SAR members need to know how to navigate. Since we look for lost people, they are often not on a trail, so going off trail is a given for us. Now in this day of GPS, people may think that map and compass skills come second. Not so: Reading a map tells you where you are, what terrain and features are around you, and how best to move through the terrain to accomplish a goal. In fact, without a map all other navigation tools are close to useless.
When a SAR member is sent on a task, the SAR manager will draw on a map where they want you to go, and what they want you to do there. This could be a sound sweep, an open grid search or a closed grid search. When you get back you have to communicate what you did exactly and how it deviated from the assignment. Each part of this process involves navigation, and much of very different from day-to-day hiking skills.
The map contains the knowledge of what to expect: where is the snow line or the tree line, is it steep or cliffed? What’s my expected travel time, what are the access trails, the egress trails, and the emergency exits? What features of the terrain may entrap the subject, and what hazards would they have fallen victim to.
The next few months the team will spend at least three more evenings on Navigation.