Compass Tattoo

What Does A Compass Tattoo Mean?

Compass Tattoo Meanings

Compasses are some of the oldest tools known to the planet; a compass is a tool that has provided direction for thousands of years.

Symbolically, it can give direction, too.

For example, the compass is symbolic of guidance through life.

It can even refer to a higher power that is guiding and protecting you from danger.

The compass also is often used to navigate along bodies of water; therefore it is a typical nautical tattoo like a boat or an anchor.

Compass tattoos can mean independence and you may want to get one if you have found your own direction.

However, depending on the style and design, a compass tattoo could also mean that you are traveling in the wrong direction in life.

Let’s take a look at some of the most basic elements of compass tattoo symbolism:

  • Nautical Adventure
  • Independence
  • Wrong Path
  • Guidance/Direction

A compass tattoo can be a symbol to remember one’s nautical adventures.

Whether you’re a sailor, a marine, or any other profession related to water travel, getting this tattoo could mean you are proud of your livelihood.

Independence is another meaning of the compass tattoo.

Compass tattoos point in one direction, leading to the idea that your own experience traveling through life is no one’s path but your own.

You may even point the compass in the navigational direction of the geographical place that gave you your independence.

If you feel that you may be on the wrong path in life, this could be a tattoo for you.

To get past negative life events, sometimes a tattoo is required to signify that your making progress due to its permanency.

Last, a compass tattoo symbolizes either needing guidance in life or having guidance from someone special such as a religious figure, or your grandmother, for example.

A lot of people struggle with finding direction; but once you have it, it is worth celebrating with a compass tattoo.


Cultures who spend (or spent) their lives traveling on the sea often choose the compass tattoo.

The compass tattoo has some religious meaning in the Bible as well.

Below are three cultures represented by compass tattoos:

  • Nautical Compass Tattoo Meanings

For those who work in nautical jobs or who are in the marines, there is a culture around compass tattoos related to the sea.

The nautical tattoo of the compass can be a symbol for those who spend their lives on the water.

Often connected to water, or to an anchor, nautical anchor tattoos commemorate someone’s dedication to sailors.

  • Viking Compass Tattoo Meaning

Some Viking compass tattoos, such as the Vegvísir tattoo, were symbols of protection from evil.

Part of Norse mythology, the Vegvísir Viking tattoo is a nautical tattoo that also is meant to guide the person wearing it.

Another example of a Viking tattoo is a compass designed with the language of the runes, an Icelandic and Celtic language.

This tattoo is a strong symbol of masculinity.

Viking Compass Tattoo
  • Compass Symbolism in the Bible

In Christianity, the compass tattoo symbolizes having direction in your faith and the solidity of your beliefs.

It also symbolizes religious guidance.

The Meanings of Compass Tattoo Styles

The compass tattoo looks good in multiple styles; it can be worn by practically anybody.

Before you decide on a compass tattoo, check out the American traditional, geometric tattoos, and watercolor tattoo styles:

  • American Traditional Compass Tattoo Meaning

It can be said that only tough guys and gals get American traditional tattoos; they are always a bold and heavy look.

The American traditional compass tattoo means that no one can mess with you: the compass provides all the luck you need to keep trouble at bay.

  • Geometric Compass Tattoo Meaning

Geometric compass tattoos are usually in black and use shapes like diamonds and triangles.

This is a cool and interesting tattoo to get!

Practically described by its style, the compass tattoo’s meaning is independence, including being unique from others.

Geometric Compass Tattoo
  • Watercolor Compass Tattoo Meaning

This expressive tattoo is a creative one with a splash of color in the background of a black compass.

The watercolor compass tattoo also represents independence because of its unique style.

The compass embodies finding one’s own way to do something or to be you, and the watercolor adds brilliant color to this meaning.

Meanings of Different Compass Tattoo Designs

Compass tattoos are often paired with other nautical and navigational symbols.

Let’s take a look at the meanings of different compass tattoo designs:

  • Clock & Compass Tattoo Meaning

Both the clock and the compass can mean guidance, so together they are a strong symbol of leadership and control.

The clock guides you through the day with time, while the compass can direct you where you’re going.

If you have time and physical directions leading you through life, then you certainly have a lot of guidance.

  • Compass Rose Tattoo Meaning

A compass rose also called the rose of the winds, is a symbol used to display one of the cardinal directions.

Aesthetically, some may add two roses on either side of the compass or in the center of the compass rose.

People choose a compass rose tattoo because it has a meaning depending on where the compass rose is pointing.

For example, when the compass rose is pointing north, it signifies that the person is heading in the right direction.

If it’s pointing on the opposite side, the south, it can mean boldness and the adventure of a young soul.

Compass Rose Tattoo
  • Arrow & Compass Tattoo Meaning

One common compass tattoo has an arrow through its background.

The arrow points the compass in a specific direction.

The arrow tattoo and compass tattoo signifies direction through life.

If you feel you have found a specific purpose in life, then you could get an arrow and compass tattoo to remember your unique path has been chosen. 

  • Anchor & Compass Tattoo Meaning

When an anchor and a compass are together in a tattoo, it refers to navigation of the sea and nautical adventures.

This nautical tattoo undoubtedly refers to the sea.

This would be a great tattoo to get if you’re a sailor or fishermen; or if you are a marine!

  • Broken Compass Tattoo Meaning

When a compass is broken in a tattoo, it signifies the opposite of the typical meaning of guidance.

A broken compass tattoo means you have lost your way, or in other words, your direction has been broken along the way.

Broken Compass Tattoo
  • Nautical Star & Compass Tattoo Meaning

The nautical star compass tattoo is one of the most popular compass tattoos.

The nautical star comes from the tradition of sailors following the North Star to find their way.

This tattoo always leads you back to home— it means you should never forget where you come from.

Nautical Star and Compass Tattoo
  • Owl & Compass Tattoo Meaning

Owls are often known to be protectors of the dead.

The compass also means protection, so when they are together this tattoo means you are protected from evil spirits or your loved ones who have passed are protected by spirits, God, ancestors, or whatever you believe in.

  • Map & Compass Tattoo Meaning

A map and compass tattoo typically has the compass in the foreground with the background being the continents or a map with vertical and horizontal lines.

Maps guide us to where we need to get to; just as a compass lets us know what direction we are going in to help us find our way.

Therefore, this tattoo symbolizes that someone is guiding you through life, or alternatively, that you need more guidance.

Map and Compass Tattoo
  • Mandala Compass Tattoo Meaning

When the compass is placed on top of a mandala, an intriguing and absolutely beautiful tattoo takes form.

The mandala comes from the Sanskrit word meaning “circle,” and refers to eternity and wholeness.

This compass tattoo means that your soul is on an eternal journey.

  • Dream Catcher & Compass Tattoo Meaning

Compass tattoos can also mean that you are following your dreams.

With the dream catcher, this meaning becomes mystical and symbolic of chasing after your wildest fantasies.

This tattoo can also mean that you are heading in the direction of the unknown; we do not know what we will dream about every night, however, we know it will always be an exciting adventure.

  • Ship & Compass Tattoo Meaning

A nautical tattoo, the ship and compass tattoo refers to life on the ocean and is a great tattoo for seamen.

The compass is often placed above or below a large ship, typically in blues, reds, and black.

  • Skull & Compass Tattoo Meaning

The skull tattoo and compass tattoo can refer to your own direction being ill-fated, or that a direction you were on was a negative one.

Maybe you want to remind yourself that your fate is your own mortality— a hard part of life to accept.

Summing Up

Although many meanings related to compass tattoos have something to do with bodies of water, they mostly in fact have to do with direction.

One of the coolest parts of choosing a compass tattoo is you can pick which direction the compass faces.

For example, if you wanted to symbolize your move to the west, you could get a “W” compass tattoo.

Compass tattoos make so many symbolic gestures towards how your life has meaning and the subjective experiences we all face each day.

Choosing a compass tattoo all depends on what part of life’s journey you want to commemorate.

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