Navigation and communication while on the road

By: Michael Borg, Photography by: Matt Fehlberg

Accessing technology before you leave is essential insurance out on the tracks.

Navigation and communication while on the road
There’s a lot of options when it comes to GPS mapping these days and, to be blatantly honest, online mapping has come a bloody long way

Access to good maps and a means of reliable communication are vital for any trip. After all, you need to know where you’re going and you need to be able to call for help if you land yourself in hot water. Sure, you can make do without the latest fancy equipment, but make no mistake – out on the tracks, the right equipment saves lives! So let’s check out a few of the options in more detail, shall we?


A UHF radio is usually one of the first accessories fitted to a 4WD, and for good reason – they provide simple and effective communication for drivers in a convoy, to warn each other of upcoming hazards such as stock or wildlife on the road, bulldust and unexpected dips.

But many 4WDers underestimate the value a typical UHF radio in an emergency. They can reach nearby stations or traffic, allowing you to call for help. If you find yourself in a true predicament, put the call out on UHF channels 5 and/or 35, which are the designated emergency channels and operate on a repeater system to enable much longer range.

When choosing the right aerial for the job, there are a few things to consider. Lower gain aerials of 3 decibel (db) are better than larger power aerials in hilly terrain or near tall buildings, due to the way the signal radiates. However, larger gain aerials travel longer over flat terrain. A happy medium for the average 4WDer who wants to travel the outback New South Wales would be 4.5-6.5db.


Two types of long range communications have been proven invaluable, time and time again in really remote territory. The first is a satellite phone. These beauties let you call anyone from practically anywhere at any time – how’s that for peace of mind? They are pricey, but they’ve become more affordable over the years. Plus, you can hire them before traversing really remote locations, which is great if you don’t travel enough to warrant the costs involved in buying one outright.

The other is the High Frequency (HF) radio. This technical system can be fiddly but, if you know how to use it correctly, it’s a super handy bit of kit that’s more than capable of keeping you in touch from anywhere in Australia. To get your mittens on a HF radio and operate it legally you’ll need a licence authority from one of several privately-owned land-mobile radio networks such as the Australian National 4WD Network.


There’s a lot of options when it comes to GPS mapping these days and, to be blatantly honest, online mapping has come a bloody long way. Navigation is now a cinch with satellite tracking pin-pointing your location at any given time on a virtual map that’s often incredibly detailed. You can zoom in and out to change the scale, and most systems incorporate several different maps into one, allowing you different perspectives. Plus, you can usually lay a trail to backtrack out if you get a bit lost or simply mark your favourite spots for future reference.

The most important thing with these systems is that you know how to use them, and understand how they work. After all, it doesn’t take much for a computer to confuse a 4WDer, does it?


The old ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid’ (KISS) rule equals reliability in the bush, and the navigation side of things needs to be as reliable as it can be. That’s where good old fashioned paper maps come in handy – there’s no battery to go flat, no program files to get confused and crash, and no satellite signals to be obstructed. Put simply, there’s just less to go wrong. Plus, there’s just something about laying an old paper map across your bonnet and pin-pointing where you need to be.

Where GPS devices have it over paper maps is that they locate where you are. So, if you’ve got a hand-held GPS or similar, it’s perfect to cross-reference it with the paper map.

A map of outback NSW scaled to 1:1,100,000 is what we’d recommend as a minimum for touring and, if you’re going bushwalking it’s definitely worth grabbing a larger scale map, say about 1:25,000, where every 1cm on the map equals 250m on the ground.


Getting your maps laminated will keep them much safer, and allows you to mark places on there with a highlighter and wipe them off at the end of the trip.  

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Check out the full feature in issue #95 December 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.