A guide to navigating in locations that don’t have mobile signals

There are many ways to handle this, but here is how we do it. Note, that this article does not focus on risk assessment or risk mitigation – that is a separate discussion. I will say though that we always ensure that we have at least 2 ways to navigate with us on adventurous journeys.

Why?

Reasons for doing this. We like to offer our clients, including participants on adventurous journeys and expeditions, the opportunity to journey in wilderness environments. However, this can present ‘navigation anxiety’ as maps may not exist and there is no mobile broadband signal to rely on. Below, we share some of the solutions we use to this issue.

Planning

Firstly, you must decide where you want to go – if this is away from human populations, then one must assume that there is no mobile broadband. Google maps presents a great way to find the ‘GPS’ coordinates‘ – a set of GPS coordinates indicates the ‘latitude’ and ‘longitude’ of a particular position on Earth.

Click to see the GPS – coordinates

Google maps also presents a useful way of creating some maps of a location where maps may not exist. We have found that they are quite accurate for use in map & compass navigation both on and off the water. A word of caution though – remember that Google Maps is a snap shot of what the environment looked like at the point of creation; this means that environments can appear different, rivers may be a different width, islands may be there when they were not on the image (or vice versa). Participants can sometimes run into trouble with this.

GPS devices

One way of creating a back up to map & compass navigation is to go to the location beforehand (known in the trade as ‘doing a reccie’) and physically marking the location of a handheld GPS device (we use the Garmin eTrex 10, which is simple, reasonably priced and tough). However, even the person doing the reccie, will need to go to the position first. A side note: handheld GPS devices save routes and waypoints as what are known as ‘GPX files’ – more on this later.

SMARTPHONES

So, we might not have a mobile data connection, so we cannot use our smartphone, right? WRONG ! Most modern smartphones have a connection to the satellites that feed us GPS coordinates, so if you don’t have a hand held GPS device, no problem, you can use your smartphone as a back up to map & compass navigation.

How?

Your smartphone can take signals from the GPS satellites and therefore it ‘knows’ its position on Earth. Here is how we use the phone. We download a free app called ‘GPX viewer‘ (we don’t have any relationship with this app or its creators). This app can open GPX files (the ones I mentioned earlier that deal with routes and waypoints), so, all we need is the GPX file.

We’ve created an app, called ‘Coordinates to GPS‘ – you can download it for free here. Right now, only available on Android, but if you like it, then we can sort out an IOS version. The app is fairly self explanatory, but essentially, you enter the sets of GPS coordinates, that your found earlier on Google Maps (or were given by someone), the app then generates a GPX file. You can then choose what to do with the file, save it, email it OR load it into another app on your phone that can deal with it, for example GPX Viewer. Hey presto, you have a way of showing your current position on a basic map on your smartphone, along with the points that you uploaded earlier to ‘Coordinates to GPX‘ and you have a back up to your map & compass navigation if you are unsure of your location.

Safety Tip: beware that phones and GPS devices are battery powered so ensure you have spares or a way of recharging your device !!

What equipment should I take with me on a SUP Journey?

I digress from the title of the blog post, but for your interest – not mentioned is basic first aid kit and re-hydration salts.

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