Error Recovery

Orienteering mistakes happen. No matter if you are a beginner or advanced orienteer, occasionally, you may experience difficulty finding a control, or come to the realization that you are no longer completely sure where you are on the map. 

Sooner or later, all orienteers will make a navigation error.  Even quite experienced orienteers are not immune to this possibility.  The difference between a novice and a very experienced orienteer is how quickly one can recover from making such a mistake.


Types of Errors

Recognizing common errors and why they occur can help prevent them from happening or minimize their effect.  There are many small errors that an orienteer can make throughout the time they spend on their course.  Here is a list of three common errors and a few tips to prevent them from happening.

Parallel Error.   A parallel error can occur, when an orienteer has mistaken a feature for a very similar feature nearby in the terrain.  As per the example on the right, two re-entrants are located close by along the same contour line.  As the orienteer gets close, they may be drawn to a similar but incorrect feature to the one they are visualizing from their map.

Tips to Prevent Parallel Errors. If you have two similar features, look for a unique secondary feature to help confirm where you are. In this example, the rock on the north bottom slope of one of the re-entrants is an important clue to distinguish these two features.

180-degree Error.  An 180-degree error is when you inadvertently reverse north and south on the map and head in exactly the opposite direction of where you intend to go. This error can happen when you have either accidentally oriented your map upside down or mis-read your compass by aligning the north on the compass dial to south on your map.  Since the meridian lines in the compass dial are still parallel it may seem like you used the correct process, until you confidently stride off in exactly the opposite direction you intended.

Tips to Prevent a 180-degree Error. Try not to rush the process of aligning the map and compass when orienting your map and deciding the direction of the next control.  Also keep checking features to confirm where you expect to be on the map before committing yourself to going full speed on your compass bearing.  If things seem off, re-check how you oriented your map.  Re-checking and confirming your direction will help you catch your error early and prevent you from making a bigger mistake.


Over-running the Map.  This error basically covers all of the scenarios where you find yourself disoriented and have lost contact where you are on the map.  This error occurs when the orienteer is simply running too fast to engage in sufficient navigation to stay in touch with their map. 

Tips to Prevent Over-running the Map.   Orienteering is always a careful balance of speed and accuracy. Only run as fast as you can safely navigate.  It may mean running a little slower at times, but the time spent concentrating on your navigation will also save you time needlessly searching an area or having to re-locate, because you have misjudged your location.


Mistakes Happen

This video by Sporzz Orienteering, offers a great illustration of an advanced orienteer making a classic parallel error. Watch closely to see the parallel feature in the control circle and what happens when the orienteer gets close to the control. It is not uncommon, that once you get a bit frazzled from one error, to inadvertently make another one in an attempt to recover lost time. See if you can identify this next error and also watch closely to see what technique the orienteer uses to recover from her error.

Note: There is no sound to this video.

Here is another video titled '48 minutes' showing what can happen when you lose concentration completely and engage in a process called 'bingo-ing' checking everywhere hoping the control will magically appear. Yike! You can sense the orienteer's frustration on this one. Note that as soon as the orienteer managed to find a definitive vegetation boundary to help orient themselves, they were able to recover quickly.


Error Recovery Process

Ok, you recognize you made a large error and now are unsure where you are on the map. Now what? If you realize you can no longer with certainty identify where you are, you can recover through a process called relocation. The steps of this process are as follows:

Step 1 -  As soon as you realize you have lost contact with where you are on the map, STOP! Do not go any further without knowing the correct position on the map. Sounds simple, but when you don't want to lose time, you must fight the instinct to keep moving.

Step 2 - Orient the map with the compass.

Step 3 – Examine the map and surrounding terrain and attempt to locate a unique feature in the terrain such as a distinctive hill, cliff or boulder, trail junction etc, which you can also easily identify on your map. The intersection of two line features (i.e. trail crossing) can provide the best spot for you to know exactly where you are.  You may need to move to this feature and then re-orient the map. Confirm your location with other nearby features if necessary.

Step 4 – Once you are confident where you are on the map, navigate carefully from this point forward. Keep in close touch with the map until your orienteering rhythm can be re-established, after that you can carefully resume speed.


Relocation in Action

In this video made by Sport Scotland (Glenmore Lodge), the orienteer demonstrates how to quickly relocate herself once she is no longer certain of her location.



This is the end of the Advanced Skills Section - Now get out there and practice! Good luck in your orienteering.