Article: The art and Science of Compass Adjusting – B. Cooke & Sons

The Art and Science of Compass Adjustment: A Journey of Discovery

Sylvester Perera, a certified Compass Adjuster by the MCA, shares his unique journey from Computer Science graduate to master craftsman in the field of compass making and compass adjusting. His passion for hands-on creation led him to the doors of B. Cooke & Son Ltd., where he was captivated by the meticulous craftsmanship of Brian Walker, a veteran compass maker.

Under Brian’s tutelage, Sylvester learned the art of manufacturing fully handmade Brass Magnetic Compasses and other navigational instruments. Some of the work included learning to turn parts on the lathe/metal work, soldering, studying the chemical mixtures of the different compass fluids, spraying and assembling/balancing compass floats and compasses. The completion of a batch of B. Cooke “Beverly” Compasses marked a significant milestone in his career, a moment celebrated on Channel 4 ‘Steph’s Packed Lunch’ television programme.

Sylvester’s journey didn’t stop at compass making. He delved into the world of Compass Adjusting, a field with a rich history dating back to 1650. Pioneers like Matthew Flinders, Barlow, Dennis Poisson, mathematician Archibald Smith and Lord Kelvin have all contributed to the understanding and correction of ship magnetism.

After four years of rigorous training in repair, manufacture, exams and practical adjusting of magnetic compasses, Sylvester earned his certification from the MCGA. His work now involves inspection, maintenance/repair and minimizing compass deviation on vessels, a task that brings him immense satisfaction.

The process of compass adjusting is a delicate balance of art and science. It requires a deep understanding of the magnetic properties of the earth and the ability to translate that knowledge into practical application. Compass adjusters like Sylvester are not just craftsmen, but also scientists and engineers. The Magnetic compass, a seemingly simple instrument, has a complex interior world. Its accuracy is influenced by the ship’s own magnetic field, which can cause deviations in the compass readings. This is where the adjuster’s role becomes crucial. He meticulously works to minimize these deviations, ensuring the compass points are as true as possible.

Despite the clear regulations, the emergence of remote compass adjusting practices poses a potential risk to maritime safety. These practices, often conducted via phone or email, lack the hands-on precision and expertise provided by certified Compass Adjusters. Sylvester, along with other professionals in the field, advocates the preservation of traditional compass adjusting practices to ensure the highest standards of safety and accuracy in navigation.

The importance of compass adjustment is underscored by SOLAS Chapter V, Regulation 19,2.1, which mandates a properly adjusted standard magnetic compass on all ships. In the UK, all adjustments must be made by a certified Compass Adjuster, a regulation specified by MCGA UK in the Merchant Shipping (Safety of Navigation) Regulations 2020.

In conclusion, the work of compass adjusters like Sylvester is a testament to the enduring relevance of traditional craftsmanship in our increasingly digital world. Their dedication to precision, safety, and historical continuity ensures that the art and science of compass adjusting will continue to guide us in our journeys across the seas.

Magnetic compasses should be adjusted when:

  • They are first installed;
  • They become unreliable;
  • The ship undergoes structural repairs or alterations that could affect its permanent and induced magnetism
  • Electrical or magnetic equipment close to the compass is added, removed or altered;
  • A period of two years has elapsed since the last adjustment and a record of compass deviations has not been maintained, or the recorded deviations are excessive
  • When the Compass shows physical defects.

MGN610 (M+F) Annex D Page 37

In the UK, all adjustments should be made by a Compass Adjuster who holds a Certificate of Competency as Compass Adjuster issued by the UK Government

MGN610 ( M+F) Annex D Page 38

There are a number of Companies offering remote compass adjusting by phone or email and this is an alarming and potentially dangerous situation. The Chart and Nautical Instrument Association in its 100 odd years in the UK does not condone the practice of remote adjusting in any shape or form.

It is not necessary, when there are Certified Compass Adjusters available to provide a professional service.

Whenever you need a Compass Deviation Card updated and want to be compliant with the regulations, please call or email: or

Phone and WhatsApp: +447710792959

Article: The art and Science of Compass Adjusting – B. Cooke & Sons