23 Modern and Traditional Compass Tattoo Ideas

In the far past, the compass was the only orientation instrument for sailors, with the help of which they came back home healthy. Even today, the motif is particularly profound, and for this reason preferred for tattoos. At the same time, it is suitable for various parts of the body, and can be combined very well with other motifs, which of course has a certain influence on the symbolism. And before you decide to get a modern compass tattoo, you should familiarize yourself not only with the meaning, but also with a few ideas and suggestions.

A compass tattoo is in the first place the best choice for travel lovers. A great idea in this regard would be to get the names of your favorite destinations tattooed around the compass – whether you have visited them before or just have a wish for it.

Complex tattoos with a compass as a central motif are especially popular in the rockabilly and hardcore scene. However, they are also popular outside of it. This is especially due to the strong symbolism of the motif, which gives great meaning to corresponding tattoos.

The compass is a device used for orientation, so the compass tattoo is most often worn by people who are determined by nature and know what they want to achieve in life.

The compass was used over the centuries by sailors and members of the military. Since it gives the direction it always symbolized protection and safety during a journey. For sailors, it could also simply symbolize the love for the sea. It is believed that a compass tattoo will protect you over rough waters, and you will return home safely. This is one of the main reasons why sailors, navy personnel, and fishermen get such tattoos done.

compass tattoo men
compass tattoo men by @rainfalltattoo
compass tattoo for women
compass tattoo for women by @dragon_tattoo

Compass Tattoo Meaning

Getting a compass tattoo could mean different things to different people. Tattoos are very personal. The meaning of a particular tattoo depends on how the wearer sees it. In addition, the meaning of the tattoo depends on its overall design and whether some modifications have been made to give the design a new meaning. For example, a multi-colored compass rose tattoo, that looks just like the ones on maps, could mean that the wearer has traveled to many parts of the world.

The compass tattoo has of course a very special meaning in seafaring: this maritime symbol is originally a classic tattoo for sailors, which should protect its wearer in rough waters and show him a safe way home. However, nowadays there are far more meanings that make a compass tattoo popular among men and women alike, as: protection and security, urgently needed guidance, sense of orientation and direction, always looking for a way home, determination in achieving one’s personal goals, strength and hope in troubled waters, and even trust in God.

What does a compass tattoo mean:

Protection during travel: The compass is used to navigate and thus helps to safely reach the destination. In the military and especially among soldiers of the navy, the compass is supposed to show the way home steadily through all times, good or bad.

Hope: The compass is an instrument with the help of which one can orient oneself. If its wearer has strayed from its path, the compass tattoo can bring back hope by symbolically remind him where he came from and show him the right way forward.

Home: Many people get the compass tattoo when they live far away from their actual home. The compass should always remind them of the familiar home as well as the love of family and friends, or simply let them appreciate the homecoming. The motif is popular among migrants, because it represents home as a goal in life.

Purposeful action: The compass already has a great meaning in real life: those who carry one with them can always orient themselves. That’s why a compass tattoo can mean that you know exactly where you want to go in life and that you have clear goals in mind.

Faith in God: The compass is also often used as a symbol in a spiritual sense: it shows the right way with the help of a hidden power, thus symbolically stands for God. A compass can also stand for a strong belief in God, in the sense of a higher power that guides and leads you in life. A big advantage is that this symbol is less bold than a cross or a rosary.

Love for the sea: Like the helm tattoo, the compass tattoo also symbolizes the love of the sea. If you like the ocean, maybe you live on the coast or would like to live there, or if you go sailing regularly because you can’t do without water, it’s a good idea to show this through a compass tattoo.

The North Star: The Compass Star was also tattooed on sailors out of superstition. It was believed that the star would help sailors at night and lead them safely home. The Compass Star represents the North Star, which is the most reliable source for finding directions. Before mankind had maps and advanced technology, people traveled by land or sea with the North Star to show them the right direction.

Luck: Many cultures see the compass as a symbol of luck. For them, it represents a guide to achieve something specific that one sets out to do in life.

compass tattoo meaning
#neverlost compass tattoo by Edo Hikaru

Compass Tattoo Ideas

In the representation of this motif you are, as with any other tattoo, completely free. Compass tattoos come in a variety of different styles and variations. Although the compass tattoo is not a mainstream tattoo design, it still is largely popular, this being especially true for coastal regions around the world.

Compass tattoos are also designed in a variety of different colors and sizes.

At the same time, the motif can be represented quite differently, and in this respect you are spoiled with choices: an elegant, stylized compass, an antique pocket compass with a 3D effect that looks quite realistic, or a completely abstract representation with lines.

Unlike the real compass, which unimaginatively always points north, you can adjust the compass on your skin yourself. So you can assign your compass tattoo your very own individual destination or its very own meaning.

Prove attention to detail, because the direction in which the needle points can also have a meaning. If you get a tattoo compass, the needle can point not only to the north, as is always the case with the real compass, but to a direction of your choice – so the tattoo would have a very personal meaning. Depending on the orientation of the compass needle, the tattoo is already attributed the following meanings:

Needle points to the South: is often used as a signal for homosexuality. Members of the gay community sometimes mark themselves with a needle pointing south – a hidden scene clue for insiders that, should you not be one of them, could put you in compromising situations.

Needle points North: a compass tattoo with a needle pointing north is popular among metal fans, but it can also have slightly right-wing connotations due to its reference to Norse mythology.

Needle pointing West or East: these other two directions are neutral, but it can also mean that you show love for your region by pointing to it.

Christian compass tattoo pointing north
Christian compass tattoo pointing North

Types of compass tattoos

traditional compass tattoo
traditional compass tattoo @DOTT

There are several variations of the compass tattoos. You can choose between simple compass designs and elaborate designs. You can also choose between multicolor tattoos, white ink tattoos or the traditional compass tattoo, usually black ink or add some color with the new school traditional  The only thing that matters is that you can be confident with the design that you will choose.

Here are some of the most popular compass tattoos that make beautiful unique designs:

Simple Compass Tattoos

This type of tattoo is perfect for people who do not want too much drama and details about their tattoo. This tattoo design includes only two lines (or sometimes double-headed arrows) that form a cross. On each arrowhead are the initials N, S, E, W, that stand for north, south, east and west.

simple compass tattoo
simple compass tattoo by @strokertattoo
simple compass tattoo
simple compass tattoo by Betty @LaRouche Studio

Compass Rose Tattoo

This is another popular type of compass known to millions of people all over the planet. The rose compass is the most common representation that is often shown in books and maps. Its design is similar to that of the first type of compass mentioned, with a slight modification. Instead of showing plain arrows, this design shows 4 to 32 points (the points look like the sides of a star). For others, this is the Rose Compass or Compass Rose, simply because from a distance it looks like the petals of a rose.

rose compass tattoo
rose compass tattoo by @YK-TATTOO ART STUDIO

Viking Compass Tattoo

Vegvisir (Icelandic for signpost), largely known as the Viking Compass is a symbol of the Vikings consisting of runes and is often associated with the symbol Aegishjàlmu, the “Helmet of fruit”. Sometimes it also happens that the two symbols are confused. The symbol is also known as the runic compass and provides guidance to a person. Many Viking ships were marked with the symbol before they set sail.

Viking compass tattoo
Viking compass tattoo by @MadDesignStudio

Nautical Compass Tattoo

A nautical compass is a magnetic device that shows you the right directions. This is used by sailors, mariners, explorers and travelers to guide them on their journey. It plays a very important role in travel. Without it, travelers wouldn’t be able to reach their destination safely. The Nautical Compass is the most common image that comes to mind when people are generically mentioning it. That’s why it can also be the most potent representation of the idea of compass.

Nautical compass tattoo
Nautical compass tattoo by @ChibaTattoo

Watercolor Compass Tattoo

The most notable feature of a watercolor tattoo is the lack of a generally defined outline or hard black ink, with imagery inspired by the impressionist free-form style and coloring. The watercolor compass tattoo is a good choice for a stylish lady with a fine taste for the classical visual arts.

Watercolor compass tattoo
Watercolor compass tattoo @SUMI KAGARI

Christian Compass Tattoo

Crosses have always been one of the most popular designs because they have a variety of different meanings. The common misconception about crosses is that they have exclusively religious connotations, but they can encompass many different understandings for different wearers and viewers, especially when fused with other elements, as is the case of the Christian compass tattoo. Some of its most popular meanings are: courage, loyalty, honor, spiritual compass.
Christian compass tattoo

Gyro Compass Tattoos

A gyro compass is a different and more modern kind of compass, mainly used in ships and airplanes. This type of compass looks different from the usual one: it is a circular device that indicates which direction is really north. This non-magnetic compass is based on the continuously rotating gyroscope spinning at its core. This gyroscope has an axis that is parallel to the Earth’s axis, so it can determine the most accurate directions. This can be a wonderful tattoo design as it incorporates small intricate details.

Gyro Compass Tattoo
Gyro Compass Tattoo by @Stroker

Combination of Compass Tattoo with other motifs

The compass is easily mixed with symbols inside the maritime family, but it can also be joined with motifs far from seafaring. For example, the compass is often combined with a clock tattoo.
The motifs that combine particularly well with the compass are all maritime symbols such as ships, world maps, island, stars, lighthouses, anchors, as well as the sea. Other and somewhat more unusual options are flowers, birds, feather, hourglasses, etc.

Compass and Anchor Tattoo

Many people combine the anchor tattoo with the compass for fashion reasons, without questioning its meaning any further. However, as you can see, the anchor symbolizes above all strength and also support and it is not for nothing that it is often called a lifeline anchor.

An anchor stands for the hold that you want in stormy times during your life. It should protect you and always provide support. That’s why, an Anchor Compass Tattoo can symbolize the friends or family who are always there for you to guide you when things get tough.

Anchors secure the ship’s position in the water, provide stability and are therefore associated with ships, travel, safety and protection. These elements also translate into a symbolic and religious meaning, and that’s why the anchor is also a common symbol of the Christian faith.

compass and anchor tattoo
compass and anchor tattoo by @billikentattoo
anchor and compass tattoo
anchor and compass tattoo by @KurashikiTattooStudio

Clock and Compass Tattoo

This combination mainly represents the transience of time as well as the cycle of life. However, it can represent much more. Other possible interpretations are associated with the preciousness of life as well with infinity. Many people choose a clock and compass tattoo because of the aesthetics of the motif: the motifs with hourglasses and retro wristwatches are especially popular.

compass tattoo
compass tattoo by @tifanatattoo

Compass and Rose Tattoo

A compass rose tattoo is associated with passion, romance and the search for love. But depending on the color, rose motifs can have different meanings. For example, the classic red rose symbolizes eternal love, the white rose stands for purity and innocence, and the orange for optimism and hope. The yellow roses, on the other hand, are more associated with negative qualities: they often stand for envy, jealousy and infidelity.

diamond and rose compass tattoo
diamond and rose compass tattoo @RyujiTattoo
rose compass tattoo
rose compass tattoo by @agony89

Compass and Coordinates Tattoo

This is a very popular tattoo motif among people who want to show their love for someone, for the family or for a certain place. Often couples or siblings get such matching tattoos to show their love for each other.
compass and coordinates tattoo

Compass and Arrow Tattoo

The compass and arrow tattoo symbolizes mainly protection from bad luck as well as good defenses. But the meaning here remains rather individual. Some choose this combination as a symbol of an eternal friendship or love. Others associate it with difficult times through which they have gone, as well as bravery and determination.
arrow compass tattoo

Ideal placement for compass tattoos

Compass tattoos can fit in almost any part of your body wherever you want. However, it is good to place the right kind of compass tattoo on the right body part to put emphasis on your tattoo. Tattoos are like statements: you have to own it. You can place it anywhere you see fit without worrying if other people can see your tattoo, but wouldn’t it be a waste to get a beautiful tattoo that you can’t comfortably wear or own?

For small nautical compass tattoo: you can put it on your wrists. The wrist is one of the most exposed parts of the body, so your tattoo will show effortlessly with just a slight movement. It is also a bit sexy for women to put the tattoo there, especially if their wrists are slim. Another great spot that will look sexy with a tattoo is the back of the neck.

For medium sized compass tattoo: you can put it on your shoulders or legs. Since these are larger tattoo designs, you will need a larger space for it. Your tattoos will be very noticeable in these areas as well, especially if you like to wear shorts and sleeveless tops.

Large sized compass tattoos: compass chest tattoo is the most common option but large tattoos will look great on your back too. You have the ultimate choice of using your whole back or just using a part of it for your tattoo. Having it on the upper back is perfect for teenagers.

leg large compass tattoo
small compass tattoo

The power of a Compass tattoo

If you have a compass tattoo, people will most likely think that you are the outgoing type of person. Since a compass guides travelers and explorers, people will naturally think of you in this way. Having this type of tattoo does not necessarily mean that you have to become a true traveler. Getting this type of tattoo just means that you love life on the road or love exploring places, even if you’ve never been to a place other than your hometown.

Compass tattoos indicate that you want to seek new places and experience new adventures. It’s always exciting to step out of your comfort zone and try a trip into the real world. By exploring other places, you get to encounter new people and experience different cultures. These experiences will help you become a better version of yourself. It will help you grow and develop in the most efficient way.

Some people get compass tattoos, in honor of a family member who is a part of the Navy. It could also be because you want to commemorate the death of a loved one who once served the Navy, Marines or Air Force.

The compass tattoo is especially good for ambitious and determined people who always set clear goals in front of their eyes. Complementary, the compass tattoo can help people who still have not found their direction in life and do not know exactly where you want to go. If you currently feel that you are going through a life crisis, the compass as a tattoo motif can be a very good choice for you. Because apart from ambition and purposeful action, the compass also stands for hope, for those who have somehow lost their way.

In conclusion, the compass tattoo can give orientation and symbolically remind you not to stray from the right path; it can stand for home and always shows you the way home; it can stand for determination and not to lose sight of your goals; it can stand for the love of the sea; it can symbolize luck, hope and happiness, because with this symbol on your side you will achieve everything you set out to do in your life.