Binnacle, A Piece Of Maritime History


The magnetic compass plays a very vital role in maritime navigation. Owing to the exposure of the magnetic compass to the weather and harsh conditions, it becomes necessary to safeguard the compass. 

The navigation instrument that helps serve this purpose is the binnacle. Alongside this aid, binnacles also safeguard the compasses from toppling over due to the constant rolling and pitching of the vessel.

What is the binnacle?

The binnacle is a cylindrical container made of non-ferrous material that houses the different components of the magnetic compass and that as a whole. Earlier, wood was used for the construction of the binnacle. The compass bowl is housed in the top part of the binnacle whereas the middle part is accessible through a door housing the corrector magnets extending to the projector towards the forward.

History behind binnacle

Binnacles have been in utilization since the 1700s. Over the years though, several developments to the technology of binnacles have been carried out to suit the developments in the vessels’ building technology. The instrument consists of a round stand upon which a plinth is mounted. Separate divisions constructed, store the compass and other navigational equipment on the plinth of the binnacle.

A ship binnacle is positioned right before the helmsman’s line of vision. The compass and all other navigation equipment are safeguarded within the binnacle, making it easy for the steersman to observe and steer the vessel accordingly. For this purpose, binnacles have always been constructed to come up to the waist of steersmen handling the vessel.


  • Access doors to be kept locked at all times
  • If made of wood, the binnacle should be varnished and not painted
  • The quadrantal corrector must be painted from time to time to prevent rust from settling
  • The brass parts are to be polished regularly
  • All materials with magnetic properties must be kept away from the compass
  • Helmet to be kept in position at all time
  • All adjustment to be carried out by an authorised compass adjuster
  • Remove any bubbles that may be present in the compass bowl within the binnacle

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Source: marineinsight