Compass and Nautical Tattoo Designs and Their Meaning

Compass tattoos symbolize guidance and freedom. You have many cool options to include in your new ink, including maps, landscapes or other elements. We’ve compiled a list to help you navigate your way through this decision and let your creativity run free.

Different Meanings of the Compass

Compasses have been used since the 12th century to guide and give direction, especially by mariners. They’re also a great, versatile tattoo object that lets you set your imagination free and use many different kinds of styles.


In one interpretation, a compass is a reminder that you need to follow your heart and always move forward in your life. 

Taking Journeys

While a compass tattoo used to be the sign of a sailor, today it’s the tattoo of a true wanderlust. It symbolizes the urge to look for adventure and seek the unknown. It speaks of freedom, but also of direction and determination.

It also works as a good luck charm to return safely, a reminder that you always know where you’re going. In this sense, it can symbolize the way family, friends or your partner give you the security you’ll always return to.


A compass can also be a subtle symbol of religion. It can represent the way you’ll always find your way through your faith. If you’re not a fan of traditional religious imagery, you might like this way of expressing your devotion.

Popular Design Options

Even if traditional, there are many ways to personalize a compass. You can either design the traditional compass as an object, or only the arrows pointing to all the four cardinal directions – north, east, south, and west. Together with this decision, you can choose whether you want to keep it simple or add other items.


Maps of different kinds are probably the most common element added to a compass tattoo, especially for young world travelers. 

That doesn’t mean they can’t be illustrated in a detailed way to mirror your personal nomadic tastes. In fact, maps can be among the most versatile and personal backgrounds for a compass.

You can try directly placing the world map below the compass. Alternatively, you can use your favorite continent or country. 

Did you find yourself on your trip across South America? Do you dream of backpacking in Vietnam? Try those options for your tat.

Ancient maps are another popular option that is easy to personalize. They can represent abstract lines, real or imaginary places. Fan of epic fantasy? A map of Westeros or Tolkien’s Middle Earth together with a compass can symbolize the way stories take you to different worlds. 

History buff? Try depicting the location of your favorite ancient culture, be it Aztec, Greek or Egyptian.


You can include the names of loved ones in the design. You can either have the names go around it or replace the cardinal directions with their initials.

Including the names of your parents or your kids and spouse in the compass makes them your good luck charm. It symbolizes how you’ll always find your way with them around you.


Many people like to give the compass a personal touch with a quote. It can be a simple and immortal “carpe diem,” or your poem or song of choice. Is there something that speaks to you about finding yourself or living to the fullest?

A good option is a quote that refers to traveling, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous, “Not all those who wander are lost.” The compass symbolizes exactly that determination of always knowing where you’re headed.

Another option is to include a poem that refers to love if that’s the symbolism you’re

inclining for. A great quote about love’s all-encompassing power goes well with the theme.

Since compasses can also symbolize your personal relationship with faith, a quote from religious text is a nice addition. You can choose a verse from the Bible or a quote from the Quran. The compass was widely used in ancient China, so it can go well together with many Asian philosophies, too.


Arrows are really all you need to form a compass design. You can have two crossing, simple arrows, and choose to make them as ancient or intricate as you want. An arrow compass looks good even with simple, black lines, but you can always make them realistic or 3D.

Nautical Compass

Anchors, mermaids, and ships are all common elements associated with this design. They’re traditional and since the compass has commonly been used in ships, it goes thematically well together with these ideas.

Try including an anchor at the bottom of the compass or a couple of different elements on either side. Nautical scenery is also a great background for a simple compass.

Stars and Constellations

Stars have been used for navigation, much like compasses, and the two complement each other nicely. Try surrounding your compass with a bunch of small stars or constellations to underline its symbolism.


Flowery backgrounds are an easy way to add more color and detail to your new ink. Try red roses, purple lilies or even a dash of yellow with a sunflower, whichever is your favorite.

Roses, especially, symbolize love. You could include them in your design to reinforce the idea of your love guiding you through thick and thin.

Feathers or Wings

Feathers are light and poetic, they float in the air and go wherever the wind takes them. Together with a compass, they express both the freedom and the confidence in always finding your way.

Wings are another element that reinforces this symbolism. Knowing where you’re going and having the strength to chase your dreams is the underlying meaning of this tattoo. One of its perks is that it’s easy to make quite big in size. 


Landscapes are a nice backdrop for a compass. They symbolize the need to venture into the unknown. This tattoo can also mean the importance nature has for you and the peace and direction you find there. 

You can draw a dark forest, a river, a mountain range or any kind of natural setting you’re drawn to. Try doing the outline in all black and adding dashes of color, or alternatively adding color to the entire landscape. You can make this design as big or small as you want, from just a few inches on your arm to your entire back.

What Styles and Colors to Pick

From colorful flowers to simple, black arrows, your options with this design are virtually unlimited. Using different colors can really make it pop, but leaving it in the traditional black keeps it stylish and elegant. 

You can draw a 3D-style compass if you’re more into a realistic-looking object. Added stars, maps or landscapes can help you give it more color or a more old-timey feel. Swirls of different colors beneath the compass are another great possibility if you want your ink to look vibrant.

You could also try this design in a more abstract or minimalist style, even completely with dots. If you only include the arrows, it’s easier to keep the tattoo small and unnoticeable.

Where Should You Get Your Ink

The different options for placement depend a lot on the design you’re looking for. Let’s go through some of the most common body parts for this type of tattoo.


A small compass can be placed anywhere in the body, and it adds a nice detail to your wrists, ankles, or neck. Many people choose the inside of the forearm. It’s a good place for showing off your ink whenever you’re wearing short sleeves, but it’s also office-appropriate in many corporate settings.

A big or moderate-sized compass looks good on your shoulders, biceps, or forearms. Men tend to go for this design.

Landscapes and maps also look great on your arms. Think about a mountain range that goes around your entire forearm, for example. The compass can be either a small detail or a major part of the design, the choice is yours.


Your legs take you on adventures, which makes them a great place for this reminder. The calves, especially, are a common choice for a moderate-sized, round tattoo. 

Back and Chest

A compass with wings or flowers can be made big enough to cover your whole arm or back. Wings, especially, look their best when they cover the whole chest or back. With the compass in the middle of your torso you can give this symbol centrality in your body ink.

The shoulder blades are another good alternative for a compass tattoo. You might not see it at all times, but it’s in the background, guiding your way.

Best Compass Tattoos