Best Kayak Deck Compass

If you’re looking to take your paddling adventures into more remote locales, you’ll need a kayak compass to help you find your way. A reliable…

Best Kayak Compass

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Why trust us?

If you’re looking to take your paddling adventures into more remote locales, you’ll need a kayak compass to help you find your way. A reliable compass is a must for any kayak tour, especially if you think you’ll need to navigate across tricky stretches of open water.

We’ve reviewed the best kayak compass models on the market. For more information, check out our buying advice.

Our Top Picks

If you’re in a hurry, here are our top picks. Or continue scrolling to see our full list with in-depth reviews.

Best Overall: Silva 58 Kayak Compass

Silva 58 Kayak Compass

The best overall compass in our review, the Silva 58 Kayak Compass is a solid all-around workhorse for regular paddling ventures.

Using its four-point bungee cord system, this model can be attached to nearly any kayak. As a result, it’s easy to install before you go out on your paddles without the need to drill holes into your kayak.

The Silva 58 is also lightweight and compact, which is helpful if you have a kayak with a narrow bow. Furthermore, the compass is made from ABS and scratch-resistant acrylic, so it’s durable enough for any weather conditions.

When it comes to navigation, the Silva 58 doesn’t disappoint. It’s suitable for use in the northern and southern hemispheres, so it’s the ideal choice for the more intrepid paddlers among us.

That being said, even though the Silva 58 has clear, easy-to-read markings, it doesn’t come with a memory ring for setting your course, nor does it have a simple way to adjust for declination. But if you’re in the market for a durable and versatile kayak compass, this is one model you won’t want to miss.

Reasons to buy:

  • Lightweight and highly compact
  • Easy to attach to any kayak
  • Suitable for use around the world
  • Made from durable ABS and acrylic
  • Clear, easy-to-read markings

Reasons to avoid:

  • No built-in declination support
  • Doesn’t have a memory ring for course setting

Best Value: Seattle Sports Sea Rover Deck Compass

Seattle Sports Sea Rover Deck Compass

If keeping costs low is a top priority, the Seattle Sports Sea Rover Deck Compass is a high-value option that you shouldn’t overlook.

With the Sea Rover, you get a compact adjustable-mount compass that can be attached to nearly any kayak. It comes with a set of nylon straps that can be clipped onto the deck lines of your kayak in seconds.

The Sea Rover has a sturdy rubber base that prevents slippage, even as you paddle through rough seas. It also has a burly acrylic housing that’s crafted to withstand the rigors of frequent use. As an added bonus, Seattle Sports designed this compass so that you can read it both from above and from the sides.

However, this compass is quite bulky, so it’s not ideal for kayaks with very narrow bows. It’s also not designed for use in the southern hemisphere and doesn’t have built-in declination adjustment support. However, the Seattle Sports Sea Rover is a sure bet if you’re looking for a budget-friendly kayak compass.

Reasons to buy:

  • Sturdy, non-slip rubber base
  • Easily adjustable mounting system
  • Clear, easy-to-read navigation lines
  • Budget-friendly price
  • Durable and reliable construction

Reasons to avoid:

  • No declination settings
  • Fairly bulky
  • Not ideal for southern hemisphere

Best Mountable Compass: Ritchie Navigation Kayaker XP-99

Ritchie Navigation Kayaker XP-99

For folks looking to take their kayaks out on longer adventures in more remote locales, a deck-mountable compass like the Ritchie Navigation Kayaker XP-99 might be what you need.

Unlike the other two models in our review, the Kayaker XP-99 has a mount designed to be permanently attached to the deck of your kayak for added security while you paddle. But you can still remove the compass for transport and storage using its simplified twist-on/twist-off attachment system.

The Kayaker XP-99 comes with a high-end CourseMinder bezel with a memory ring that lets you quickly set your course while you paddle. It’s also compatible with the company’s optional lighting kit for use during nighttime paddles.

That being said, while there’s a lot to love with the Kayaker XP-99, we should note that it’s relatively pricey and that mounting it involves drilling holes into the deck of your kayak. It’s also designed for use in the northern hemisphere, so this is something to consider before buying. However, despite the drawbacks, the Kayaker XP-99 is still a solid deck-mounted compass for the adventurous paddler.

Reasons to buy:

  • Very sturdy attachment system
  • Can be removed from the mount for transport
  • Includes a memory ring for setting a course
  • Compatible with a lighting system for night paddling

Reasons to avoid:

  • Fairly pricey
  • Not designed for global use
  • Requires drilling holes into your kayak

Kayak Compass Buying Advice

While a kayak compass might seem like a simple piece of gear, the reality is that there’s a whole lot of technology that goes into crafting one. As a result, figuring out which model suits you isn’t always easy.

To help you determine what you need in your kayak compass, we’ve compiled a list of the most important features to look out for as you shop.

Compass Type

Compasses come in various shapes and styles, each designed to perform best in a specific environment.

For example, baseplate compasses, which feature a needle housed in a rotating dial that’s mounted on a flat plastic plate, are primarily designed for use with land-based navigation.

That’s because they can be easily placed on a map for plotting bearings. At the same time, they’re also small enough to hold in your hand as you walk or to stash in your pocket.

However, since these compasses are designed to be held in your hand, they’re not ideal for paddlers. Furthermore, these compasses need to be kept very still to get an accurate reading—something that’s not always possible on choppy seas.

Thankfully, there’s another type of compass specifically designed for marine use: the card compass.

Unlike baseplate compasses, which rely on a magnetic needle, card compasses are built with a magnetic compass card. The card is placed inside a clear, fluid-filled housing, where it can float around and rotate to always point north.

The primary advantage of a compass card is that it’s better able to withstand the constant motion of the water. These compasses can also be read from the side, which is helpful if you’re in the cockpit of a kayak.

As a result, the vast majority of kayak compasses you’ll find are card compasses. However, it’s essential to know the differences between the different types so you don’t accidentally invest your money in a model designed for land-based navigation.

Mounting Options

One key feature you’ll have to decide on reasonably early in your search for a kayak compass is whether you want a fixed-mount or an adjustable-mount model.

As the name suggests, fixed-mount compasses, like the Ritchie Navigation Kayaker XP-99, are designed to permanently attach your kayak’s deck. Doing so eliminates the risk of your compass falling off as you paddle and prevents your navigation tool from sliding around in heavy seas. 

The downside to these fixed-mount compasses is that installing them requires drilling holes into your kayak.

Alternatively, adjustable-mount compasses, like the Silva 58 Kayak Compass, are designed to be attached to nearly any kayak. They often have bungee cords or adjustable nylon straps that you can use to hook the compass onto the deck rigging of your kayak.

The primary advantage of these adjustable compasses is that they’re easy to move from kayak to kayak. They also don’t require drilling holes in your kayak and are often relatively affordable. But, no matter how secure the attachment system is, there’s always a risk of losing one of these compasses in bad weather.

So, which type of compass should you get?

Well, there’s no one good answer for everyone. A fixed-mount option might be best if you’re okay with permanently attaching your compass to your kayak. On the other hand, folks with multiple kayaks or people who don’t want to use power tools on their kayaks might prefer an adjustable-mount option.

Global vs. Hemisphere-Specific

Arguably one of the most overlooked yet vital considerations when purchasing a kayak compass is whether you want a global or hemisphere-specific model.

While we often think of compasses as devices that can work anywhere on Earth (they just point north, right?), the reality is that many compasses only work in either the northern or southern hemispheres.

This is because the Earth’s magnetic field does not have an even flow across the globe. Instead, our planet’s magnetic field tilts steeply into the ground as it nears the poles, becoming perfectly vertical at the north and south poles.

This variation in the Earth’s magnetic field can lead to inaccuracies in a compass, so compass manufacturers have to weight the needle or card in their compasses to perform correctly in specific environments.

Many compasses are weighted just to one hemisphere to save money, so they won’t be accurate if you use them elsewhere. However, you can buy global compasses if you think you may want to go on international paddling trips.

For many paddlers, this magnetic weighting issue might not be a problem. But, if you plan to travel, you must consider this as you may need a globally balanced compass for your adventures.

Declination Adjustment Options

Magnetic declination, also known as magnetic variation in certain parts of the world, is the difference between true north and magnetic north. This difference exists because the north pole of Earth’s magnetic field doesn’t line up precisely with the actual geographic north pole at 90ºN.

However, our maps are oriented toward the true north (a.k.a. geographic north). This might not sound like a big deal, but when the difference between true and magnetic north is, for example, 20º, you could paddle in the entirely wrong direction if you don’t compensate for this difference.

Thankfully, there are ways to adjust for declination on your compass with relative ease just by doing a small amount of math.

Some kayak compasses include declination settings to save you from regularly making this small calculation. These settings allow you to set your declination adjustment once at the start of your paddling day so that you don’t have to worry about making these continual calculations.

However, declination adjustment tools are rare on kayak compasses, so you might have to pay a pretty penny if you want this feature. But it might be worth the extra expense if you paddle in places with large declination values.

Ease of Reading

Simply put, a compass is useless to you if you can’t read it. Therefore, it’s essential to evaluate the readability of a compass before buying it.

However, there are many different features and design choices that affect the readability of a compass. For kayak compasses, in particular, you’ll want to look out for models with large numbers and letters denoting your bearing for quick reference while you paddle.

You’ll also want to ensure that your compass provides enough detail for you to actually paddle. For example, a compass that only marks every 45º might not be detailed enough for you to use when navigating through tricky waters.

In these instances, getting a compass that’s graduated in small increments (around 5º) and has clear directional markings can make all the difference when it comes to ease of navigation.

Size & Weight

Unlike handheld baseplate compasses that you might take hiking, the size and weight of your kayak compass isn’t a concern from a portability perspective. Nevertheless, it is important to consider the size of your kayak compass because you’ll need to ensure that you’re not getting a model that’s too big for the deck of your boat.

While most kayak compasses are relatively compact, some are wider than others. For adjustable-mount compasses, this isn’t usually an issue.

But, for fixed-mount models, you need to be sure that your compass will fit flush on the deck of your boat so you can securely mount it without damaging your kayak.

So, if you want a fixed-mount compass, you’ll likely need a kayak with a relatively flat compass recess area at the bow. You will also need to measure this area to ensure that it’s compatible with the compass you want to buy to avoid any mishaps down the line.

Extra Features

Lastly, some kayak compasses have a few extra features that can enhance your paddling experience. While many of these features increase the price of a compass, they may be worth it for your adventures.

  • Memory ring – Some compasses have a small adjustable ring that you can use to set your desired course bearing. Doing so allows you to quickly verify if you’ve veered off-course so you can make adjustments to your paddling direction to help you stay on track.
  • Illumination options – If you think you might do some nighttime paddling, getting a compass with illumination options can be helpful. Some compasses come with built-in, battery-powered LED backlights, while others are compatible with lighting kits to help you find your way in the dark.

The Verdict

After reviewing the top kayak compasses available today, it’s clear that one stood out among the rest: the Silva 58 Kayak Compass.

In particular, we like that the Silva 58 is small and compact enough to be attached to nearly any kayak. It also has an adjustable attachment system for versatility, a durable construction, and an easy-to-read set of navigational markers.