Refurbishing a compass

by Stuart Warden
(Cape Town, South Africa)

Although this posting is not strictly a wooden boat issue, I would like to restore a Cap Ben bulkhead compass from an old boat I am restoring and hope someone out there could assist?

The main problem with old compasses I have seen and read on the web, is that some of the fluid leaks out and others get bubbles.

Various comments about what fluid to use are debated e.g. white spirits and others, some say rather go back to the manufacturers.

My Cap Ben has some bubbles but not too serious, also need to know what the level of the fluid should be?

In the second photograph the fluid level is about 85%.

Finally, the three miniature lamps are not working so need to be replaced, maybe with small LEDs?

There is also a small module with 2 wires stuck with silicon near the top lamp- no idea what this is?

Comments for Refurbishing a compass

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Feb 27, 2013
compass refurbishment
by: Steve Bull

I have restored an old compass with pure alcohol as the fluid and it works perfectly or even rubbing alcohol from the chemist is ok it is almost pure.

I filled my compass to 100% fluid.

Feb 26, 2013
Refurbishing compass...
by: Stuart

Thanks for your comments.

I have been in touch with a person in New Zealand who used to refurbish these Cap Bens, says they have not produced anything since mid/late 90s.

The mystery block transpired to be a lamp in silicon to replace the top lamp.

Amazing, two lamps still working, so will fit a new one, slightly bigger diam. is all I could find, in top position.

Also learned that these were filled with Glycol, local chemist thinks a bit of Glycerene will also work.

Tend to agree, will probably not add anymore fluid, 90 - 95% is max level in any event according to informant from NZ.


Feb 26, 2013
Cap Ben Bulkhead Compass
by: Anonymous

I wouldn't worry about the fluid level as long as there are no leaks or cracks in the globe and as long as the card floats and swings freely.

Could the “small module with 2 wires” have been an on off switch for the lights?

Replacing the lamps with LEDs sounds like a reasonable idea.

However, you need to be careful that adding wiring etc. doesn't affect the compass unduly.

And it would be wise to do a compass swing and if necessary create a deviation card once it has been mounted on the boat.

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