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Nautical Mile vs. Mile: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on January 7, 2024
A nautical mile, measuring 1.852 kilometers, is based on the Earth's curvature and used in maritime and aviation navigation, while a mile, measuring 1.609 kilometers, is a unit of length in the imperial system.

Key Differences

A nautical mile is a unit of measurement used primarily in maritime and aviation contexts, defined as exactly 1,852 meters or about 6,076.1 feet. A mile, also known as a statutory mile, is a unit of distance in the imperial system, equivalent to 5,280 feet or approximately 1.609 kilometers.
The nautical mile is derived from the division of the Earth's circumference and is used for measuring distances at sea and in the air. The mile, on the other hand, is commonly used in the United States and the United Kingdom for road distances.
One key difference is in their origins: the nautical mile is based on the Earth's spherical geometry, representing one minute of latitude, while the mile has its origins in Roman measurement systems and has been used in various forms over centuries.
In practical terms, the nautical mile is longer than the mile. This difference is particularly important in navigation, where precise measurements are crucial. The mile is more commonly encountered in everyday use, especially in countries using the imperial system.
When converting, one nautical mile equals approximately 1.15078 miles. This conversion is important in activities like aviation where both measurement systems are in use, and accurate conversion is essential for safety and navigation.

Comparison Chart


1.852 kilometers (about 6,076.1 feet)
1.609 kilometers (5,280 feet)


Maritime and aviation navigation
General distance measurement, especially in the US and UK

Basis of Measurement

One minute of latitude, Earth's curvature
Roman measurement systems

Geographic Relevance

Essential in global navigation
Predominantly used in countries with the imperial system


1 nautical mile = 1.15078 miles
1 mile = 0.868976 nautical miles

Nautical Mile and Mile Definitions

Nautical Mile

A length used to measure distances at sea, approximately 6,076 feet.
The island was 50 nautical miles off the coast.


A length unit originating from Roman measurement systems.
The old trail stretches for over ten miles.

Nautical Mile

A unit of measurement used in maritime and aviation equal to 1.852 kilometers.
The ship traveled 200 nautical miles north.


A unit of distance in the imperial system equal to 5,280 feet or about 1.609 kilometers.
The park is two miles down the road.

Nautical Mile

A maritime measurement unit based on the Earth's curvature.
The lighthouse is visible from 10 nautical miles away.


A customary unit of measure for distance in daily life in certain countries.
The nearest gas station is a mile away.

Nautical Mile

A distance measure representing one minute of arc on the Earth's surface.
Pilots use nautical miles for air route calculations.


A standard measure of distance often used for road distances in the US and UK.
He runs five miles every morning.

Nautical Mile

A navigational distance unit longer than a standard mile.
The naval exercise covered several hundred nautical miles.


A common unit for measuring distance in various sporting events.
The marathon includes a challenging twenty-six-mile course.


Abbr. mi. or mi A unit of length equal to 5,280 feet or 1,760 yards (1,609 meters), used in the United States and other English-speaking countries. Also called land mile, statute mile. See Table at measurement.


A nautical mile.


Why use nautical miles instead of regular miles at sea?

Because nautical miles are based on the Earth's curvature, making them more suitable for navigation.

What exactly is a nautical mile?

A unit of measurement used in marine and aerial navigation, equal to 1.852 kilometers.

How did the nautical mile originate?

From dividing the Earth's circumference into 360 degrees and each degree into 60 minutes.

What is a mile?

A unit of length in the imperial system, equivalent to 5,280 feet or about 1.609 kilometers.

Are miles still relevant today?

Yes, especially in countries like the USA for road distances and cultural references.

Is the nautical mile universally accepted in navigation?

Yes, it's the standard unit for maritime and aerial distances globally.

Who uses the mile for measurements?

Mostly used in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Are nautical miles used in space travel?

No, space travel measurements are usually in kilometers or astronomical units.

Are miles used in all countries?

No, miles are primarily used in the US and UK, while other countries use kilometers.

Do all GPS systems use miles?

GPS systems can use either miles or kilometers, depending on user settings and regional preferences.

Can nautical miles and miles be easily converted?

Yes, though the conversion factor (1 nautical mile = 1.15078 miles) should be accurately used.

Do runners use miles or nautical miles?

Runners typically use miles or kilometers, not nautical miles.

Is a mile longer than a kilometer?

Yes, a mile (1.609 kilometers) is longer than a kilometer.

Do mariners need to understand both nautical miles and miles?

Yes, it's useful for mariners to understand both, especially when communicating with land-based systems.

How are nautical miles useful in aviation?

They provide a standard, consistent unit for measuring distances between airports and along air routes.

Are there different types of miles?

Yes, including the statute mile (common mile), nautical mile, and historical variations like the Roman mile.

Are nautical miles different in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres?

No, a nautical mile is a standard unit and remains the same regardless of the hemisphere.

How is a nautical mile measured?

It’s based on one minute of arc of latitude along any meridian.

Why don’t we use kilometers instead of miles in the US?

Due to historical and cultural reasons, the US has maintained the use of the imperial system.

Why is the mile popular in athletics?

It's a traditional distance for track and field events and a common benchmark for endurance.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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