Author Topic: Introducing students to handheld satnav (GPS) for the first time  (Read 2863 times)

Lyle Brotherton

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 939
  • Competent and safe navigation sets you free.
    • View Profile
Free videos available on how to use the eTrex at

This week, I used nothing but the eTrex H, working in the sand dunes of Holland, where some of the folk I was working with, had never used a handheld satnav device before.

I changed my introduction to using a handheld satnav for the first-timers:

1 Hiding in the dunes a small reward and waypointing it (with a name, not a number)
2 Handing them the unit at 350m from the waypoint
3 Explaining that there was a reward, measuring no more than 125mm, in the dunes, and they were going to find it!
4 I had already configured the device to the correct map datum, units etc., and gave it to them switched, on then simply showed them how to hold it and asked them to follow the arrow in the compass screen
5 Walking beside them, the first thing they all noticed was the arrows sudden change in direction, so I asked them to keep moving whilst explaining how the unit determined the cardinals of the compass
6 Continuing to walk beside them, I explained how the satellite system worked and I asked these questions:

How for is it to the waypoint?
How long will it take to get there?
How fast were they walking?
...making them study the eTrex screen for the information displayed.

7 At around 80m from the waypoint, I moved in behind them, and told them that the devices accuracy was around 5m, so when the screen displayed 'Approaching Waypoint', I wanted them to stop looking at the screen, and search the area with their eyes.

When they found the little reward in the dunes, their smiles and realisation of the power of this technology was instant.

All of them realised (reasoned) that their handheld satnav only led them in a straight line to the waypoint, as they had to negotiate obstacles in-between them and the waypoint.

We then discussed the benefits of an ETA, both in a social pleasure use of the handheld satnav and in Search & Rescue.

This introduction is by far the best I have used, employing interactive and experiential learning, plus creating a real enthusiasm to learn more.
« Last Edit: June 09, 2012, 03:40:09 PM by Lyle Brotherton »
“Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance” - Plato


  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 512
    • View Profile
Re: Introducing students to handheld satnav (GPS) for the first time
« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2012, 09:23:45 AM »
Best article yet in Trail Lyle, is there a way we can make this into a handout for the kids do you know?


  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 118
    • View Profile
    • Animal Crackers
Re: Introducing students to handheld satnav (GPS) for the first time
« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2012, 05:18:19 PM »
That's good stuff, Lyle.

I introduce people to our SatNavs in a similar way (having them find small objects). 

By the time we get to SatNavs, our students understand (or should) maps, formats, compasses and datum. After a classroom session during which I introduce them to the principles of SatNav operation and the configuration of our Garmin 62s units, we send the students out to a nearby field to look for numbered poker chips.  (The field is about 150 m X 90 m, level, swampy in places, lots of scattered scrub brush, some fairly large evergreen, oak and madrone trees, some large slash piles, a large berm, a nasty creek to ford and a few areas of very dense tickbrush and manzanita.)

(Typically, Kate and I scatter up to 100 chips around a couple of days before the event, marking the coordinates of each.  I then download the WPs into TOPO!, and from there to Excel, scramble them so every participant will have to traverse the field a couple of times, print out the scrambled coordinates, and cut the print-out into groups of 5 - 10 chips, depending on class size.) 

Before venturing out, each of our students is given a slip of paper with the numbers of several chips and their coordinates, and together we enter them into the SatNav.

I try to emphasize that compass, map and SatNav are complimentary systems to be used together, and because for SAR operations speed is of the essence, I teach them to use the SatNav to establish bearing and distance to a WP;  then a map and compass to plot the best course (direct or indirect, depending on obstacles);  then to shoot a bearing with the compass and begin walking.  I encourage students to check their WP list from time to time (to get distance and bearing) and adjust their travel accordingly using their compass.

I generally discourage them from using either their SatNav's compass or the GoTo (=Find) option in favor of shooting bearings with a magnetic compass.  I believe by approaching things this way, they can move a bit faster than otherwise, and (more importantly) they have to pay more attention to their surroundings and come to depend more on their compass than they would otherwise be inclined to do.

The down side here is that the area is too small to make good use of maps.

Oh . . . and students only get credit for finding the poker chips whose numbers they were assigned!

They love this exercise.  (But they hate the poison oak!)

Barry G

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 96
    • View Profile
Re: Introducing students to handheld satnav (GPS) for the first time
« Reply #3 on: December 23, 2012, 05:23:37 PM »
Hey guys, I'm one of these students. I've learned more in the last six months then I've learned in my entire 74 years and you guys are my inspiration. What I've just done is I purchased a good topo map of the area where I live and it's marked with the UTM coordinate lines and side boarder numbers, and my home is centered in this map. Using the Roamer corner scale I marked and took down the eastings and northings of 5 marks on this map (one in each corner and one dead center). Then I put the UTM coordinates into my sat/nav. From my sat/nav I then got the compass bearings for each of these 5 waypoints from my sat/nav in my home to each waypoint and using my compass I sighted from those waypoints to my home and all five were within 10 meters of my home. I was soooooo pleased!!!

Now I feel comfortable if I were given a topo map marked for UTM, a Roamer corner scale, a sat/nav and a compass I'd never get lost anywhere in the world. I could not say that 3 months ago. Thanks for the help and encouragement! I love this stuff!

"What  is, is best"