Points of the compass

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A 32-point compass rose

The points of the compass are points on a compass, specifically on the compass rose, marking divisions of the four cardinal directions: North, South, East, West. The number of points may be only the 4 cardinal points, or the 8 principal points adding the intercardinal (or ordinal) directions northeast (NE), southeast (SE), southwest (SW), and northwest (NW). In meteorological usage further intermediate points are added to give the sixteen points of a wind compass.[1] Finally, at the most complete in European tradition, are found the full thirty-two points of the mariner's compass.[2] In ancient China 24 points of the compass were used.[citation needed]

The mariner's practice of boxing the compass is the action of naming all thirty-two points of the compass in order clockwise.[3] The names of intermediate points are formed by the initials of the cardinal directions and their intermediate ordinal directions, and are very handy to refer to a heading (or course or azimuth) in a general or colloquial fashion, without having to resort to computing or recalling degrees. For most applications, the minor points have been superseded by degrees measured clockwise from North.

Compass point names[edit]

"Southwest" redirects here. For the airline, see Southwest Airlines. For other uses, see Southwest (disambiguation).
"Northeast", "Northwest", and "Southeast" redirect here. For other uses, see Northeast (disambiguation), Northwest (disambiguation), and Southeast (disambiguation).
"North West" redirects here. For Kanye West's daughter, see Kanye West#Relationships. For other uses, see North West (disambiguation).
A 16-point compass rose
A 32-wind compass card, with English names

The names of the 32-wind compass rose follow these rules:

The eight principal winds, eight half-winds and sixteen quarter winds together yield a 32-wind compass rose, with each compass direction point at 11 14° angle from the next.

The name of a quarter-wind is typically "X by Y", where X is a principal wind and Y is a cardinal wind. As a mnemonic device, it is useful to think of "X by Y" as a shortcut for the phrase "one quarter wind from X towards Y", where a "quarter" is 11 14°, X is the nearest principal wind, and Y the next (more distant) cardinal wind. So "Northeast by east" means "one quarter from NE towards E", "Southwest by south" means "one quarter from SW towards S". The title of the Alfred Hitchcock 1959 movie, North by Northwest, is actually not a direction point on the 32-wind compass, but the film contains a reference to Northwest Airlines.

Traditional names[edit]

The traditional compass rose of eight winds (and its 16-wind and 32-wind derivatives) was invented by seafarers in the Mediterranean Sea during the Middle Ages (the ancient Greco-Roman 12 classical compass winds have little to do with them). The traditional mariner's wind names were expressed in Italian - or, more precisely, the Italianate Mediterranean lingua franca common among sailors in the 13th and 14th centuries, that was principally composed of Genoese (Ligurian), mixed with Venetian, Sicilian, Provençal, Catalan, Greek and Arabic terms from around the Mediterranean basin.

32-wind compass with traditional names (and traditional colour code).

This Italianate patois was used to designate the names of the principal winds on the compass rose found in mariner compasses and portolan charts of the 14th and 15th centuries. The "traditional" names of the eight principal winds are:

Local spelling variations are far more numerous than listed, e.g. Tramutana, Gregale, Grecho, Sirocco, Xaloc, Lebeg, Libezo, Leveche, Mezzodi, Migjorn, Magistro, Mestre, etc. Traditional compass roses will typically have the initials T, G, L, S, O, L, P, and M on the main points. Portolan charts also colour-coded the compass winds: black for the eight principal winds, green for the eight half-winds and red for the sixteen quarter-winds.

In the English compass, all wind names are constructed on the basis of the cardinal four names (N, E, S, W). In the traditional compass, one needs to memorize eight basic names - one for each of the eight principal winds. While there are more names to memorize, the payoff is that the name construction rules for the 32-wind compass are more straightforward. The half-winds are just a combination of the two principal winds it bisects, with the shortest name usually coming first (e.g. NNE is "Greco-Tramontana", ENE is "Greco-Levante", SSE is "Ostro-Scirocco", etc.). The quarter winds are expressed with an Italian phrase, "Quarto di X verso Y" (one quarter from X towards Y, pronounced [ˈkwarto di X ˈvɛrso Y][6][7][8]) or "X al Y" (X to Y) or "X per Y" (X by Y). There are no irregularities to trip over: the nearest principal wind always comes first, the more distant one second, e.g. North-by-east is "Quarto di Tramontana verso Greco", Northeast-by-north "Quarto di Greco verso Tramontana". The names are perfectly symmetric.

32 cardinal points[edit]

#Compass pointAbbreviationTraditional wind pointMinimumMiddle
azimuth
Maximum
1NorthNTramontana354.38°0.00°5.62°
2North by eastNbEQuarto di Tramontana verso Greco5.63°11.25°16.87°
3North-northeastNNEGreco-Tramontana16.88°22.50°28.12°
4Northeast by northNEbNQuarto di Greco verso Tramontana28.13°33.75°39.37°
5NortheastNEGreco39.38°45.00°50.62°
6Northeast by eastNEbEQuarto di Greco verso Levante50.63°56.25°61.87°
7East-northeastENEGreco-Levante61.88°67.50°73.12°
8East by northEbNQuarto di Levante verso Greco73.13°78.75°84.37°
9EastELevante84.38°90.00°95.62°
10East by southEbSQuarto di Levante verso Scirocco95.63°101.25°106.87°
11East-southeastESELevante-Scirocco106.88°112.50°118.12°
12Southeast by eastSEbEQuarto di Scirocco verso Levante118.13°123.75°129.37°
13SoutheastSEScirocco129.38°135.00°140.62°
14Southeast by southSEbSQuarto di Scirocco verso Ostro140.63°146.25°151.87°
15South-southeastSSEOstro-Scirocco151.88°157.50°163.12°
16South by eastSbEQuarto di Ostro verso Scirocco163.13°168.75°174.37°
17SouthSOstro174.38°180.00°185.62°
18South by westSbWQuarto di Ostro verso Libeccio185.63°191.25°196.87°
19South-southwestSSWOstro-Libeccio196.88°202.50°208.12°
20Southwest by southSWbSQuarto di Libeccio verso Ostro208.13°213.75°219.37°
21SouthwestSWLibeccio219.38°225.00°230.62°
22Southwest by westSWbWQuarto di Libeccio verso Ponente230.63°236.25°241.87°
23West-southwestWSWPonente-Libeccio241.88°247.50°253.12°
24West by southWbSQuarto di Ponente verso Libeccio253.13°258.75°264.37°
25WestWPonente264.38°270.00°275.62°
26West by northWbNQuarto di Ponente verso Maestro275.63°281.25°286.87°
27West-northwestWNWMaestro-Ponente286.88°292.50°298.12°
28Northwest by westNWbWQuarto di Maestro verso Ponente298.13°303.75°309.37°
29NorthwestNWMaestro309.38°315.00°320.62°
30Northwest by northNWbNQuarto di Maestro verso Tramontana320.63°326.25°331.87°
31North-northwestNNWMaestro-Tramontana331.88°337.50°343.12°
32North by westNbWQuarto di Tramontana verso Maestro343.13°348.75°354.37°

Half- and quarter-points[edit]

Compass Rose from "American Practical Navigator" 1916

By at least the middle of the eighteenth century the 32-point system had been further extended with the use of half- and quarter-points to give a total of 128 directions.[9] These fractional points are named by appending, for example 1/4east, 1/2east, or 3/4east to the name of one of the 32 points. Each of the 96 fractional points can be named in two ways, depending of which of the two adjoining whole points is used, for example, N3/4E is equivalent to NbE1/4N. Either form is easily understood but differing conventions as to correct usage developed in different countries and organisations.

The table below shows how each of the 128 directions are named. The first two columns give the number of points and degrees clockwise from north. The third gives the equivalent bearing to the nearest degree from north or south towards east or west. The "CW" column gives the fractional-point bearings increasing in the clockwise direction and "CCW" counter clockwise. The final three columns show three common naming conventions: No "by" avoids the use of "by" with fractional points; "USN" the system used by US Navy;[10] and "RN" the Royal Navy.[11] The colour coding illustrates where each of the three naming systems matches the "CW" and "CCW" columns.

Compass roses very rarely named the fractional points and only showed small, unlabelled markers as a guide for helmsmen.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ David Boardman Graphicacy and Geography Teaching 1983 - Page 41 "In particular they should learn that wind direction is always stated as the direction from which, and not to which, the wind is blowing. Once children have grasped these eight points they can learn the full sixteen points of the compass."
  2. ^ Pamphlets on British shipping. 1785-1861 1785- Page 50 "A deviation table having been formed by any of the processes now.so generally understood, either on the thirty-two points of the compass, the sixteen intermediate, or the eight principal points"
  3. ^ George Payn Quackenbos A Natural Philosophy: Embracing the Most Recent Discoveries 1860 "Mentioning the mariner's compass: the points of the compass in their order is called boxing the compass. — The compass box is suspended within a larger box by means of two brass hoops, or gimbals as they are called, supported at opposite ..."
  4. ^ Compass rose at geography.about.com
  5. ^ Washington Education
  6. ^ ""Wordreference.com's entry for 'quarto'"". 
  7. ^ ""Wordreference.com's entry for 'di'"". 
  8. ^ ""Wordreference.com's entry for 'verso'"". 
  9. ^ E. Chambers Cyclopaedia: or, an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Science, 5th Ed, 1743, pp.206-7, "Points of the Compass, or Horizon, &c, in Geography and Navigation, are the points of division when the whole circle, quite around, is divided into 32 equal parts. These points are therefore at the distance of the 32d part of the circult, or 11°15', from each other; hence 5°371/2' is the distance of the half points and 2°483/4' is the distance of the quarter points.
  10. ^ Nathaniel Bowditch, American Practical Navigator: An Epitome of Navigation and Nautical Astronomy, 1916, p. 16, "It is the custom in the United States Navy to box from North and South toward East and West, excepting that divisions adjacent to a cardinal or inter-cardinal point are always referred to that point;"
  11. ^ Henry Raper, The Practice of Navigation and Nautical Astronomy, 10th Ed., 1870, p. 65, "A half-point, which is the middle division between two points, is called after that one of its adjacent points which is either a cardinal point, or is nearest to a cardinal point [...] In naming the half and quarter points it is advisable in some cases to sacrific system to simplicity. Thus, for example, seamen commonly say NNE1/2E instead of NE by N1/2N; "

External links[edit]