Use Your Watch as a Compass

April 22, 2010 at 12:12 am 5 comments

I remember in third grade science class, my teacher asked for a helper who had a watch with a second hand. I volunteered because my watch had two hands, the first one and the second one. I was really embarrassed when she explained that the second hand was actually a third hand that measured seconds.

Watches are more jewelry than necessity these days. Many young people don’t wear watches because their cell phone keeps the time. But, if you do have an analog watch, you can use it as a compass. If you don’t have an analog watch, you can draw one in the dirt or picture it in your mind.

Let’s say you’re lost in the woods, or maybe you’re just lost on Wood street in Chicago. You know it’s getting close to dinner time and you were going to meet your friend by the lake for dinner. You know the lake is East, but you don’t know which way that is. So, you think back to this post on

You hold your watch face flat (parallel to the ground). Keeping your watch flat, you turn until the hour hand is pointing at the Sun. Draw a line between the hour hand and 12 o’clock. This line points in two directions, the direction furthest from the Sun will be North.

That works great in Chicago, but it’s no good in Chile. In fact, anywhere south of the equator you have to use this slightly different method. Hold your watch flat and turn until 12 o’clock is pointing toward the sun. Draw a line between 12 and the hour hand, North will be the side closest to the sun.

There are some downsides to this method. It only works during daylight and it’s not extremely precise, although it gets more precise the further away from the equator you are.

Broken Secrets | Written By: Chad Upton

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Sources: Geo Fieldwork , Survival Topics

Entry filed under: Hacks, Travel. Tags: , , , , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kristen  |  April 23, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Wow! who knew?
    I voted for you in the Webby awards!

  • 2. janec72  |  April 26, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    “Draw a line between the hour hand and 12 o’clock. This line points in two directions…”

    That really doesn’t make much sense. Please allow me to clarify.

    Yes, you turn the watch (or your whole body, if you insist) until the hour hand points at the sun. Then you draw (or imagine) an ARC between the hour (that the hour hand is pointing to) and 12 o’clock on the face of the watch. The *mid-point* of that arc is South. The opposite of that mid-point is North.

    The best video on youtube illustrating this handy skill is a 24 second excerpt from a 1954 Chevrolet commercial:

  • 3. al  |  January 12, 2013 at 8:41 am

    Sorry to necro post but I’m still lost on this… For example, what if it’s midday? Also, do you use the shortest distance to 12, I.e. If it’s pm follow anticlockwise and vicsa-versa for am and if so, what about 6pm?

  • 4. Rich  |  April 2, 2013 at 8:11 am

    If it’s near dinnertime and you want to go east, just walk away from the setting sun, no need to bother with your watch.

  • 5. Mark Swenson  |  April 21, 2013 at 9:23 am

    This does work, but daylight savings time will throw it off a few degrees. It will also be off depending on which side of ypur time zone you are on.


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