When we started out camping and caravanning we relied on the road atlas to help us to plan our route and to get us to where we wanted to be.  These days we rely on the SatNav or GPS to show us a live map of where we are.  This unit, once properly programmed, tells us turn by turn how to get to the next campsite.

The GPS system is, at one level complex, and at another really very simple.  All we need to know is that it consists of a system of between 24 and 31 operational satellites

Photo shows the screen of a GPS receiver with map and location details

which orbit the earth and transmit a signal which is picked up by your on-board Sat-Nav.  The Sat-Nav then simply processes the received signal in order to do a number of useful jobs for caravan owners.  It shows us, among other information, our current position, distance to our destination, time to destination, turn by turn directions, speed, averages and altitude.

The GPS system is used for many purposes, most of which we are not concerned with here.  Our main concerns are where it serves the purposes of recreation, roads and highways and to a certain extent timing.

As motor-home and caravan owners the primary use that we make of the GPS system is recreational, primarily for finding our way from one place to the next.    However when you set your destination a whole lot of other information becomes available to you as well.  Your route is highlighted on the map and you get the direction and distance to your next turn, for instance East to Belleview Road, 350meters.  On your screen you usually also see your projected arrival time which your SAT-Nav will calculate based on the information available to it in regard to the route that it recommends.  It will also speak to you and tell you the basic information, in this instance mine tells me “in 350 meters turn right”.

In addition to the useful mapping and route planning information you will often get some background information on your journey.  After a recent trip to France and another local trip mine tells me that:

  • My overall average speed was 40.3 kph
  • My moving average speed was 57.6kph
  • Maximum speed was 121kmh (not while towing!)
  • Total time on the road was 77 hours and 37 minutes
  • I was moving for 54 hours and 13 minutes
  • I was stopped for 23 hours and 23 minutes
  • My total journey was 3,124.26km
  • My next destination, which I have just set, is 79.4 km away and if I set off now at 1405 hrs I’ll be there at 1516 hrs

Satnav unit mounted on the dashboard of a car.  Another car and part of a caravan are visible through the window.

Something to be aware of, and I have discovered this the hard way by blindly following the SAT-Nav, is that it is simply an assistant.  You need to keep your eyes on the road and on the signage and get your primary information from there rather than from your little screen.  It also helps enormously to be as familiar with your route plan as possible, to have at a minimum an overall understanding of where you should be.  Always keep an up to date road atlas in the car where the person in the passenger seat can follow the route and check it against the GPS unit.  It is a good idea therefore to mount the GPS unit, if you don’t have one already built into your dashboard, where both the driver and passenger/navigator can have a clear view of it.

Road improvement works take place all the time and over the lifetime of your Sat-Nav unit many changes will take place.  It is worth therefore logging on regularly and downloading map updates, especially if you are planning an extended trip on un-familiar roads.  You may find that you can buy an update deal from the manufacturer of your unit which lasts for its lifetime, at a very reasonable price.  Logging on for map updates will often result in you being able to download free stuff as well, including car symbols, new voices and fresh graphics.

When you get to your destination you may well find that you have further use for the Global Positioning System.  If you like to sail or use other watercraft while on holiday your boat may well be equipped with a unit.  If not it might be worth having a look in order to see what is available to make your time on the water safer and more enjoyable.

Likewise if you are a caravanner with a private pilots licence who likes to fly club planes, or even your own aircraft, a GPS unit designed for aeronautical use might be just the ticket.

The number of people who travel with a boat or aeroplane on board their caravan or RV is somewhat limited and it is much more likely that you will use your GPS unit for activities such as walking, finding and recording the best fishing places and to help you find your distance on the golf course in order to improve your game.

If you fancy taking up a new outdoor activity that is an excellent fit for spending time away in your caravan why not consider geo-caching, a type of treasure hunt involving reading GPS coordinates in order to find things left by others at defined locations.  Once you have found the cache you can then leave some stuff of your own for people who come after you to find.  If you enjoy the outdoors, walking, treasure hunting and using your GPS this will make a great days recreation.  Of course if you are feeling fit and energetic then Geodashing may well be what you want to do; simply visit the dashpoints and report what you see.  There is nothing to find there and I understand that just getting there is what it is all about.

SatNav By: Stephan Ridgway
Dashboard SatNav By: Gareth Simpson