Recently I held a GPS navigation seminar at a Sportsman’s show in Central Oregon. At one point during the seminar one man described the inaccuracy of his GPS and asked what he could do about it. He was frustrated that on several occasions while returning to camp the GPS compass arrow (while in the “Find,” “Where to” mode) was providing unreliable information. He’d arrive in camp and the receiver would direct him in a new direction and distance.
by Blake Miller
As he related his story, I noticed that several other attendees nodded in agreement that they too had the same problem. I asked the fellow if he had ever calibrated the electronic compass.
“Yes, when I first got the GPS,” was his reply.
When I explained that the electronic compass should be calibrated after EVERY battery change, the group’s response was one of surprise.
That’s right, every time you replace those batteries, the electronic compass needs calibration. Over years of using different GPS receivers, I have found that those with electronic compasses really drain the charge quickly.
Most of the top of the line GPS receivers come with an electronic compass. The electronic compass moves and operates seemingly like a traditional magnetic compass. This is different than the original compass page on older units like the Magellan 315, Garmin 12, Yellow eTrek (the $100 model) and early DeLorme. These units will provide compass information but you must move forward in the direction of the destination to see the display’s arrow shift.
Here is an example of how to calibrate the electronic compass of the Garmin Map60CSx:
While on the compass page press the “menu” button one time; push and release. Look for “Calibrate Compass.”
On this menu page rocker down and select “calibrate” compass. Follow the screen directions.
Follow the manufactures owner’s manual instructions about the use of an electronic compass. Keeping the receiver level is important in some models.
I recommend verifying the GPS receiver’s direction information with a quality magnetic compass such as the Silva Ranger (515CL), Brunton 8010G, or the Suunto M3 before going further.
Don’t forget to adjust the magnetic compass for declination!
Blake Miller has made a career out of staying found and knowing where he is at all times. His formal navigation training began when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1973. He served as an officer aboard several Navy ships over his
twenty-year career; many of those tours included the duty of Navigator. Blake began working with satellite navigation systems at sea in 1976, culminating with the then-new satellite positioning systems aboard the Battleship WISCONSIN in early 1990.
In 1998 Blake started Outdoor Quest, a business dedicated to backcountry navigation and wilderness survival. Blake has taught classes to wild land firefighters, state agency staffs, Search and Rescue team members, hunters, hikers, skiers, fishermen and equestrians. He regularly teaches classes through the Community Education programs at Central Oregon (Bend) and Chemeketa (Salem, OR) Community Colleges.
As a volunteer, Blake teaches navigation and survival classes to students in the local school districts, and conservation groups. He is a member of a Search and Rescue team.
If you have any questions about land navigation or wilderness survival, you can contact Blake through SurvivalCommonSense.email@example.com, or you can go to his website.
To hear the Blake Miller interview about choosing a magnetic compass and GPS on SurvivalCommonSense.com Radio, click here.
For more navigation information, click here