A compass is a device used to ascertain directional orientation. The most common type of compass is a simple magnetic compass that utilizes the magnetic pull of Earth's North Pole to determine which direction is north. A fluxgate compass, on the other hand, is a more sophisticated, electronic version of the magnetic compass that requires electricity to operate. A fluxgate compass may be used on a on a boat, aircraft, or any other vehicle that requires a navigational system. The electronic output of the compass allows it to be used in more ways than the traditional magnetic compass.
The most obvious use of the fluxgate compass is for steering. When used in this manner, a digital display alerts a pilot or driver to changes in direction so that he or she is able to make adjustments and remain on the proper course. Others connect the compass to autopilot equipment. When an autopilot system is in use, the compass sends a digital signal to the autopilot, which then prompts the machinery to make steering adjustments. The digital signal generated by the compass can also be used in conjunction with other navigational tools such as chart plotters and radar.
Like the traditional magnetic compass, the fluxgate compass determines direction by assessing Earth's magnetic fields. However, rather than relying on one small magnet, fluxgate compasses are typically made with coils of wire that employ electricity to amplify the directional signal. Unlike the traditional magnetic compass which relies on a moving needle that is placed atop the magnet, the fluxgate has no moving parts. Rather than pointing towards the North Pole, the compass measures electric current, and it is this current that is used as a signal that can be translated and by other electronic devices.
The fluxgate compass has both advantages and disadvantages. The most obvious disadvantage is its need for electricity. Most users keep a traditional magnetic compass on hand as backup for situations that cause a loss of electricity. They are also less stable and have more chance of malfunction due to faulty electronic components. Most navigators consider the advantages, such as the ability to connect to other navigational equipment, worth these risks. One other advantage over a traditional compass is that the fluxgate can be placed in remote locations. This is a major plus because the magnetic influence of other equipment can erroneously alter the reading of either type of compass.