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What is a Fluxgate Compass?

Hillary Flynn
Updated May 16, 2024
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A compass is a device used to ascertain directional orientation. The most common type of compass is a simple magnetic compass that utilizes the magnetic pull of Earth's North Pole to determine which direction is north. A fluxgate compass, on the other hand, is a more sophisticated, electronic version of the magnetic compass that requires electricity to operate. A fluxgate compass may be used on a on a boat, aircraft, or any other vehicle that requires a navigational system. The electronic output of the compass allows it to be used in more ways than the traditional magnetic compass.

The most obvious use of the fluxgate compass is for steering. When used in this manner, a digital display alerts a pilot or driver to changes in direction so that he or she is able to make adjustments and remain on the proper course. Others connect the compass to autopilot equipment. When an autopilot system is in use, the compass sends a digital signal to the autopilot, which then prompts the machinery to make steering adjustments. The digital signal generated by the compass can also be used in conjunction with other navigational tools such as chart plotters and radar.

Like the traditional magnetic compass, the fluxgate compass determines direction by assessing Earth's magnetic fields. However, rather than relying on one small magnet, fluxgate compasses are typically made with coils of wire that employ electricity to amplify the directional signal. Unlike the traditional magnetic compass which relies on a moving needle that is placed atop the magnet, the fluxgate has no moving parts. Rather than pointing towards the North Pole, the compass measures electric current, and it is this current that is used as a signal that can be translated and by other electronic devices.

The fluxgate compass has both advantages and disadvantages. The most obvious disadvantage is its need for electricity. Most users keep a traditional magnetic compass on hand as backup for situations that cause a loss of electricity. They are also less stable and have more chance of malfunction due to faulty electronic components. Most navigators consider the advantages, such as the ability to connect to other navigational equipment, worth these risks. One other advantage over a traditional compass is that the fluxgate can be placed in remote locations. This is a major plus because the magnetic influence of other equipment can erroneously alter the reading of either type of compass.

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Hillary Flynn
By Hillary Flynn
Hillary Flynn's insatiable curiosity led her to join the EasyTechJunkie team, where she contributes well-researched articles on various topics. In addition to her work with EasyTechJunkie, Hillary manages an electronic publishing business that allows her to develop her skills in technical writing, graphic design, and business development. With a passion for satirical writing and traveling to historical places, Hillary brings a distinctive voice to her content.
Discussion Comments
By smartypantz — On Jul 01, 2011

@qwertyq – Oh! A question about boating history! My dad’s a boating nut and he’s taught me almost everything about boats. If I remember correctly, the first fluxgate magnetometers used rod cores in the design. They were invented around the year 1930, so yes, you’re right. The second type was also invented in the 1930s, but wasn’t perfected until about 1964. It uses ring cores.

In case you’re interested, a rod core within a magnetometer is made of two tiny metal rods (usually 22mm long) wrapped with wires. A ring core is made of two rods which are bent and connected to form a circle, and wrapped with wires.

By qwertyq — On Jun 28, 2011

When were fluxgate magnetometers first used? Aren’t they a modern invention? My brother says they aren’t, but I’m pretty sure they were invented within the last century. Am I right?

By Frances2 — On Jun 27, 2011

@SushiChamp – You don’t necessarily need one. Radar and GPS will work fine without a fluxgate compass. However, a fluxgate compass can communicate with the radar, allowing the radar to update its north point automatically.

It’ll also keep your GPS map from spinning around when you’re sitting in the water and don’t have a heading. But since you already have a boat compass, radar, and GPS, I don’t think you need a fluxgate compass too.

By SushiChamp — On Jun 25, 2011

Do I need a fluxgate compass for my fishing boat if it already has a boat compass, radar, and gps? I don’t want to buy one if I don’t need it.

Hillary Flynn
Hillary Flynn
Hillary Flynn's insatiable curiosity led her to join the EasyTechJunkie team, where she contributes well-researched...
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