360° angles to chart their course. However, there are still some sailors who are able to recite every point on the compass from memory, which harkens back to the olden days of seafaring.
So if you want to learn more about boxing the compass, then you have come to the right place. In this article, we will take a look at what boxing the compass means and how it can still be used in modern travel.
We will also examine the mathematics of navigation and why boxing the compass is still considered an important practice in academies across the world.
How Do Compass Points Work?
Before we can teach you what boxing the compass means, you must first understand how compasses work.
While many people assume that compasses merely point us in the right direction, this is only a brief summary of the device and its capabilities.
In fact, most compasses come with their own form of math, which can be used during maritime navigation.
In most cases, a standard 360° marine compass will have 32 points, which means the angular range of a single compass point equals 360°/32 = 11.25°.
For this reason, there is 11.25° between each point of the compass. Now that you understand the mathematics of using a compass, it’s time to take a closer look at what boxing the compass actually means.
What Is Boxing The Compass?
Boxing the compass refers to the naming of all 32 points on the marine compass from due north in a clockwise direction.
During the golden age of seafaring, boxing the compass meant that sailors had to name all 128 points on the marine compass, which also included fractional points.
However, the practice has since been limited to 32 points, as this made the recital much easier.
In some marine academies today, boxing the compass is still taught as an important skill for novice sailors, as it shows respect for traditional seafaring methods.
But how do you box the compass? And what are the different compass points called? We have answered these questions and more in the section below…
How To Box The Compass?
A standard marine compass includes 32 points, which are collected into the divisions set out below:
- Cardinal points
- Inter-cardinal points
- Half points
- Quarter (By) points
Now let’s take a look at the different points that fall under these categories and their various meanings.
These points are considered the most well-known, as they represent the four core directions of the marine compass:
- N – North
- E – East
- S – South
- W – West
Cardinal points are located at right angles on compasses and remain the most familiar points for general navigation.
The cardinal points and the intercardinal points come together to form the 8 principal points of the compass, which are commonly used around the world. The intercardinal points include the following 4 directions:
- NE – Northeast
- SE – Southeast
- SW – Southwest
- NW – Northwest
Intercardinal points are located between the cardinal directions, where they cut through the compass at bisecting angles.
Half points can be obtained by cutting the angles of the 8 principal directions in half. They are lesser-known than their often-used counterparts and play an important role in maritime navigation:
- NNE – North-northeast
- ENE – Easy-northeast
- ESE – East-southeast
- SSE – South-southeast
- SSW – South-southwest
- WSW – West-southwest
- WNW – West-northwest
- NNW – North-northwest
You can obtain a further 16 points by cutting the angles between the 16 points above in half. These points are called quarter points, however, they are also known as by points. If you want to learn more about these directions, you will find additional information in the bullet points below:
- First quadrant – NxE (north by east), NExN (northeast by north), NExE (northeast by east), and ExN (east by north)
- Second quadrant – ExS (east by south), SExE (southeast by east), SExS (southeast by south), and SxE (south by east)
- Third quadrant – SxW (south by west), SWxS (southwest by south), SWxW (southwest by west), and WxS (west by south)
- Fourth quadrant – WxN (west by north), NWxW (northwest by west), NWxN (northwest by north), and NxW (north by west)
The 32 Points Of The Compass
There are 32-points on the marine compass, which are comprised of 8 principal points, 8 half points, and 16 quarter points.
Each point is at an 11.25° angle from the next angle and can be used as a means of navigation while traveling at sea.
If you want to try your hand at boxing the compass, we have provided this detailed guide to the different points, which includes their names, symbols, and degrees. The points are also in the correct order:
|North by East||N by E||11.25|
|Northeast by North||NE by N||33.75|
|Northeast by East||NE by E||56.25|
|East by North||E by N||78.75|
|East by South||E by S||101.25|
|Southeast by East||SE by E||123.75|
|Southeast by South||SE by S||146.25|
|South by East||S by E||168.75|
|South by West||S by W||191.25|
|Southwest by South||SW by S||213.75|
|Southwest by West||SE by W||236.25|
|West by South||W by S||258.75|
|West by North||W by N||281.25|
|Northwest by West||NW by W||303.75|
|Northwest by North||NW by N||326.25|
|North by West||N by W||348.75|
For example, 292.5 degrees on a compass is West Northwest and marked with 3 letters WNW.
How Do You Convert Degrees To One Of The 32 Points Of A Compass?
As I mentioned above, each compass point is at an 11.25° angle. So you can just divide degrees by 11.25 and count compass points from the North bearing. N, N by E, NNE, NE by N, NE, NE by E, ENE, E by N, E, E by S, ESE, SE by E, SE, SE by S, SSE, S by E, S, S by W, SSW, SW by S, SW, SE by W, WSW, W by S, W, W by N, WNW, NW by W, NW, NW by N, NNW, N by W.
Remembering all 32 compass points or counting them may lead to a mistake, so it is preferable to understand the logic of compass points and make conversation from 4 cardinal points (N, E, S, and W), 8 intercardinal points (N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, and NW) or 16 Quarter points.
Here is a complete table of 32 compass points that will ease conversation from degrees to any of the 32 points of a compass.
|Degrees||Divided by 11,25||Direction||Symbol|
|11.25||1||North by East||N by E|
|33.75||3||Northeast by North||NE by N|
|56.25||5||Northeast by East||NE by E|
|78.75||7||East by North||E by N|
|101.25||9||East by South||E by S|
|123.75||11||Southeast by East||SE by E|
|146.25||13||Southeast by South||SE by S|
|168.75||15||South by East||S by E|
|191.25||17||South by West||S by W|
|213.75||19||Southwest by South||SW by S|
|236.25||21||Southwest by West||SE by W|
|258.75||23||West by South||W by S|
|281.25||25||West by North||W by N|
|303.75||27||Northwest by West||NW by W|
|326.25||29||Northwest by North||NW by N|
|348.75||31||North by West||N by W|
Traditional Mediterranean and Chinese Compass Points
In addition to the compass points discussed earlier, there are other traditional compass systems that have been used throughout history in different parts of the world. Two of these systems are the Traditional Mediterranean compass points and the Chinese compass points. Understanding these ancient navigation methods provides insight into the diverse approaches to maritime navigation that existed before the modern compass became widely adopted.
Traditional Mediterranean Compass Points
In the Mediterranean region, a compass rose known as the “Wind Rose” was used for navigation. The ancient Greeks and Romans used a system based on 12 wind deities known as Anemoi in Greek mythology. These winds were used to represent the cardinal and intercardinal points of the compass. The primary winds included:
- Boreas (N) – North
- Eurus (NE) – Northeast
- Apeliotes (E) – East
- Notus (S) – South
- Zephyrus (W) – West
- Skiron (NW) – Northwest
- Kaikias (NE) – Northeast
- Lips (SW) – Southwest
Each of these primary winds was associated with a specific direction, and the compass rose was designed accordingly. It is worth noting that this system evolved over time, and various cultures in the Mediterranean adopted their own variations.
Chinese Compass Points
The invention of the compass is attributed to ancient China, where it was initially used for geomancy and divination purposes. The Chinese compass, also known as the “luopan,” has a unique design and features the Chinese characters for the cardinal directions: North (北), South (南), East (东), and West (西). The Chinese compass was not only used for navigation but also played a significant role in Chinese philosophy, especially in the practice of feng shui.
In Chinese compass points, there are 24 primary divisions, each representing 15 degrees. These are further divided into 72 divisions, each representing 5 degrees. Some of the primary divisions include:
- Due North (0°)
- East-Northeast (45°)
- Due East (90°)
- East-Southeast (135°)
- Due South (180°)
- West-Southwest (225°)
- Due West (270°)
- West-Northwest (315°)
It is important to note that the Chinese compass also incorporates elements from Chinese cosmology, such as the Five Elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water) and the Eight Trigrams (Bagua).
Understanding the Traditional Mediterranean and Chinese compass points sheds light on the diverse navigation methods used throughout history. While modern compasses have largely replaced these ancient systems, it is essential to recognize and appreciate the knowledge and traditions that have contributed to our current understanding of maritime navigation.
While boxing the compass remains a common practice among some sailors, it is not as widely accepted as it once was.
Nowadays, mariners use machines and equipment to determine their location, which means the need for compasses is starting to dwindle.
And while it is easier to use our advancements in technology, we should also not forget the methods used by our seafaring descendants.
We can only hope that boxing the compass remains a maritime tradition, even in a world where knowing such information is no longer needed