Knot (unit)

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Airspeed Indicator.svg
An airspeed indicator, which shows speed in knots
General information
Unit system
  • meteorology
  • aviation
  • maritime
Unit of speed
1 kn in ...... is equal to ...
    km/h    1.852
    mph    1.15078
    m/s    0.514444
    ft/s    1.68781

The knot ( /nɒt/ ) is a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile per hour, exactly 1.852 km/h (approximately 1.15078 mph). [1] The ISO standard symbol for the knot is kn. [2] The same symbol is preferred by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE); kt is also common, especially in aviation, where it is the form recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). [3] The knot is a non-SI unit. [4] Worldwide, the knot is used in meteorology, and in maritime and air navigation—for example, a vessel travelling at 1 knot along a meridian travels approximately one minute of geographic latitude in one hour.

Speed Magnitude of velocity

In everyday use and in kinematics, the speed of an object is the magnitude of its velocity ; it is thus a scalar quantity. The average speed of an object in an interval of time is the distance travelled by the object divided by the duration of the interval; the instantaneous speed is the limit of the average speed as the duration of the time interval approaches zero.

Nautical mile unit of distance (1852 m)

A nautical mile is a unit of measurement used in both air and marine navigation, and for the definition of territorial waters. Historically, it was defined as one minute of a degree of latitude. Today it is defined as exactly 1852 metres. The derived unit of speed is the knot, one nautical mile per hour.

ISO 80000-3:2006 is an ISO standard entitled Quantities and units – Part 3: Space and time, superseding ISO 31-1 and ISO 31-2. It is a part of the group of standards called ISO/IEC 80000, which together form the International System of Quantities.


Etymologically, the term derives from counting the number of knots in the line that unspooled from the reel of a chip log in a specific time.

Knot method of fastening or securing linear material, such as rope, by tying or interweaving

A knot is an intentional complication in cordage which may be useful or decorative. Practical knots may be classified as hitches, bends, splices, or knots. A hitch fastens a rope to another object; a bend unites two rope ends; a splice is a multi-strand bend or loop. A knot in the strictest sense serves as a stopper or knob at the end of a rope to keep that end from slipping through a grommet or eye. Knots have excited interest since ancient times for their practical uses, as well as their topological intricacy, studied in the area of mathematics known as knot theory.

A chip log, also called common log, ship log, or just log, is a navigation tool mariners use to estimate the speed of a vessel through water. The word knot, to mean nautical mile per hour, derives from this measurement method.


1 international knot =
1  nautical mile per hour (by definition),
1,852.000 metres per hour (exactly), [4]
0.51444 metres per second (approximately),
1.15078 miles per hour (approximately),
20.25372 inches per second (approximately)
1.68781 feet per second (approximately).

1852 m is the length of the internationally agreed nautical mile. The US adopted the international definition in 1954, having previously used the US nautical mile (1853.248 m). [5] The UK adopted the international nautical mile definition in 1970, having previously used the UK Admiralty nautical mile (6080 ft or 1853.184 m).

Admiralty British Government ministry responsible for the Royal Navy until 1964

The Admiralty, originally known as the Office of the Admiralty and Marine Affairs, was the government department responsible for the command of the Royal Navy first in the Kingdom of England, later in the Kingdom of Great Britain, and from 1801 to 1964, the United Kingdom and former British Empire. Originally exercised by a single person, the Lord High Admiral (1385–1628), the Admiralty was, from the early 18th century onwards, almost invariably put "in commission" and exercised by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, who sat on the Board of Admiralty.

Conversions between common units of speed
m/s km/h mph knot ft/s
1 m/s =13.62.2369361.9438443.280840
1 km/h =0.27777810.6213710.5399570.911344
1 mph =0.447041.60934410.8689761.466667
1 knot =0.5144441.8521.15077911.687810
1 ft/s =0.30481.097280.6818180.5924841

(Values in bold face are exact.)


The speeds of vessels relative to the fluids in which they travel (boat speeds and air speeds) are measured in knots. For consistency, the speeds of navigational fluids (tidal streams, river currents and wind speeds) are also measured in knots. Thus, speed over the ground (SOG) (ground speed (GS) in aircraft) and rate of progress towards a distant point ("velocity made good", VMG) are also given in knots.

In physics, a fluid is a substance that continually deforms (flows) under an applied shear stress, or external force. Fluids are a phase of matter and include liquids, gases and plasmas. They are substances with zero shear modulus, or, in simpler terms, substances which cannot resist any shear force applied to them.

Wind speed

Wind speed, or wind flow velocity, is a fundamental atmospheric quantity caused by air moving from high to low pressure, usually due to changes in temperature. Note that wind direction is usually almost parallel to isobars, due to Earth's rotation.

Ground speed is the horizontal speed of an aircraft relative to the ground. An aircraft heading vertically would have a ground speed of zero. Information displayed to passengers through the entertainment system often gives the aircraft ground speed rather than airspeed.


Until the mid-19th century, vessel speed at sea was measured using a chip log. This consisted of a wooden panel, attached by line to a reel, and weighted on one edge to float perpendicularly to the water surface and thus present substantial resistance to the water moving around it. The chip log was cast over the stern of the moving vessel and the line allowed to pay out. [6] Knots placed at a distance of 47  feet 3  inches (14.4018 m) from each other, passed through a sailor's fingers, while another sailor used a 30-second sand-glass (28-second sand-glass is the currently accepted timing) to time the operation. [7] The knot count would be reported and used in the sailing master's dead reckoning and navigation. This method gives a value for the knot of 20.25 in/s, or 1.85166 km/h. The difference from the modern definition is less than 0.02%.

The foot is a unit of length in the imperial and US customary systems of measurement. Since the International Yard and Pound Agreement of 1959, one foot is defined as 0.3048 meter exactly. In customary units, the foot comprises 12 inches and three feet compose a yard.

The inch is a unit of length in the (British) imperial and United States customary systems of measurement. It is equal to ​136 yard or ​112 of a foot. Derived from the Roman uncia ("twelfth"), the word inch is also sometimes used to translate similar units in other measurement systems, usually understood as deriving from the width of the human thumb. Standards for the exact length of an inch have varied in the past, but since the adoption of the international yard during the 1950s and 1960s it has been based on the metric system and defined as exactly 25.4 mm.

Hourglass instrument that measures a specific length of time

An hourglass is a device used to measure the passage of time. It comprises two glass bulbs connected vertically by a narrow neck that allows a regulated trickle of material from the upper bulb to the lower one. Factors affecting the time it measured include sand quantity, sand coarseness, bulb size, and neck width. Hourglasses may be reused indefinitely by inverting the bulbs once the upper bulb is empty. Depictions of hourglasses in art survive in large numbers from antiquity to the present day, as a symbol for the passage of time. These were especially common sculpted as epitaphs on tombstones or other monuments, also in the form of the winged hourglass, a literal depiction of the well-known Latin epitaph tempus fugit.

Derivation of knots spacing:

, so in seconds that is meters per knot.

Modern use

Graphic scale from a Mercator projection world map, showing the change with latitude World Scale from DMA Series 1150 map.png
Graphic scale from a Mercator projection world map, showing the change with latitude

Although the unit knot does not fit within the SI system, its retention for nautical and aviation use is important because the length of a nautical mile, upon which the knot is based, is closely related to the longitude/latitude geographic coordinate system. As a result, nautical miles and knots are convenient units to use when navigating an aircraft or ship.

Longitude A geographic coordinate that specifies the east-west position of a point on the Earths surface

Longitude, is a geographic coordinate that specifies the east–west position of a point on the Earth's surface, or the surface of a celestial body. It is an angular measurement, usually expressed in degrees and denoted by the Greek letter lambda (λ). Meridians connect points with the same longitude. By convention, one of these, the Prime Meridian, which passes through the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, England, was allocated the position of 0° longitude. The longitude of other places is measured as the angle east or west from the Prime Meridian, ranging from 0° at the Prime Meridian to +180° eastward and −180° westward. Specifically, it is the angle between a plane through the Prime Meridian and a plane through both poles and the location in question.

Latitude The angle between zenith at a point and the plane of the equator

In geography, latitude is a geographic coordinate that specifies the north–south position of a point on the Earth's surface. Latitude is an angle which ranges from 0° at the Equator to 90° at the poles. Lines of constant latitude, or parallels, run east–west as circles parallel to the equator. Latitude is used together with longitude to specify the precise location of features on the surface of the Earth. On its own, the term latitude should be taken to be the geodetic latitude as defined below. Briefly, geodetic latitude at a point is the angle formed by the vector perpendicular to the ellipsoidal surface from that point, and the equatorial plane. Also defined are six auxiliary latitudes which are used in special applications.

Geographic coordinate system Coordinate system

A geographic coordinate system is a coordinate system that enables every location on Earth to be specified by a set of numbers, letters or symbols. The coordinates are often chosen such that one of the numbers represents a vertical position and two or three of the numbers represent a horizontal position; alternatively, a geographic position may be expressed in a combined three-dimensional Cartesian vector. A common choice of coordinates is latitude, longitude and elevation. To specify a location on a plane requires a map projection.

Standard nautical charts are on the Mercator projection and the horizontal (East-West) scale varies with latitude. On a chart of the North Atlantic, the scale varies by a factor of two from Florida to Greenland. A single graphic scale, of the sort on many maps, would therefore be useless on such a chart. Since the length of a nautical mile, for practical purposes, is equivalent to about a minute of latitude, a distance in nautical miles on a chart can easily be measured by using dividers and the latitude scales on the sides of the chart. Recent British Admiralty charts have a latitude scale down the middle to make this even easier. [8]

Speed is sometimes incorrectly expressed as "knots per hour", [9] which would mean "nautical miles per hour per hour" and thus would refer to acceleration.

Aeronautical terms

Prior to 1969, airworthiness standards for civil aircraft in the United States Federal Aviation Regulations specified that distances were to be in statute miles, and speeds in miles per hour. In 1969, these standards were progressively amended to specify that distances were to be in nautical miles, and speeds in knots. [10]

The following abbreviations are used to distinguish between various measurements of airspeed: [11]

The indicated airspeed is close to the true airspeed only at sea level in standard conditions and at low speeds. At 11000 m (36000 ft), an indicated airspeed of 300 kn may correspond to a true airspeed of 500 kn in standard conditions.

See also

Related Research Articles

Mile Unit of length

The mile is an English unit of length of linear measure equal to 5,280 feet, or 1,760 yards, and standardised as exactly 1,609.344 metres by international agreement in 1959.

The gas constant is also known as the molar, universal, or ideal gas constant, denoted by the symbol R or R and is equivalent to the Boltzmann constant, but expressed in units of energy per temperature increment per mole, i.e. the pressure–volume product, rather than energy per temperature increment per particle. The constant is also a combination of the constants from Boyle's law, Charles's law, Avogadro's law, and Gay-Lussac's law. It is a physical constant that is featured in many fundamental equations in the physical sciences, such as the ideal gas law and the Nernst equation.

Flight instruments instrument in the cockpit of an aircraft that provides the pilot with information about the flight situation of that aircraft

Flight instruments are the instruments in the cockpit of an aircraft that provide the pilot with information about the flight situation of that aircraft, such as altitude, airspeed and direction. They improve safety by allowing the pilot to fly the aircraft in level flight, and make turns, without a reference outside the aircraft such as the horizon. Visual flight rules (VFR) require an airspeed indicator, an altimeter, and a compass or other suitable magnetic direction indicator. Instrument flight rules (IFR) additionally require a gyroscopic pitch-bank, direction and rate of turn indicator, plus a slip-skid indicator, adjustable altimeter, and a clock. Flight into Instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) require radio navigation instruments for precise takeoffs and landings.

Nautical chart topographic map of a maritime area and adjacent coastal regions

A nautical chart is a graphic representation of a sea area and adjacent coastal regions. Depending on the scale of the chart, it may show depths of water and heights of land, natural features of the seabed, details of the coastline, navigational hazards, locations of natural and human-made aids to navigation, information on tides and currents, local details of the Earth's magnetic field, and human-made structures such as harbours, buildings and bridges. Nautical charts are essential tools for marine navigation; many countries require vessels, especially commercial ships, to carry them. Nautical charting may take the form of charts printed on paper or computerized electronic navigational charts. Recent technologies have made available paper charts which are printed "on demand" with cartographic data that has been downloaded to the commercial printing company as recently as the night before printing. With each daily download, critical data such as Local Notices to Mariners are added to the on-demand chart files so that these charts are up to date at the time of printing.

Aviation is the design, development, production, operation, and use of aircraft, especially heavier-than-air aircraft. Articles related to aviation include:

Airspeed speed of an aircraft relative to air

Airspeed is the speed of an aircraft relative to the air. Among the common conventions for qualifying airspeed are indicated airspeed ("IAS"), calibrated airspeed ("CAS"), equivalent airspeed ("EAS"), true airspeed ("TAS"), and density airspeed.

True airspeed

The true airspeed of an aircraft is the speed of the aircraft relative to the airmass in which it is flying. The true airspeed is important information for accurate navigation of an aircraft. Traditionally it is measured using an analogue TAS indicator, but as the Global Positioning System has become available for civilian use, the importance of such analogue instruments has decreased. Since indicated airspeed is a better indicator of power used and lift available, True airspeed is not used for controlling the aircraft during taxiing, takeoff, climb, descent, approach or landing; for these purposes the Indicated airspeed – IAS or KIAS – is used. However, since indicated airspeed only shows true speed through the air at standard sea level pressure and temperature, a TAS meter is necessary for navigation purposes at cruising altitude in less dense air. The IAS meter reads very nearly the TAS at lower altitude and at lower speed. On jet airliners the TAS meter is usually hidden at speeds below 200 knots (370 km/h). Neither provides for accurate speed over the ground, since surface winds or winds aloft are not taken into account.

Indicated airspeed (IAS) is the airspeed read directly from the airspeed indicator (ASI) on an aircraft, driven by the pitot-static system. It uses the difference between total pressure and static pressure, provided by the system, to either mechanically or electronically measure dynamic pressure. The dynamic pressure includes terms for both density and airspeed. Since the airspeed indicator cannot know the density, it is by design calibrated to assume the sea level standard atmospheric density when calculating airspeed. Since the actual density will vary considerably from this assumed value as the aircraft changes altitude, IAS varies considerably from true airspeed (TAS), the relative velocity between the aircraft and the surrounding air mass. Calibrated airspeed (CAS) is the IAS corrected for instrument and position error.

Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation

The Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention, established the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency of the UN charged with coordinating and regulating international air travel. The Convention establishes rules of airspace, aircraft registration and safety, and details the rights of the signatories in relation to air travel. The Convention also exempts air fuels in transit from (double) taxation.

Calibrated airspeed (CAS) is indicated airspeed corrected for instrument and position error.

Aircraft maneuvering is referenced to a standard rate turn, also known as a rate one turn (ROT).

Flight plan

Flight plans are documents filed by a pilot or flight dispatcher with the local Civil Aviation Authority prior to departure which indicate the plane's planned route or flight path. Flight plan format is specified in ICAO Doc 4444. They generally include basic information such as departure and arrival points, estimated time en route, alternate airports in case of bad weather, type of flight, the pilot's information, number of people on board and information about the aircraft itself. In most countries, flight plans are required for flights under IFR, but may be optional for flying VFR unless crossing international borders. Flight plans are highly recommended, especially when flying over inhospitable areas, such as water, as they provide a way of alerting rescuers if the flight is overdue. In the United States and Canada, when an aircraft is crossing the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), either an IFR or a special type of VFR flight plan called a DVFR flight plan must be filed. For IFR flights, flight plans are used by air traffic control to initiate tracking and routing services. For VFR flights, their only purpose is to provide needed information should search and rescue operations be required, or for use by air traffic control when flying in a "Special Flight Rules Area".

Flight planning

Flight planning is the process of producing a flight plan to describe a proposed aircraft flight. It involves two safety-critical aspects: fuel calculation, to ensure that the aircraft can safely reach the destination, and compliance with air traffic control requirements, to minimise the risk of midair collision. In addition, flight planners normally wish to minimise flight cost through the appropriate choice of route, height, and speed, and by loading the minimum necessary fuel on board. Air Traffic Services (ATS) use the completed flight plan for separation of aircraft in air traffic management services, including tracking and finding lost aircraft, during search and rescue (SAR) missions.

World aeronautical chart aeronautical chart used for navigation by pilots

A World Aeronautical Chart (WAC) is a type of aeronautical chart used for navigation by pilots of moderate speed aircraft and aircraft at high altitudes. They are at a scale of 1:1,000,000.

An air data inertial reference unit (ADIRU) is a key component of the integrated air data inertial reference system (ADIRS), which supplies air data and inertial reference information to the pilots' electronic flight instrument system displays as well as other systems on the aircraft such as the engines, autopilot, aircraft flight control system and landing gear systems. An ADIRU acts as a single, fault tolerant source of navigational data for both pilots of an aircraft. It may be complemented by a secondary attitude air data reference unit (SAARU), as in the Boeing 777 design.

Kilometres per hour unit of speed

The kilometre per hour is a unit of speed, expressing the number of kilometres travelled in one hour.

Military training routes are aerial corridors across the United States in which military aircraft can operate below 10,000 feet faster than the maximum safe speed of 250 knots that all other aircraft are restricted to while operating below 10,000 feet. The routes are the result of a joint venture between the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense to provide for high-speed, low-altitude military activities.

Green Satin was a doppler radar system developed by the Royal Air Force as an air navigation aid. The system provided direct measures of the drift speed and direction, and thereby allowed accurate calculation of the winds aloft. These values were then fed into the Navigation and Bombing System.


  1. Bartlett, Tim (July 2008) [2003]. RYA Navigation Handbook. Southampton: Royal Yachting Association.
  2. "ISO 80000-3:2006". International Organization for Standardization . Retrieved 20 July 2013.
  3. International Standards and Recommended Practices, Annex 5 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, “Units of measurement to be Used in Air and Ground Operations”, ICAO, 4th Edition, July 1979.
  4. 1 2 "Non-SI units accepted for use with the SI, and units based on fundamental constants". SI brochure (8th ed.). International Bureau of Weights and Measures. The knot is defined as one nautical mile per hour. There is no internationally agreed symbol, but the symbol kn is commonly used.
  5. Louis E. Barbow and Lewie V. Judson (1976). "Appendix 4 The international nautical mile" (PDF). Weights and Measures Standards of the United States, A brief history. NIST Physics Laboratory. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 2 August 2007.
  6. Jacob Abbott (1858). Rollo on the Atlantic. DeWolfe, Fiske, & Co., Publishers. Retrieved 30 November 2011.
  7. Kemp, Peter, ed. (1976). The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. Oxford University Press. p. 454. ISBN   0-19-282084-2.
  8. e.g. BA Chart 73, Puerto de Huelva and Approaches, 2002
  9. Wilson, Alastair (22 July 2009). "'Knots an hour'". The Kipling Society . Retrieved 1 December 2012. Since the 1890s or thereabouts, it has been drummed into the young seaman that a knot is a unit of speed, namely, one nautical mile per hour; and that consequently only the uneducated speak of "knots per hour" or "knots an hour". It was therefore inevitable that Kipling’s frequent use of this expression should grieve a number of seafaring readers, as the pages of the Kipling Journal testify.
  10. For example, Part 23 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, amendment 23–7, 14 September 1969
  11. "Abbreviations and symbols".