What's What - The BlueDome guide to outdoor qualifications


Without doubt the single most important skill for all outdoor professionals. Here is some information on the current state of avaialble navigation training in the UK

Land Navigation in the UK

This is another one of those areas that can cause confusion. Firstly, there is no governing body to oversee the provision of navigation training and standards for the UK land user. The sailors are covered by the navigation training that is part of almost all RYA courses but there is at present nothing for the walkers, cyclists, adventure racers, climbers or outdoor group leaders.

The subject of navigation does have a mass of related organisations up to the Royal Institute for Navigation but no one offers a national ticket. All the major providers of outdoor qualifications from the D of E to the MLTB provide an element of navigation training but none of them have managed to provide the outdoor community with a nationally accepted qualification.

The nearest thing to a national standard is the range of training and accreditation provided by the National Navigation Award Scheme. The scheme was founded by the late Peter Palmer who was a major figure in UK and World Orienteering and one of my personal heroes.

Peter felt that orienteering training did not fully exploit the skills required by hill walkers. The NNAS scheme is targeted at providing a carefully staged series of levels from a simple range of basic skills up to a very high level of mountain navigation training.

The current board of the NNAS is composed of people from a wide range of related outdoor organisations - AALA, MLTB, commercial providers and BOF. Hopefully they will steer the NNAS towards becoming the National Governing body for this essential skill.

If you have any doubts about your skills in this area then get in touch with the NNAS providers in our courses section and seriously consider taking some training.

Marine Navigation

Sailing does not suffer from the same lack of recognised qualifications that land navigation does. The Royal Yachting Association has developed a range of training courses that will turn you into a skilled navigator.

All RYA training takes into account your ability to use charts, tide tables, plotting instruments and simple mathematics to steer a safe course. Because of the serious nature of taking to the seas the information provided to a navigator is aimed at the skipper of a supertanker as well as the lesuire sailor.

Chart information is updated on a regular basis and the charts themselves contain so much data that a seperate chart - chart no' 5011 is actually a large A4 book of all the various symbols that can appear on admiralty charts.

Navigation at sea brings into play elements which may have little or no concern to the land based navigator. Tides rise and fall, they are also under the effect of the winds and weather. Your vessel will perform differently under varying types of sailing conditions and you need to understand and apply corrections for all manner of magnetic influences.

The best way to begin is to look at the current Day Skipper courses both shore based and practical. Most providers will want you to undertake both courses. The shore based can often be done at evening class and is intensive in it's navigation and tidal sections. Once you have passed this course you are ready to put it into action aboard a boat.

Providers of bothshore based and practical training for RYA courses can be found in our courses section.


Regardless of your area of activity you will find that electronic navigation is becoming common. Once an expensive and not too accurate toy the small, hand held GPS set is almost a 'must have' item.

Not only will a modern GPS function in it's own right as a stand alone unit it will 'talk' to other devices and greatly expand it's value and uses. To match the development of cheap and reliable GPS sets we have company's such as Memory Map providing us with fantastic electronic versions of our familiar Ordnance Survey charts.

Put them all together and you have a system that can copy routes from PC to GPS, or into a Palmtop device and back again. You can email route data between friends and then print out copies for group use.

I would not wish to be without my GPS but without a full understanding of what a map and compass do it is of considerably less value. Do your formal training first and always back up your travel with a compass and an old fashioned map!

At present there are few formal training courses for GPS users.

David Lynch - BlueDome

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