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Introduction for those who may be new to the world of GPS and it's Sat Nav uses

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  • Introduction for those who may be new to the world of GPS and it's Sat Nav uses

    An post written by Tonyt and placed in these useful Camping Tip Articles to help others.

    A brief introduction for those who may be new to the world of GPS and it's Sat Nav uses.

    Global Positioning System is a satellite based radio navigation system operated by the USA.

    Positions are marked at the crossing point of a line of Latitude and a line of Longitude.

    Latitude is a geographic co-ordinate that specifies the north-south position of a point on the Earth's surface relative to the Equator.

    Lines of Latitude run parallel to the Equator where the Latitude is Zero Degrees. Other lines of Latitude are measured north or south, 90 degrees in each direction, from the Equator. Each degree is divided into 60 minutes and each minute into 60 seconds.

    Longitude is a geographic coordinate that specifies the east-west position of a point on the Earth's surface relative to the Greenwich Meridian.

    Lines of Longitude run from Pole to Pole and the starting point, Zero Degrees, is the Prime Meridian which runs through the Greenwich Observatory. Other lines of Longitude are measure East or West of the Prime Meridian, 180 degrees in each direction. Each degree is divided into 60 minutes and each minute into 60 seconds.

    So, an exact position anywhere on the surface of the plant is defined by a combination of Latitude and Longitude co-ordinates.

    It is necessary to show whether the Latitude is North or South and whether the Longitude is east or west.

    Love them or hate them, Sat Navs are the tools many of us use to navigate our routes.

    Unfortunately and just to confuse us all, both Latitude and Longitude can be expressed in 3 different formats. Most modern sat navs will handle all three formats which is just as well as some big campsite publications continue to use different ones.

    It's important to set your sat nav for the same format that you plan to use – trying to input a co-ordinate into the wrong format will not work.

    The 3 formats are:

    Degrees, Minutes and Seconds.

    Sometimes shown as DDD° MM' SS.S”

    So, using this format, Kings College Chapel Cambridge for example is at:

    52° 12' 17.2”N , 0° 06' 59.7E


    Degrees and Decimal Minutes.

    Sometimes shown as DDD° MM.MMM'

    So, using this format, Kings College Chapel is at:

    52 12.28644N, 0 6.99528E


    Decimal Degrees.

    Sometimes shown as DDD.DDDDD°

    So, using this format, Kings College Chapel is at:

    52.204774N, 0.116588E


    They will all find the same spot.


    General Points.


    We all have our own favourite format. The writer's preference is Decimal Degrees.

    If using Decimal Degrees, 5 decimal points will be sufficient to get you very close to your chosen destination. You will sometimes see co-ordinates with 15 or more decimal places – the first 5 is sufficient and your sat nav is probably limited to 5.

    When inputting a pair of co-ordinates into a sat nav it will, generally, ask for North or South for the Latitude and East or West for the Longitude.

    Often a West co-ordinate eg 006.12345W will be shown as -006.123456 or -6.123456.

    Likewise a South co-ordinate eg 54.123456S will be shown as -54.123456


    There are numerous on-line GPS Conversion websites as well as some Apps. There are also a number of Excel based files available.


    General Sat Nav observations.

    Using a Post Code for a UK address will mostly take you to the correct street but Continental Post Codes can cover huge areas so you can “arrive at your destination” yet still be miles from where you want to go.

    From my experience of some years and regardless of the logo on your Sat Nav it's worth noting that:
    Inputting your vehicle height and width can only have any affect on the plotted route if the mapping being used in the sat nav shows height and width. It's not the sat nav that knows where the low bridges and narrow roads are, it's the map. Generally, if your road map/atlas doesn't show these details neither does your sat nav map.


    When a mile or so away from approaching a T Junction at which, for example, you would expect to be directed to turn left, many sat navs, regardless of fast/short/wide settings, will unexpectedly tell you to take the next turning on the left. It's the commonest complaint and often leads to cross country driving which is just cutting that corner. Be prepared to ignore it.


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