Emergency Direction Finding & Navigation
Here are some quick (well relatively) and dirty methods of finding appropriate directions around Britain.


nortsout.jpg - 11235 Bytes The best known is the wristwatch method...

1. Lie the watch flat, and turn until the hour hand points towards the sun.
2. Draw an imaginary line from the centre of the watch to 12 o'clock digits.
3. Bisecting the angle between the hour hand and 12 o'clock provides you with True South, and hence a north-south line.

NOTE: to be truly accurate this method requires the watch to be set to 'local' time (that is, without summer daylight addition).

eastwest.jpg - 7805 Bytes


On a sunny day you can also find East-West direction. Place a 3ft stake, pole or pipe in the ground, and make as close to vertically upright as possible.

Where the top of the stake casts its shadow, mark the ground with a small pebble, or perhaps a small stick poked vertically into the earth. Fifteen to twenty minutes later, mark the position of the new 'tip' shadow with a second pebble, or whatever. Drawing a line between the two points (pebbles) gives you an East-West direction.

The first pebble represents West and the second East. And, of course, bisecting the line will give you a north-south direction.


Of course, you also have the sunrise to help you navigate. Since it rises in the east, if you keep the sun at your right shoulder as you walk until midday (never behind you), then you will be walking in a roughly northerly direction. After midday you will need to keep the sun at your left shoulder. And the reverse of all this is true if you want to head South.

And how do you know when it's midday? When the sun is directly overhead it is midday. So place a stick vertically in the ground and watch the shadow become shorter. When the shadow is at its shortest length then that is midday.


What do you do when there's no sun around? Well you can look at plants to give you some hint of which is north and south.

Plants and their flowers tend to grow towards the direction of sunlight which, in the northern hemisphere, is to the south. Look at tree trunks too, where the moss and lichen will be more profuse on the southerly facing part of the trunk, than on the north. Of course, there may be climatic and geographical anomalies which affect growth (like exposure to strong localised wind, or natural features which restrict sunlight).


polaris.gif - 2386 Bytes At night time you have the stars to navigate by, assuming a clear sky. It's not quite as daunting as it sounds, and mariners have used the stars to navigate for thousands of years.

The key to this is to find Polaris (the Pole Star), which is fairly bright and remains almost stationary in our northerly skies, the other stars moving around it. It is about one degree from the actual pole.

Start by looking for the 7 stars of The Plough (or Big Dipper as Americans prefer to call it), which is part of the Great Bear [Ursa Major] constellation.

Find the right-hand most couple of stars (the other end from the plough's shaft, as it were), which astronomers call Dubhe and Merak. Now if you connect these two 'pointer' stars with an imaginary line and extend it upwards you will come virtually to the Pole Star, about 5 times the distance between Dubhe and Merak. Polaris is, in fact, the leading star in another, fainter Plough-like constellation, Ursa Minor, and gives you a means of double-checking that you have identified the Pole Star correctly. This method refers only to the northern hemisphere; southern folk have different stars to guide them.


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