What does Boxing the Compass mean? Explained with Images!

Modern navigators use the 360° angles to refer compass directions. But traditional mariners reckoned that by compass points.

I would say that Boxing the Compass is a necessary sea-going skill even for the modern navigators. During my college days, it was pride among cadets to recite all the 32 points in clockwise and then in anticlockwise direction without pausing. Still, some of the Maritime Academies are training their cadets to do so.

The Math of Compass Points


Before dive in to know about Boxing the compass, I would like to explain the math of compass points. There are 32 points in the Compass of 360°. So the angular range of one Compass point is,

360°/32 = 11.25°

Therefore it is 11.25° between each point on the Marine Compass.

What is Boxing the Compass?

The action of naming all thirty-two points of Marine Compass from due North in a clockwise direction is called Boxing the Compass.

Back in the old days Boxing the Compass required to name all the 128 points including fractional points. That would be a torture for mariners if continued. If you like to know more about fractional points, refer this Wiki-page.


How to Box the Compass?

A 32 point Marine Compass comprises of following divisions:

  • Cardinal points
  • Inter-cardinal points
  • Half points
  • Quarter(By) points

Cardinal Points

Let’s start with the big guys. The four cardinal points are the main directions of the compass.

  • north (N)
  • east (E)
  • south (S)
  • west (W)

These Cardinal points are at right angles on the compass.

Intercardinal Points

The Intercardinal points are formed by bisecting the angle of the cardinal points.

  • northeast (NE)
  • southeast (SE)
  • southwest (SW)
  • northwest (NW)

The Cardinal and Intercardinal points together forms the eight principal directions of the Compass.

Half Point

The Half-points obtained by bisecting the angles between the eight principal points.

  • north-northeast (NNE)
  • east-northeast (ENE)
  • east-southeast (ESE)
  • south-southeast (SSE)
  • south-southwest (SSW)
  • west-southwest (WSW)
  • west-northwest (WNW)
  • north-northwest (NNW)

Quarter(By) Points

Further sixteen points are obtained by bisecting the angles between the above 16 points. These are called as Quarter points or By points.

  • In the first quadrant: north by east (NxE), northeast by north (NExN), northeast by east (NExE), and east by north (ExN);
  • In the second quadrant: east by south (ExS), southeast by east (SExE), southeast by south (SExS), and south by east (SxE);
  • In the third quadrant: south by west (SxW), southwest by south (SWxS), southwest by west (SWxW), and west by south (WxS);
  • In the fourth quadrant: west by north (WxN), northwest by west (NWxW), northwest by north (NWxN), and north by west (NxW).

Table of 32 Compass Points

Therefore the 32-point compass is yielded from the eight principal points, eight half-points and sixteen quarter-points combined together, with each point at an ​11.25° angle from the next.

Direction Symbol Degrees
North N 0(360)
North by East N by E 11.25
North Northeast NNE22.5
Northeast by North NE by N 33.75
Northeast by East NE by E 56.25
East-Northeast ENE 67.5
East by North E by N78.75
East by SouthE by S 101.25
East-Southeast ESE112.5
Southeast by East SE by E123.75
Southeast SE135
Southeast by South SE by S146.25
South-Southeast SSE157.5
South by East S by E168.75
South S180
South by west S by W191.25
South-Southwest SSW202.5
Southwest by South SW by S213.75
Southwest SW225
Southwest by West SW by W236.25
West-Southwest WSW247.5
West by South W by S258.75
West W270
West by North W by N281.25
West-Northwest WNW292.5
Northwest by West NW by W303.75
Northwest NW315
Northwest by North NW by N326.25
North-Northwest NNW337.5
North by West N by W348.75

Final Thoughts


Modern navigators tend to forget good procedures established over many years by our Seafaring Forefathers. So I wish that the concept of Boxing the Compass to be practiced for the long run.

In case of any doubt or suggestions, Let me know in the comment section below.

10 comments on “What does Boxing the Compass mean? Explained with Images!”

  1. I have a compass dating back too 1762 with the name B.west engraved on it and wondered if you could help me identify if it is worth anything. Please can you contact me.

  2. I have a pitcher dated from 1818 which seems to be a wedding gift from a relative asking his new bride to “come box the compass”.

  3. Had to learn to box the compass as a sea cadet back in 1958. It was one of the skills needed to advance from ordinary seaman to able bodied seaman.
    I and four other twelve or thirteen year old cadets traveled unaccompanied by train from Carlisle to Devonport to complete our training to become able bodied seamen on the stone frigate HMS Drake.
    What an adventure that was!


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