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Use UTM for land navigation not Lat and Long


New member
I posted this as a repsonse to a question farther down the page and after reading other posts on here I thought I would add my experiences as new post.
I work with and help train search and rescue units. We just got brand new hand held GPS, Garmin E-Trex HCx (H=Highsensitivity C=color x= capability of inserting more memory) and I am working on teaching the folks how to operate that unit.
I can't understand why people are seemingly stuck on Lat and Long. It's a terrible navigation coordinate system for use on land. For ships and aircraft it's probably the best. For land it rots. Check out UTM...Universal Transverse Mercator. It's base 10, not base 60 like lat and long, and every section of the Earth is divided into 1000 meter squares. Each section has a unique identifier that's easy to read. All the Topo maps have UTM already drawn or at least are on the borders. Our new HCxs consistently give an accuracy of navigation within 7 feet. Real quickly now, tell me how many seconds are in 300 meters? Everyone already knows how far 300 meters is and nobody navigates in terms of distance with Lat and long.
The Coast Guard uses Lat and Long in their helos, although they have the equipment and knowledge to use any coordinate system. Did you know there are three kinds of Lat and Long. In the movies and on TV they use degree, minutes, and seconds, Most aircraft use degrees with decimal minutes. Somewhere somebody uses decimal degrees. Anything you ever learned about math isn't going to help a bit in calculation when you are mixing base 60 with base ten.
National Search and Rescue, FEMA (Don't know if that's a good endorsement), the major oil companies, and on and on use UTM.
I can teach anyone to know exactly where they are on a map with UTM and a GPS set up to UTM in about 2 minutes. UTM is not new. There's tons of info about that coordinate system on the net.
Know about Datum? That's the methods used to measure the distance between objects on the surface for the map YOU ARE USING. Most modern navigational maps use WGS84. All the topos used NAD27. If your GPS's datum isn't set to match the map you are using, you can have an error of over 200 meters of where your locations really is. Even though everything else is correct. That's not a problem for a helo flying at a thousand feet as they can easily visually try to locate that spot. However, if you are hiking into a ghost town to find where the saloon was on that 1890 map you found at the library and you are 200 meters off because you didn't set your datum to match the map being used, you are going to be really frustrated. Jim


New member
This is one explanation I've needed for some time.
Gps units come with WGS84 and Degree Decimal minutes as the default setting and most users know of no reason to change from this.I use utm/nad27 and love it. I am a member of a search and rescue organization (30 years) and am all too familiar with your frustrations of trying to get others to change to the utm coordinate system. It's like trying to convince a child that he will like ice cream.


New member
Thanks! Appreciate others with real life experience chiming in on the rediculous lat and long for land navigation. You are one of the few folks I have run across that even knows that there are different 'kinds' of lat and long. Yeah! The default thing in the GPS leads many astray...Jim


New member
Having spent some 35 years at sea, the last 17 as Captain i prefer lat/long anyday as its what i'm used to but i also prefer the Kilo, kilometer and meter (base10)rather than what i used to use in UK and what you use in America, can't stand imperial measurments lbs and stone,gallons, fractions of an inch and thou, far better centimetre milimetres and such, i have no doubt that the UTM would posibly be easier to calculate and work with.(after all we have 10 fingers to count on :lol:) The biggest problem of all is having more than one system and mixing charts and datum, if everyone everywhere used the same data things wouldn't be half as bad and a lot easier to learn


Active member
Thanks for the re-post. I came in here looking for this exact post in the other subject.

Everyone everywhere will never use the same measurement technique. We get bluepprints from the same company and 2 different engineers will datum differently, degree decimal, degree miniute decimal, degree miniute second. makes building parts a chalange.



New member
So why not change from MPH to KPH?

Your logic is there. It's going to take time and adaptation of a universal standard.

Learned UTM in military. Unlearned it as it wasn't in use in the industry I was in.

Leep teaching it and the masses will eventually rule...


New member
I can use any of the coordinate systems, metric or standard measure to build and fabricate with,
and most of the time I don't even look at the speedometer, so MPH and KPH doesn't matter.anyway.:lol:

I use the UTM system to navigate with because it is best for me where I go. I find it much better to pin-point a location
in the forest it being a direct measure without converting DMS. It wouldn't be that big a deal if I were on a ship or plane using DMS...
But, finding a small location in heavy forest, it's nice to be using a system based on 39 3/8"!
Is there a reliable conversion program or site that we can use to convert. Some information I get is only in the lat/lon format. Is converting a lat/lon into a UTM accurate as the lat/lon numbers maybe off by 1000 ft.?

But be conscious of the datum!


Well-known member
Staff member
You can get the scale rules in transparent plastic,this one is to correct size if you want to print it.



New member
One principle reason for Lat Long still being used is that all old surveys use it and property is still identified with it. Unless a lot of changes occur this will still be the way property lines are defined for the time being.


New member
try to plot you self on the map using Lat and Lon,,,,,,
now try it with UTM,,,,,
if everyone would just do this ONE TIME everyone would change to UTM,,,,
try it and you will see what the fus is all about,,,,


New member
BlackZ51Vett said:
Is there a reliable conversion program or site that we can use to convert. Some information I get is only in the lat/lon format. Is converting a lat/lon into a UTM accurate as the lat/lon numbers maybe off by 1000 ft.?
you do not need to do the math with the new gps units,,,just input the lat and long and mark it as a way-point,,,then change the units in your gps from lat/ lon to UTM,,,,,go to find the waypoint you marked before and it is converted to UTM for you,,,,,,,,,,,,,
OK I'm very new to GPS. I just bought the Garmin Etrex Venture HC and I'm using a program called Expert GPS. What I want to do is scan my old plat maps, transfer them to Expert GPS, mark a couple of spots on the maps that are still around using the program Expert GPS and The Etrex. Then I want to transfer the location of sites that are not still around from the plat maps to my GPS and go detecting. Should I learn UTM to do this? From what I'm reading it is more accurate than Lat/Lon? I'm green on this whole subject so any help would be appreciated.


New member
it really depends on how you find the location on your map. If your Expert map thingie will give you lat and long,,,,and you want to put it in UTM,,,,just set your gps to the unit of the measurement that you have (how ever you get this is up to you) ,,,input it and then after it is saved in the gps you got to your setupp window in the gps and change the "units" to UTM,,,,now your saved waypoints are displayed in UTM (or what ever "unit" you choose),,,this works both ways as far as what is more accurate there is prolly a ford chevy debate for that we are talking about what is more EASY to plot by hand on a paper map,,,and that would be the UTM method BY FAR

Idaho PRB

I agree totally! I have been using UTM since 1995 and it is so much more relevant to land navigation than Lat/Lon. Good post!
Idaho PRB


New member
Professional surveys are still done in Lat Long. Most real estate plots in your county tax assesors office will be Lat /Long. Bottom line is that UTM is easier to use as it's 10 based and we all are born with the digits necessary for reinforcement. But Lat/Long will be around for a while yet.

Most GPS gear wil easily convert one to the other, only error is the datum error.

So go learn UTM and let the gear do the conversion if you need to. Funny how Washington and Jefferson had no problems using it in their day... Maybe its just part of the FreeMasons plot to keep you confused.
It will not hurt to learn UTM but in real life, you will not get any more accuracy with it than with full length lat/lon unless you are writing readout on paper to later input it by hand. Using Software to create waypoints over a map and to transfer them directly to/from the receiver eliminates the need for reading co-ordinates at all.