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Coarse and Fine Navigation – Tip #56

By 12th January 2021February 5th, 2021Navigation, Resources, Tips

Coarse and Fine Navigation

This tip is all about coarse and fine navigation and I will explain this with an every-day example. Orienteers, and other accomplished navigators, refer to the techniques of ‘coarse’ and ‘fine’ navigation. If you prefer, you could understand this as ‘rough’ and ‘detailed’ navigation.

This is the second of two related navigational tips. The first one was about planning a navigation leg and you should perhaps read that one first.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Coarse and Fine Navigation on a Car Journey

First, let’s consider a scenario in which you are going to drive from London to my house in Yorkshire. The directions that I might have given you would be to take the M1 from London heading north to Leeds, until you reach Junction 43 where it splits into the M1 and M621. This single instruction will have taken you 195 miles or around 92% of your journey. You will barely have had to give it a second thought.

Then, I might have given you instructions on how to leave the M621 and head into Leeds, looking for signs for the A660 towards Otley, Ilkley or Skipton. A little more attention is required on your part, but you know that if you keep following signs for those towns you will be fine. As you arrive on the outskirts of my town, you will have travelled a further 15 miles or so and you will now have completed 99% of  your journey’s distance.

Finally, I will have given you detailed instructions on how to reach my house. I will probably have mentioned specific street names and landmarks such as bridges, tight bends and pubs. You would probably drive quite slowly, and be looking out carefully for these landmarks so that you follow the instructions accurately.

Green, Amber and Red Stages on a Navigational Leg

Let’s call these three stages Green, Amber and Red. In the Green stage you can relax quite a lot, knowing that you just have to keep following an obvious way until something triggers you to enter the Amber stage (in this example, it was the M621). In this second stage, Amber, you are paying much more attention but the navigation still isn’t especially difficult as long as you don’t miss the main signs. Finally, another landmark (arriving at my town) causes you to enter the final stage, the Red stage. Now you are taking great care, looking out for every detail and matching these carefully with the directions I gave you. You may only be a mile away from my house, but if you get it wrong you may as well be 200 miles away back in London.

This Green, Amber, Red model is a tip to bring to life the idea of ‘coarse’ and ‘fine’ navigation. When you plan a navigational leg of a journey in the mountains, use this technique to help keep you on track. It should allow you to ‘relax’ during the Green stage but become totally switched on during the Red stage, and always find your target destination.

Other Navigation Tips for Beginners

You can read many other map reading and navigation tips for beginners in our main article on the subject.