Compass rose

For Compass Airlines, an Airline in the US using the Callsign "Compass Rose," See Compass Airlines

A compass rose is a figure displaying the orientation of the cardinal directions, north, south, east and west on a map or nautical chart. It is also the term for the graduated markings found on the traditional magnetic compass. Today the use and idea of a compass rose is found on or featured in almost all navigation systems, including nautical charts, NDB and VOR systems, some GPS sets and similar.

Although a compass rose may sometimes be called a wind rose, it should not be confused with the graphic tool used by meteorologists to depict wind frequencies from different directions at a location.


Naming all 32 points on the rose is called boxing the compass.

The "rose" term arises from the fairly ornate figures used with early compasses. A fleur-de-lis figure, evolved from the initial T in the north wind's name Tramontane, is sometimes used to indicate the north direction. Similarly, on old maps the east was marked with an L for Levante, or with a + indicating the direction of Jerusalem from the point of view of western Europe's countries.

Early roses were depicted with 12 points at 30° each, as was favored by the Romans. In the Middle Ages map makers moved to the 16-point rose complaining that sailors did not have the education to understand the previous design. The 16-point rose has the uncomfortable number of 22 1/2° between points, but is easily found by halving divisions and may have been easier for those not using a 360° circle. Using gradians, the sixteen-point rose will have exactly twenty-five gradians per point in.

A Rose of the Winds is an ancient version of a compass rose which personified compass directions as winds with individual names, such as the west wind Zephyrus and the east wind Eurus. A fountain in Taranto, Italy was inspired by and named after the Rose of the Winds.

The earliest 32-point compass rose was developed by Arab navigators during the Middle Ages.

Modern depictions

The contemporary compass rose appears as two rings, one smaller and set inside the other. The outside ring denotes true cardinal directions while the smaller inside ring denotes magnetic cardinal directions. True north refers to the geographical location of the north pole while magnetic north refers to the direction towards which the north pole of a magnetic object (as found in a compass) will point. The angular difference between true and magnetic north is called variation, which varies depending on location. The angular difference between magnetic heading and compass heading is called deviation which varies by vessel and its heading.

Pedro Reinel was the first person to draw a standard compass rose.

In popular media

HMS Compass Rose is the name of a fictional Royal Navy corvette in the novel The Cruel Sea.

In the interactive fiction game, Beyond Zork, a compass rose is a flower that can control the direction of the wind.

The Compass Rose is the name of a significant tavern in Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar fantasy novels.

An 8-point compass rose is a prominent feature in the logo of the Seattle Mariners Major League Baseball club.




  • Martín Gil F.J., Martín Ramos P., Martín-Gil J. "A cryptogram in the compass roses of the Majorcan portolan charts from the Messina-Naples mapmakers school". Almogaren, Nº. 36, 2005, pags. 285-296

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