I use the words azimuth and bearing a lot.  I also hear people using them interchangeably quite often.  However, there is a difference.


When we use a compass to determine a direction, we are technically talking about an azimuth.  We use a reference of North as 0 and measure our direction using degrees clockwise from North (e.g. East is 90 degrees, South is 180 degrees, West is 270 degrees).  Our reference meridian can be true north, grid north, magnetic north, or an assumed north, but that is beyond the scope of this article.


While we often use the word bearing the same way we use the word azimuth, that isn’t technically correct.  A bearing is described from North or South, and what angle to the East or West.  So, we can say we are 20 degrees East of South or more commonly S 20 E.  To put that in terms of an azimuth, we say 160 degrees.

Confusing enough?

Here is a simple way to convert from azimuth to bearing:

With 0 to 90 degree azimuth = 0 to 90 degree bearing

With 90 to 180 degree azimuth, your bearing = 180 – azimuth

With 180 to 270 degree azimuth, your bearing =  azimuth – 180

With 270 to 360 degree azimuth, your bearing = 360 – azimuth

For example, an azimuth of 296 degrees converts to a bearing of N 64 W.


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10 Responses to “What is the difference between an Azimuth and Bearing?”

  1. J.B. says:

    Thanks! This was among the first hits in Google and was just what I needed to help me figure out this engineer’s drawing that I’ve been handed.

  2. Amitesh charan says:

    Very useful and simple to understand, do you have any similar site for explaining essentials of survey.Please inform about a good free onlite site for mine survey techniques.

  3. Everson says:

    Hello, how can I convert de bearing to azimuth when a use GPS location?

    Anybody help meu, please!

  4. Amr says:

    Dear colleagues,

    thank you for this discussion. I have question: why we convert from azimuth to bearings? is it useful for comparative purpose?

  5. kindu temesgen says:

    what i have seen other materials their the distinction between azimuths and bearings .but my comment rotate on the way to determine the position of bearing .that is there is two things to determine the bearing 1.whole circle bearing and quadrant method .
    some scholar suggest that the value of bearing will never greater than 90 degree ,but in whole circle bearing it become up to 360 degree so which one is correct as your knowledge goes on.


  6. judaya says:

    hey guys,
    i have a question about surveying class. i am taking it now can anyone help me on it. thank you.

  7. Audrey says:

    Simple and clear explanation Chris. Thanks a bunch!

    Best whiskeys,

  8. Odia says:

    Thank u for this i had an assignment and could not understand it Gracias padre!!

  9. Chris says:


    Glad you are finding my site useful. Navigation and all the systems involved are very tricky. I’ve tried to distill that down to the essentials.

    Thanks again for the kind words!

  10. George Guay says:

    Hello Chris
    Thank You for the simplified way of making the conversion. I have been looking for hours at different sites to find this and many were so complicated that i thought I must be a real dummy.
    I had recently done a Landline for the forest service but I did it with a lensamatic compass and it was azimuths and 6400mils in the interior instead of bearing qudrant markings any way I had to sonvert those to azimuths and then to bearings to make the record.Of course to make sure you do the job correctly they change the #’s on the original survey

    Any way thanks again

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