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|
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
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