How to Use A Watch As A Compass: Life-Saving Tips


What if you are lost, or you need to find out directions, but you don’t have a compass? Luckily, you can use your watch to get the answer.

In this article, I will show you simple methods and steps on how to use a watch as a compass when you need one. I will keep things as simple as possible, so the guide is suitable for all and stays easier to memorize. After all, this is a serious topic.

Which hemisphere do you live in? Here’s how to find out.

To use a wristwatch as a compass, you need to know which hemisphere you live in. Four hemispheres divide the Earth. They are the Northern and Southern or Western and Eastern hemispheres. You can use these two methods to find out.

Using a North Star

This method is simple. I’ve been using it for a while. Look at the sky and see if the North Star is visible. If you can see it, you are in the Northern hemisphere. If you can’t see it, you are in the Southern hemisphere. The North Star is invisible from the Southern hemisphere.

Using moss

If you are in the wild, look at trees. Moss grows on the north side of the trees in the Northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, it grows on the south side. Moss grows on this side because it gets the least sun throughout the day.

Using an analog watch as a compass in the Northern hemisphere

Let’s start by using a wristwatch to find out where North is when you’re in Europe.

Keep in mind that the Northern hemisphere is that half of the planet from the equator and above. US, Canada, Europe, Asia, and half of Africa are part of the Northern part of the earth.

Because most of the world’s population lives here, it is normal that most of you will try to find the North using your timepiece in this hemisphere. Below are the steps you can follow.

  1. Remove the timepiece from your wrist to keep things easy.
  2. Place the watch on a flat surface. You will need the sun so you can use this method during the day only.
  3. Make sure the time on your timepiece is accurate. Rotate the watch on the surface until the hour hand points in the direction of the sun. You can turn your entire body instead if you are holding the watch.
  4. Find the midpoint between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock mark on the timepiece. The imaginary line pointing forward through this midpoint points South. The opposite side points to the North. The steps are the same without daylight saving and with it.

Here, there are a few more points you will need to know.

  1. To find the position of the sun on a cloudy day, look for shadows. Shadows always point in the opposite direction to the sun.
  2. Some watches are more complicated to utilize for this purpose. The ones with markers on each hour are much easier. You’ll need hour markers as reference points to help you find the North/South. A watch that has hours and minute markers is the easiest option. It can help you determine North with impressive precision.

Using an analog watch as a compass in the Southern hemisphere

If you are in Australia or New Zealand, the process is similar. You should follow this method instead. You still need to follow a few steps, but they are almost identical to the ones above.

  1. Remove the watch from your wrist. This step isn’t mandatory, but I recommend it.
  2. Hold it on a flat surface. If the watch is without daylight saving, point the 12 o’clock mark on the watch face towards the sun. If it has daylight saving, you should instead point the 1 o’clock mark on the watch face in the direction of the sun.
  3. Find the midpoint between the hour hand and 12 o’clock or 1 o’clock mark on the watch.
  4. The imaginary line pointing forward through this midpoint points North. The opposite side of the imaginable line points to the South.

This method will work regardless of where you are while in the south. If your watch loses time, you will get the wrong direction and make a wrong turn. Keep in mind that quartz watches are far more accurate than mechanical watches.

How to use a compass bezel on a digital watch

If you have a watch with a compass bezel, determining the North is easy. The process is easy with an analog watch, but if you can use a digital watch.

The only difference is to determine where the watch hands are. You can complete this process mentally, using two sticks or a pen and paper.  Also, set up your watch, so it doesn’t show time in daylight saving. Back it up by one hour.

Northern hemisphere

  1. Remove the watch from your hand and hold it parallel to the ground.
  2. Point the hour hand towards the sun. If you have a digital watch without the watch hands, build a watch face. Use sticks according to the time watch displays.
  3. Rotate the S mark on the compass midway between the hour hand and 12 o’clock marking.
  4. Now, you can use the S, N, W, and E markings to tell directions. They point to the corresponding direction.

Southern hemisphere

  1. Place the watch on a flat surface.
  2. Make sure the 12 o’clock mark is pointing towards the sun in the sky. Use some sticks on the ground or a pen and paper to build your watch face.
  3. Point the N marking on the bezel midway between the 12 o’clock marking and hour hand.
  4. Read the markings on the watch bezel to tell the directions.

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How to use a watch compass: Beginners guide

Final Thoughts

Now you can find the right direction regardless of where you are in the world. These are all the tips and tricks you need to know. You can use them on any watch you have. Using an analog watch with or without a compass bezel is the simplest method.

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