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Indonesian scout takes a bearing aboard USS Vandegrift

Navigation is the process of monitoring and controlling the movement (of yourself, a craft or vehicle) from one place to another. Navigation includes four general categories: land navigation, marine navigation, aeronautic navigation, and space navigation.

Simply put navigation is the art or skill of locating your position and direction of travel.

Navigational skills

For a map to be useful, we need to orientate the map and this can be done by aligning it with north or by locating landmarks

Find North

Finding north is probably the easiest way to orientate a map.

  • Use a magnetic compass to find magnetic north,
  • Finding North in the day,
  • Finding North at night.

Find your location on a map

Once the map is aligned in the correct direction (normally aligned with north using a compass) then we need to find our exact position on the map.

Using landmarks From your position

  • Identify obvious or prominent landmarks (Hill, river, coast line, road or railway line, bridge, trig beacon, lighthouse)
  • Take a back-bearing to each of the landmarks
  • Add or deduct 180° from the back-bearing to get the bearing from the landmark to where you are.
  • On the map draw a line on the bearing from each landmark, where the lines intersect is where you are on the map. Obviously you need at least two bearings to find your position - but each additional line will increase the accuracy of your position.
Two orientations of the same map. A compass could tell you which side of the river (blue line) you are located at (red dot), as well as the compass bearing toward the cabin.

'Using a GPS framless

  • Switch on the GPS, find an open space where you get better satellite signal.
  • Select the screen showing the latitude and longitude
  • Record your position

In an Emergency when you are totally lost

Be Prepared The best time to learn you to determine your position is in a safe space when you have people who can coach you. This is not always the case and scouts may need to improvise.

The Owls Patrol went on a First Class Hike (overnight) and through small errors (Slightly late start, long route with younger scouts that weren't quite fit plus longer breaks)  arrived in the vicinity of the overnight hut an hour after sunset. The hut in this reserve was ecologically designed to blend into the environment and although the PL had navigated well using the map - and confirmed the position with the GPS - they couldn't find the hut. Ironically they were only about 100 metres from the hut! The scouts were hungry and tired and the morale was getting low among the younger scouts. Fortunately the PL realised it was time to call in some assistance. The scouter asked them to "Drop a pin" using Whatsapp - he then opened Google Maps on the laptop told them to move 30 metres down the slope and "Drop a pin" guiding them in to the hut. 

Selecting a route

The shortest route from A to B on the map is not always the most direct route - you must consider natural obstacles like a river and the slope of the land. Crossing rivers is best done at a bridge

Some tips

  • Often walking along the contours (a more level route) is longer but easier than going up a hill and then down on the other side.
  • Look for footpaths or dirt roads on maps - they help keep you on the route and as you pass cross-roads or bridges they confirm your position along the route.
  • Steep slopes when descending are risky for slips, trips falls and ankle and knee injuries. Plan to move more slowly over these sections

See Also:

  • Orienteering - an activity testing fitness and navigational skills.
  • Seahorse - yarn to explain the importance of navigational skills.