If you've ever chartered unknown lands before you are probably aware that one of the most important items to have in your arsenal is a compass. A good quality reliable compass can be the difference between hoping that the search party finds you and safely navigating your journey.
But what if you find yourself lost with a broken compass, or even worse, without one altogether? Well, fear not because I am going to let you in on a very simple #HabitatHack that my father taught me.
All that is required is an analogue wristwatch and a clear unobstructed view of the sun. The method varies slightly in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, so I will explain both, beginning with the Southern Hemisphere as we are in Australia.
Southern Hemisphere Method
1- Hold your watch horizontally, (this can be done while the watch is still on your wrist but you may find it easier removing your watch and holding it flat in the palm of your hand) and point the 12 O'clock mark directly at the sun.
2- Now bisect the angle between 12 O'clock and the Hour hand to find NORTH. The exact middle of the angle between the 12 O'clock mark and the hour hand of your watch points North, while the point directly across the face of your watch from it points South.
(The reason you cut the angle in two, is because the clock makes two rotations in a day while the earth only makes one rotation around the sun.)
*Before midday, you measure clockwise from the hour hand to 12 o'clock, and in the afternoon you measure counterclockwise from the hour hand to the 12 o'clock marking. In simple terms, you always bisect the smaller angle between the two points.
For example, if it was 8 am and you have the 12 O'clock mark lined up with the sun, then North would be 10 O'clock as it is the middle point of the angle between 8 and 12, and South would be the point directly across the face of your watch in the opposite direction, i.e. 4 O'clock.
*If you are struggling to get a clear view of the sun, take a twig or a pencil etc (so long as it is narrow) and stick it upright into the ground to cast a clearly visible shadow. Now line the 12 O'clock mark up with the shadow and follow the same directions. Because shadows are cast away from the sun, lining up your watch with the shadow is essentially the same as lining it up with the sun itself.
Northern Hemisphere Method
The key difference when using your watch as a compass in the Northern Hemisphere is that you line up the hour hand with the sun, rather than the 12 O'clock mark used in the Southern hemisphere. Reversing the orientation of your watch relative to the sun allows you to account for the difference in the sun's orientation between the two hemispheres.
1- Hold your watch horizontally, (this can be done while the watch is still on your wrist but you may find it easier removing your watch and holding it flat in the palm of your hand) and point the hour hand directly at the sun.
2- Now bisect the angle between the hour hand and 12 O'clock to find SOUTH. The exact middle of the angle between the hour hand and the 12 O'clock mark of your watch points South, while the point directly across the face of your watch from it points North.
As in the Southern Hemisphere, if you're having trouble getting a clear view of the sun, you can use the same shadow trick mentioned above to make sure the hour hand is accurately lined up.
Once again you always bisect the smaller angle between the two points.
This technique can be used at any time of the day, but it is important that the time on your watch is accurate and set to "true" local time not daylight savings. If you are in a region with daylight savings remember to subtract 1 hour from the hour hand.
So there you have it, a simple and easy #HabitatHack that may just get you out of a bad situation. Alternatively, if all that seems like too much to figure out, you can always purchase one of our compasses HERE.
**Editor's note** - Handy tricks like this can be very useful but do not rely on this information in life-critical, emergency situations. Knowing how to use a map and compass is ALWAYS the first priority when navigating into unfamiliar and potentially dangerous environments.
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