Difference Between Mile and Nautical Mile

Mile vs Nautical Mile

Miles and nautical miles are two units used for measuring length and distances. Both have older origins compared to the SI units, and they are not consistent units.


Mile, also called the statute mile or the land mile is a unit for measuring length in the imperial system of units.

1 Mile is equal to 5,280 feet or 1,760 yards. It is equal to 1609.34 meters and 1.60934 km. Before 1959, the yard was not a convention as a unit and the length of yard varied from country to country. But in 1959 international yard was adopted and mile became 1609.344 meters.

The origin of the mile is in ancient Rome, where Roman Armies measured the distance travelled by the unit in “thousand paces” called mille passuum. Therefore, it is used throughout Europe and European colonies. However, the exact length varies from country to country. Many versions of the mile were used before defining the international mile. Still these measures are used in nontechnical situations.

Scots mile, Irish mile, and Arab miles are examples of the variations used around the world. The metric mile is an approximation for the international mile by rounding down the values to the closest 500. The metric mile is 1500 meters and is used in athletics.  

Nautical Miles

Nautical mile is a unit of length used primarily in navigation. In its conventional definition, a nautical mile is the length of one arc minute measured along any meridian. It is equal to the length of one arc minute along the equator.

One nautical mile is equal to 1.15078 miles or 6,076.12 feet. In metric units, nautical mile is 1.85200 km or 1,852.00 meters. It is abbreviated to NM or nmi for convenience.

Nautical miles are primarily used in navigation, in both naval and aerospace industries. Despite the rapid transformation of unit systems in the modern world, a nautical mile is the mainstay of the navigation due to its close relation with degrees and minutes. It is relatively easy to measure distances on maps in nautical miles and can be easily read and referred to.

The speed of aircraft and mainly of ships is measured in knots, which is a unit derived from the nautical mile. The knot is defined as one nautical mile per hour.                    

What is the difference between Miles and Nautical Miles?

• Both miles and nautical miles are older types of units used to measure lengths.

• A mile is 5,280 feet or 1609.34 meters, whereas a nautical mile is 6,076.12 feet or 1,852 meters. Therefore, a nautical mile is 1.15078 miles.

• Miles are mainly used in UK, USA, and Canada, in ordinary usage. It is rapidly becoming an obsolete unit in technical applications (in sciences and engineering).

• Nautical mile is still the main unit used in navigation due to its close relationship with the angular measurements along the earth`s surface.

  • Wendy

    I’ve been wondering this for years! What’s the purpose of nautical miles and why not just use regular miles? This is the first explanation I’ve seen that makes sense! And I really looked! Thank you.