Navigating with a Watch
Written by Kenneth Kerby (USMC Scout Sniper, RET.)
- - - Mr. Kerby served as a leadership and tactics instructor for Division Schools, 2nd Mar. Div • instructor for the Mountain Warfare Training Center • instructor for Division Schools, 1st Mar. Div. as the NCOIC for the Scout Sniper School • graduate of the US Army’s Ranger School and Airborne School.
That is the first question to answer. Why would anyone want to use a wrist watch to navigate by? Why use an analog watch when you can use a compass, a GPS, a smart phone or a smart watch?
If you are a serious prepper you might be concerned about an EMP wiping out your electronics. This of course would also wipe out battery run watches, requiring a self-winding or auto-winding watch.
Maybe you are a serious environmentalist and don’t want to support the heavy metal mining to provide batteries required to operate smart devices for navigation.Maybe you are simply nostalgic and like an old winding watch and knowing the “Old School” way of doing things.
Or, maybe you are just thrifty and don’t want to spent the extra money for things you don’t need and having to continually replace batteries. All are acceptable reasons. Then of course there is also the fun factor of knowing what others don’t know and being able to teach something new (old) to those that don’t know.
Is it really possible to actually navigate with a watch? Absolutely! As with all skills it requires practice to become competent at navigating with a watch. This means you will have to put your “time” into it.
The method we are initially covering applies to using a watch with a 360 degree compass bezel ring in the northern hemisphere to determine an azimuth for a direction of travel.
Rotate your watch till the hour hand of your watch is aligned towards the sun.
Bisect the angle between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock position; this is the direction to the South.
Rotate the bezel ring till South (180 degrees) is at the at the point of the bisection.
This will orientate the compass bezel and provide a reference for “True North”. If using a map, you can locate the declination diagram and orientate the map using “True North”.
The watch and bezel ring will require realignment with the sun as it moves across the sky. During the morning the hour hand will be to the left of the 12 o’clock position.
The hour hand and 12 o’clock will align at high noon, when the sun is at its zenith, directly overhead.This will orientate the compass bezel and provide a reference for “True North”.
You will need to realign the watch with the sun’s movement every time when sighting an azimuth. During the afternoon the hour hand will be to the right of the 12 o’clock position.
With the watch and bezel ring properly aligned with the sun, an azimuth of travel can be determined.
Keeping the bezel ring degrees aligned with the sun without readjusting, you will veer to the right.
Keeping the hour hand aligned with the sun without readjusting the bezel ring, you will veer to the left.
To help control veering off, align an azimuth to a distant object as soon as you have oriented the watch to the sun; then go to that object. You then reorient your watch and immediately set an azimuth to another object or waypoint and continue to repeat till you reach your destination.
However, there are times when you may not be able to determine a precise azimuth to your destination.
Along with the fact that everyone has a natural “drift” in their gait; some drift left, some drift right. Now add in the potential to veer off your azimuth, depending on how you use your watch to navigate; you could miss your destination entirely.
This is especially true if you do not know you own gait and pacing or maintain your pace count while walking.
To help control your travel to locate your destination, use a “linear waypoint” instead of a single waypoint.
Use one of the alignment methods to purposefully allow you to veer to the left (or right) of your intended destination till you hit a linear waypoint such as a stream, road, powerline, railroad, etc.
Then turn against your veer and follow the linear waypoint to your destination or to a recognizable waypoint and continue your navigation to your destination.
What about Daylight savings Time?
“Spring Forward”- The hour hand and 1 o’clock will now align at high noon, when the sun is at its zenith.
Bisect the angle between the hour hand and the 1 o’clock position to locate “South”
What if I have a Diver Bezel Ring?
Adjust the same as a compass bezel ring’ only 0 or 60 minutes will be North and 30 minutes will be South.
Multiply your minutes by 6 to get your azimuth in degrees.
What if my watch doesn’t have a Bezel Ring?
You still bisect the angle between the hour hand and 12 o’clock to find South.
Remember South is at 180 degrees, a minute equals 6 degrees; add or subtract depending on desired azimuth of your direction of travel.
What if I am in the Southern Hemisphere?
The sun will be toward the North in the sky; align 12 o’clock towards the sun instead of the hour hand.
Bisect the angle between the 12 o’clock position and the hour hand; all other rules apply.
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