Last Updated on September 13, 2017
A compass is an essential orienting tool that helps us understand the position we are in. However, during a trip to the mountains, for example, it can easily happen to find ourselves lost and without a compass at hand.
In the technological world we live in, this wouldn’t even be a problem if we could rely on the use of our mobile’s GPS to get out of the situation. The only problem is that in the most remote areas mobile operators rarely provide coverage, therefore relying on technology is not always the best solution.
On the other hand, the phone’s battery can easily drain out and you might just find yourself in the middle of nowhere, having to use the traditional methods to survive.
For this reason, it is essential to learn how to use the cardinal points for guidance, and it is even more important to learn how to find North and South without a compass.
Fortunately, a simple analog watch can help you find true North, or South as a matter of fact, in just a few moments. Thanks to this convenient and efficient method, you will be able to find your direction without hassle, therefore this certainly is an important survival skill you should know.
How to Use an Analog Watch as a Compass in The Northern Hemisphere?
There are two methods you can use to determine the cardinal points and the direction. Pick your favorite and learn it before heading on your next adventure. And just as a note, if you don’t have an analog watch, you can still use a digital watch as a compass by simply estimating the position of the hour hand and markings on the dial.
Both methods require:
- An analog watch
- Basic mathematics knowledge
- The determination of the position of the sun
- Read the time in the standard military time (24-hours format).
- Divide by two the hours marked by your watch. For example, if the time is 8 o’clock in the morning, you get number 4; if it’s 8 in the evening, the hour that corresponds to 20 in the standard military time, you get number 10.
- Draw an imaginary line corresponding to the hour you got from the previous calculation, just like an imaginary hand of the watch is indicating that hour, for instance, 4 or 10 o’clock according to our example.
- Holding the watch in the palm of your hand and parallel to the ground, point the imaginary line in the direction of the sun, to the point of the horizon where the sun projects its light vertically.
- With the watch in this position, the 12 o’clock marking of your watch will point North, therefore 6 will correspond to the South, while 3 and 9 will correspond to East and respectively West.
This method is probably the simplest to remember and easiest to use, but you will have to remember to subtract an hour during the Daylight Saving Time if you want to make an accurate determination.
- Read the current time, remembering to subtract one hour during Daylight Saving Time period.
- Holding the watch in the palm of your hand, horizontally and parallel to the ground, point the hour hand to the point of the horizon where the sun projects its light vertically. If you are unsure where this point is, place a straight stick above the center of the watch to create a shadow and align the hour hand to the shadow, pointing towards the sun.
- Bisect the angle between 12 o’clock and the hour hand. The imaginary bisector line will point towards South, therefore North is in the opposite direction.
The angle between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock should be measured clockwise before noon and counterclockwise in the afternoon.
Of course, if you are in the Southern Hemisphere, you will have to adopt a different approach.
How to Use an Analog Watch as a Compass in The Southern Hemisphere?
The sun has a different orientation in the two hemispheres, and for this reason, you will not be able to use the same method everywhere in the world. But don’t worry, there is only one essential difference you will have to take into account.
The difference is that in the Southern Hemisphere you will have to use the 12 o’clock marking to point in the direction of the sun instead of the hour hand. Therefore:
- Point the 12 o’clock hour marking towards the sun. If you have problems in finding the exact position of the sun, you can use the same trick of the shadow described previously.
- Just as if you were in the Northern Hemisphere, bisect the angle between 12 o’clock and the hour hand. This imaginary line indicates North, therefore the opposite direction indicates South.
This method also requires you to subtract an hour when your watch is set to the Daylight Saving Time period, and in this case, you can use the 1 o’clock marking instead of 12 o’clock.
How to Determine in Which Hemisphere You Are in?
It might seem odd having to determine the hemisphere you’re in, but in some cases, it is impossible to know the geographic location in which one is lost. The simplest way to determine the hemisphere is with a map.
Nevertheless, in extreme survival situations, for instance, if your boat is lost in the middle of the ocean, a map is not always useful.
The easy way to determine the hemisphere is by trying to find the North Star, officially named Polaris, on the sky.
To find Polaris, the first step is to find Ursa Major constellation. This constellation is one of the most popular and it is more commonly known under the name the Big Dipper. Once you found it, draw an imaginary line between the two front stars of the constellation and continue it upwards to the next bright star. This star is Polaris.
To check if you found the right star, remember that Polaris is part of the Ursa Minor or Little Dipper and it is the last of the three stars that form the tail (or handle) of the constellation. Ursa Minor and subsequently Polaris are visible in the Northern Hemisphere all year long but they are not visible from the Southern Hemisphere. Therefore, if you can find Polaris you are in the Northern Hemisphere.
As a consequence, you are in the Southern Hemisphere if you are unable to see Ursa Minor constellation. In fact, you will probably not be able to see Ursa Major either, as it is only partially visible.
Nevertheless, if you are looking for a confirmation, you can try to find the Southern Cross constellation instead. Present on the flags of New Zealand and Australia, this constellation indicates the Southern Celestial Pole and it is visible in the Southern Hemisphere all year round.
However, unlike the Ursa Minor, the Southern Cross is also visible from the Northern Hemisphere for a few months a year, therefore always try to find Polaris first and use the Southern Cross constellation only as confirmation.
How Accurate Is This Method?
Although using an analog watch as a compass will give you a good understanding of the directions, the method is not entirely accurate.
The reason is simple. The day is made of 24 hours, time in which the sun moves on the horizon. However, the dial of a watch has only 12-hours marks instead of 24, therefore the hour hand must make two full quadrant turns in the time in which the sun completes an entire circle. This causes the alteration of the measurement when the cosmic horizon and cosmic equator are not the same.
The equator and the horizon only coincide at the Poles of the Earth, therefore it is easy to understand that in all the other points the direction indicated by your watch will be slightly different than the real North or South.
Correcting this error is possible but it is rather complicated and in most of the cases, especially when you’re struggling to arrive at a source of water, it’s just not worth it. If you really want to try to find the real North, you will need to know the co-latitude of the place where you are.
In the Northern Hemisphere, after finding North as described in the second method, turn the watch so that the 12 o’clock mark is pointing towards it. Draw a virtual line between the hours three and nine and use this line to lower the 12 o’clock mark to the co-latitude of the place.
Now, rotate the 3-9 line on a horizontal plane, pointing it in the direction of the sun. The 12 o’clock mark will now point towards the real geographic North.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the method is the same but remember to use the hour hand as an indicator instead of 12 o’clock marking.
Whether you wish to correct the orienting error or not, remember that knowing how to use an analog watch as a compass can certainly save your life.