Did you know that you can use your watch as a basic compass? Using the direction of the sun, your watch can tell you approximately where south is! While not as accurate as using a good compass, this is a useful navigating tip if you’re lost without a compass.
This technique works well in the UK, or anywhere outside the tropics. A slight variation is needed depending on whether you are in the northern or southern hemisphere.
How To Find South Using A Watch
In the northern hemisphere, north of the Tropic of Cancer, use the hour hand and the sun to find south. Hold your watch face horizontal and point the hour hand at the sun. South is half way between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock position on the watch face. For example, at 8am, with the hour hand pointing to the sun, south will be at the 10 o’clock position. At 10am, south will be in the 11 o’clock position. At 4pm, south will be in the 2 o’clock position.
The diagram below shows an example at just after 10am, where south is at approximately the 11 o’clock position.
This assumes that your watch is set to the local time zone, and not adjusted for summer time. If your watch is adjusted to summer time, south will be half way between the hour hand and the 1 o’clock position. Alternatively, just set your watch back one hour!
Can I Use A Watch As A Compass In The Southern Hemisphere?
The technique described above also works in the southern hemisphere, south of the Tropic of Capricorn. However, instead of aiming the hour hand at the sun, point the 12 o’clock position at the sun instead. The direction of south is half way between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock position.
How To Find The Direction Of The Sun When It’s Cloudy
The technique of using a watch as a compass relies on knowing which direction the sun is. If it’s cloudy, it’s much harder to know exactly where the sun is. However, even when it’s cloudy, the sun still usually casts faint shadows. Use a plain, light coloured horizontal surface – white or light coloured paper is ideal. Hold a pencil or stick vertically touching the surface. Unless it is very cloudy and dark, you should still be able to see the shadow of the pencil or stick, which will show you the direction of the sun.