How to Use a Watch as a Compass

How to Use a Watch as a Compass

The world of today has become heavily reliant on GPS technology and map applications on our phones.

Sometimes, however, we find ourselves in situations where we can’t charge our phone in the wild. Traditional technology could suffer any number of setbacks while we are out hiking or camping. What if something happens and you need to bug out?

When all else fails, what would you do to find your way back to safety? Would you know how to navigate yourself back home through the wilderness?

In this article, we’re going to be showing you a really useful way of using an analog watch as a compass and determining direction – wherever you are.

Here are some other great tips on telling direction if your analog watch is broken or forgotten.

Use a Watch as a Compass in the Northern Hemisphere

This amazing technique for finding directions can be used anywhere above the equator line. We’ll explain in the section below how to use the same method in the Southern Hemisphere, so skip ahead if you need to.

First things first, this only works with an analog clock that has hands for the hour and minute and is set to the correct time. It’s also best done between the hours of 6AM and 6PM (or whenever there is natural sunlight). Let’s get started.

  1. Take off your watch and hold it flat in the palm of your hand. It’s important to hold it exactly horizontally and have the face of the watch pointing upwards.
  2. Next, you want to make sure the hour hand is facing the sun exactly. The hour hand is the smaller one. You can turn the watch in your hand or turn your whole body. Either way, make sure you get it as accurate as possible.
  3. This is where it gets interesting. Keeping the hour hand faced toward the sun, find the midway point between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock mark on your watch. The point directly between 12 o’clock and the hour hand will be South.
  4. Simply use this information to figure out the other directions. North will be directly opposite. E.G. If you find South to be located at 2 o’clock, then North will be directly opposite at 8 o’clock.

This is a really simple and quick way to effectively determine a direction and, hopefully, this will be something that can assist you in navigating if you ever find yourself in a sticky situation.

In this next section, we’re going to be tackling how to use the same technique when you’re not in the Northern Hemisphere.

Use a Watch as a Compass in the Southern Hemisphere

If you’re below the equator line (in the Southern Hemisphere) the technique outlined in the section above won’t work for you. Follow these simple directions to find out how you can achieve the same results.

  1. Same as in the first step of the Northern hemisphere section, take off your watch and hold it in the palm of your hand in an area where there is plenty of sunlight and you have a clear view of the sun.
  2. In this next step, instead of lining up the hour hand with the sun (like you would in the Northern hemisphere), you have to make sure that the 12 o’clock mark points towards it. This is due to the position of the sun on each side of the equator.
  3. Next, keeping the 12 o’clock mark in line with the sun, find the midway point between it and the hour hand. Once you’ve found the exact bisection of these two points, you’ll now know which way North is!
  4. Use this information to figure out any other directions you need. If the middle point (facing North) lines up at the 3 o’clock mark, then you know that 9 o’clock on the opposite side of the watch face points towards South.

As you can see, the same basic principles apply in the Southern hemisphere as in the Northern hemisphere. It’s just a case of reversing the points you use to discover directions. But what about if you don’t know what hemisphere you’re in? We’ll cover you to solve this problem (and other) in the next section.

Tips & Tricks

As jaw-dropping as this technique might seem, it’s actually a fairly simple method of determining direction. For some people, though, it can be a tough trick to learn – that’s why this section is all about the tips and tricks you can use to get this done easier.

Lost / Adrift

One of the first things that people mention – when they’re told about this technique – is ‘what about if you don’t know what hemisphere you’re in?’ It’s a valid point, especially if someone is truly lost or adrift at sea.

Thankfully, explorers before us have been kind enough to map out the stars and we can use this to determine which hemisphere we’re in. By searching the skies for Polaris – otherwise known as the North Star – you can discover what part of the world you’re in.

Polaris Star

You see, Polaris is only visible if you’re in the Northern hemisphere. Even if you’re only just below the equator, you wouldn’t be able to see Polaris. Using this information, you can easily find out what hemisphere you’re currently in.

If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, here are a few tips:

  • Polaris is located at the very end of the tail of the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor), a star constellation which looks like a small ladle. If you can find this, then all you have to do is follow the ‘handle’ to the very end and you should be able to see the North Star. It’s the last star on the end of the Little Dipper.
  • If you’re having trouble finding the Little Dipper, look for its larger counterpart – the Big Dipper (Ursa Major). This is a star constellation in a similar shape to the Little Dipper except it’s considerably larger. It should be easier to find. Once you’ve found it, follow the two stars which form the head of the ladle upwards and in a line. You should come to the North Star.

Here’s an illustration:

Illustration of Polaris

Without a Shadow of a Doubt

Sometimes, the sun seems to light up the whole sky, and it can be tough to pinpoint the exact spot to point your watch in without injuring your eyes. If you’re having a hard time lining up your watch with the sun, this handy little trick might just help you out.

Find a stick (or something else which will cast a shadow) and poke it into the ground in an area with plenty of sunlight. You’ll find a solid shadow being cast which will show you which direction the sun is hitting the object from. Simply align your watch pointing from the end of the shadow to the stick in the ground. This will ensure pinpoint accuracy as you create a compass from your watch.

Stick Compass

Draw the Face

If you’re only wearing a digital watch, you might be worried that this method will never be useful for you. However, you couldn’t be more wrong. As long as you know the exact time – and have a few extra pieces of equipment – you can still put this technique into effect.

  • First of all, this only works if you’re fast.
  • You’ll need a piece of paper and a pen/pencil.
  • Draw an analog clock face representing the EXACT time.
  • Depending on what hemisphere you’re in, use the methods we already explained.

Because you only need the exact time to make this trick work, you can even do it using a picture of a clock face. The only problem is, you have to do it before the time changes too much, otherwise it won’t be accurate.

Many people find this hard to grasp and wonder how it works, but it’s simple, it’s only the correct time you need to ensure this works. Your watch face doesn’t move too much in the span of time it’d take you to use it as a compass, so it doesn’t matter if you only use a drawing of one to get the same results.

As long as your watch is accurate, your compass will be too!

Watch Problems

Something that can drastically stop this technique from working is whether or not your watch is telling the correct time. If you’ve not adjusted your watch during Daylight Savings Time or you’re using a model which requires winding occasionally, you might have overlooked these problems.

Always make sure that your watch is telling the correct time, is properly wound, and that you know when it needs changing. You never know when having the correct time could save your life!

Final Thoughts

Always remember that this method only works on clear days with plenty of sunlight. It also only works if you remember the exact steps to follow, so give it a try whenever you can.

Learning techniques like this (that don’t require the use of fancy gadgets or electronics) is a brilliant way to ensure that you’re always prepared for any situation. It might seem like a strange thing to learn and remember, but you never know when it’ll come in useful.

Even if you never have to use this technique in a life or death situation, it’s still a fun party trick to show your friends!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

18 − 5 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.