Bearings are a very special and useful case of angles. You will remember that an angle is formed when two lines intersect – in bearings, one of those lines is always a line pointing to north. The second line points to an object, or in the direction we want to travel. Bearings are always measured clockwise starting from north, and stated as a 3-digit number. Check out how well you know your bearing facts in this GCSE Maths quiz.
Bearings have been an essential aid to navigation for many hundreds of years, ever since the discovery of the magnetic compass. Early compasses were based around the four cardinal points: north, south, east and west. Further divisions between each of these form the ordinal directions, such as southwest. You need to know where each of the compass points are, which mnemonic do you use? Popular ones include ‘Never Eat Sea Weed’ and ‘Naughty Elephants Squirt Water’.
Modern compasses are much more accurate, and use degrees instead of compass points. You should know what bearing each of the compass points is, and be comfortable working between them.
Another useful skill with bearings is working out a back-bearing (also called reciprocal bearings). Imagine you are trying to locate your position on a map. You can see an obvious landmark, and you have found it on the map also. Using a compass, you take a bearing from your position to the landmark, but when you come to draw it on the map you don’t know where to start from (otherwise you would already know where you are!). Instead, you draw a back-bearing from the landmark, to give you a position line.
Despite modern technology, a good knowledge of bearings is still essential for navigation on land, on sea and in the air.