The most important thing you can do to avoid getting lost,  is to plan your route and try to know where you are at all times. Use navigation aids to plan and execute your adventure: (1) hardcopy topographic AND interpretive maps (2) compass (3) standalone GPS (4) smartphone (generally in that priority). Also, click here to check out GeoBC’s topographic maps available online for an excellent planning resource.

Whether you need to use your smartphone to confirm your location, to report the location of an injured party, or to guide SAR to your location – if you do become lost – it is essential that you know how to activate and utilize the location services (aka “the GPS”) feature in your phone. Always remember, it is important to call early, there is no charge for rescue, and give as much details as possible to assist SAR crews.


  • Use location services carefully as it can drastically reduce your phones battery life. It is always a good idea to carry a battery extender like a variant of the Mophie Juice Pack.
  • If lost or injured, and calling 911, do not delay the call fiddling with your phone (better to get the distress call out)
  • If you can, get your lat/long from the phone/app and report it to the 911 dispatcher ALONG with a general verbal description of your location
  • Sometimes it can take a few minutes for the cellphone to establish enough satellites to get an accurate signal. Be patient.
  • Tree cover or aspect may interfere with the accuracy/ability to get a GPS signal. If there is a clearing nearby and it won’t put you at risk to go there, that is best place to stand. Remember though, if you have a cellphone signal, it is best to stay put as moving may cause you to lose the cell signal, and thus your ability to communicate with SAR.
  • Knowing how to turn on location services will make our job much easier when the search manager calls you to get more information. Play with your phone and know how it works before going out into the wilderness.

Below on the page is a detailed guide on how to turn on “location services” on iOS and Android devices. You can also take a look at the following pdf which walks you through how to find locations on a couple other devices: How to Find Coordinates on Common Smartphones (prepared by NSR member)

Apple iPhone (iOS 7)

1. Click on Settings on the home screen of your apple iOS device


2. Once in settings, scroll down to “Privacy” and click on it.


3. Click on Location Services (whether it is On or Off)


4. Turn Location Services On, if it is not already.


5. Find “Compass” and make sure that it is ON.

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6. To find your latitude and longitude to report to SAR, go back to the home screen and find your iOS “Compass” app. Under a stock setup, you can find this in the Extras or Utilities folder.

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7. Your latitude and longitude are at the bottom of the screen. Repeat the numbers and symbols EXACTLY as you see them. The example below is read as “49 degrees, 15 minutes, 57 seconds North, 123 degrees, 10 minutes, 45 seconds West”.


Android (Example using Jelly Bean Android OS)

There are two methods for turning on location services with this particular model of Android (Samsung Galaxy S3). The principles displayed here should assist in most models of Android based phones.

Most Android devices do not have an obvious way to get Lat/Long Coordinates. The best thing to do is to download an app which will give you the coordinates. We have ways to get your coordinates, so the most important thing to know, is how to turn on location services.

Method #1

1. Click on your “settings” icon.


2. Scroll down until you find “Location Services”


3. On this particular phone, “Location services” is under the personal subheading in Settings. Click on it.


4. Click on the tick-box next to “Use GPS satellites” and your location services will be turned on.

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Method #2

1. At the top of your screen, press down and drag down the settings menu.


2. Click on the “GPS” icon to turn on location services.

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You can download an app like Backcountry Navigator or go to the following link (and save it in your phones bookmarks) on your phone to get the lat/long off your device.


To learn more about what latitude and longitude is, and how to use it, check out this link to the manual for the introductory SAR program that all SAR volunteers take. The info on Lat/Long starts at page 5-16. The map and compass sections are Well worth a read.

You can also download the manual here: SAR100 GSAR Participant Manual