Click here to skip to main content.

Compass Rose

Before compass roses were used on maps, lines were drawn from central points. These lines were hard to follow since there were usually many of these lines intersecting each other on one map. The rose design was typically drawn in a way that made it easier to follow the directional lines.
Having good maps that were easier to read and which were developed using the magnetic compass made it much more efficient to trade for goods in far away lands and over the open seas. Direct routes could be established, and navigation in bad weather enabled transportation to take place year round instead of only on fair weather days during the warmer seasons.

compass rose

 

Compass Rose - 32 points

Compass Rose - 16 points

Compass Rose - 32 points

Figure 1-Four examples of Compass Rose.

About its design

The four main points (cardinal directions) of the compass were derived from the wind rose: North, East, South, and West. This is also where the four half points originated (ordinal directions). Later, more points were developed to gain more precise bearings, until finally 32 points in total were used. Reciting all 32 points of the compass is called "boxing the compass".
Red, blue, black, and green were the most common colors used in the compass rose. For the times, these colors were the easiest to distinguish in low light situations when using oil lamps.

Naming all 32 points on the rose is called boxing the compass.
Boxing the compass is the action of naming all thirty-two principal points of the compass in clockwise order. Such names, formed by the initials of the cardinal directions and their intermediate ordinal directions, are accepted internationally, even though they have their origin in the English language, and are very handy to refer to a heading (or course or azimuth) in a general fashion, without having to resort to computing or recalling degrees.

The set of 32 named points can be increased by another 32 directions using half-points. These are constructed by taking the more important of the two directions it lies between and adding a half-point deviation toward a cardinal point. For instance, the direction between numbers 1 (North) and 2 (North by East) is "North-half-East"; that between numbers 3 (North-Northeast) and 4 (Northeast by North) is "North-Northeast-half-East", and so on. The set of directions can be increased yet again to a set of 128 named directions using quarter-points,[1] although for communicating heading these fractional points have been superseded by degrees measured clockwise from North.


#

Compass point

Abbr.

Traditional wind point

Lowest

Middle

Highest

1

North

N

Tramontana

 

0.00°

5.62°

2

North by east

NbE

 

5.63°

11.25°

16.87°

3

North-northeast

NNE

 

16.88°

22.50°

28.12°

4

Northeast by north

NEbN

 

28.13°

33.75°

39.37°

5

Northeast

NE

Greco or Bora

39.38°

45.00°

50.62°

6

Northeast by east

NEbE

 

50.63°

56.25°

61.87°

7

East-northeast

ENE

 

61.88°

67.50°

73.12°

8

East by north

EbN

 

73.13°

78.75°

84.37°

9

East

E

Levante

84.38°

90.00°

95.62°

10

East by south

EbS

 

95.63°

101.25°

106.87°

11

East-southeast

ESE

 

106.88°

112.50°

118.12°

12

Southeast by east

SEbE

 

118.13°

123.75°

129.37°

13

Southeast

SE

Sirocco

129.38°

135.00°

140.62°

14

Southeast by south

SEbS

 

140.63°

146.25°

151.87°

15

South-southeast

SSE

 

151.88°

157.50°

163.12°

16

South by east

SbE

 

163.13°

168.75°

174.37°

17

South

S

Ostro

174.38°

180.00°

185.62°

18

South by west

SbW

 

185.63°

191.25°

196.87°

19

South-southwest

SSW

 

196.88°

202.50°

208.12°

20

Southwest by south

SWbS

 

208.13°

213.75°

219.37°

21

Southwest

SW

Libeccio

219.38°

225.00°

230.62°

22

Southwest by west

SWbW

 

230.63°

236.25°

241.87°

23

West-southwest

WSW

 

241.88°

247.50°

253.12°

24

West by south

WbS

 

253.13°

258.75°

264.37°

25

West

W

Poniente or Zephyrus

264.38°

270.00°

275.62°

26

West by north

WbN

 

275.63°

281.25°

286.87°

27

West-northwest

WNW

 

286.88°

292.50°

298.12°

28

Northwest by west

NWbW

 

298.13°

303.75°

309.37°

29

Northwest

NW

Mistral

309.38°

315.00°

320.62°

30

Northwest by north

NWbN

 

320.63°

326.25°

331.87°

31

North-northwest

NNW

 

331.88°

337.50°

343.12°

32

North by west

NbW

 

343.13°

348.75°

354.37°

1

North

N

Tramontana

354.38°

360.00°