Murph_PEI - Years ago, when my brother-in-law was the Vice President of a book publishing Co., he tod me that he never used e-mail because other people could take him the wrong way. He preferred phone calls and face to face conversations. So do I, but it's not always possible.
I always carry a compass when I'm backpacking. It saved my life once when it was raining so hard that there was no trail. Water everywhere and everything looked the same. When I turned around to look behind I became disoriented. My compass got me heading in the right direction again until I saw the landmark I was looking for - a bridge.
Like yourself, I can always tell wind/wave direction while on the water. I could always head East and go toward shore, but there are so many things to avoid - surfers, swimmers, high surf, rocky shore, steep cliffs, the rocky jetty which is the channel I'm trying to find to sail back to safety. I think the only device that can help me find that channel safely is a GPS. The Mission Bay Channel has a green marker on one side and a red marker on the other side, but no lights or fog horn. Also, when I launch our kayak from a beach in LaJolla, I need to be able to get back to that precise location if the fog should roll in unexpectedly. It's a very narrow area and the only place I know of where the surf is always fairly low and has no other obstacles to avoid.
I'm retired now but I've worked in the O.R. for 30 years. I agree with you 100% that you should always have a backup device, or Plan B. I've often seen electronic or battery operated devices work well when they were checked out prior to surgery, but fail the next time they are used - during the procedure. It was never a problem because of Plan B. We planned for and practiced for anything that could go wrong; even earthquake, evacuations of anesthetised patients, and electrical failure. I don't believe that a compass is a useful Plan B for me in unexpected dense fog. I think my Plan A will be my GPS device which I'll carry with me in the pocket of my life jacket and hope I never have to use it. My Plan B will be my GPS running watch that's water resistant. It leaves a dashed line, or "bread crumbs", so I can retrace my steps and find my way back. It also gives me time, distance traveled, and speed - fun things to look at occasionally when sailing of kayaking.
Those lobster and crab fisherman are amazing; even out here in S. CA. They know every inch of this ocean, but they're out there almost every day. I also have great respect for them.
Murph_PEI......Are you from Prince Edward Island?
Good to hear from you and always good to get input and comments from knowledgable and experienced people, such as yourself.