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  • Writer's pictureRichard Weremiuk

Best Practice use of GPS Tracking devices on Duke of Edinbugh's (DofE) Award's expeditions

Updated: Jul 3




Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) expeditions can be exciting adventures for our young people. As a coordinator you know they require meticulous planning and reliable equipment, from rucksack to tents and everything in between. Ensuring the safety and coordination of participants during these expeditions is paramount. Fortunately, GPS tracking technology has evolved to provide peace of mind for supervisors, assessors, participants, and their families. Let’s explore the best practices for using GPS trackers on DofE expeditions.



1. Choose the Right Tracker




Not all GPS trackers are created equal. When selecting a tracker, consider the following factors:

  • Ease of Use: The device itself and the management interface should be user-friendly, especially for ad-hoc volunteers who may not have much experience with GPS technology platforms. The tracking system website and interface should be easy and intuitive, and not rely on pre-installed (and expensive licensed) maps and apps.

  • Coverage: Ensure that the tracker type you have hired or purchased works in areas of the expedition. Modern, well equipped LTE devices use a variety of technologies that most mobile phones cannot leverage, and operate on all mobile networks, but nevertheless there are patches of no cover in the lowest lying valleys in some locales. That being the case LTE are the most common type of device to use. If your expedition will spend extensive time in low lying valleys without mobile signal, then consider satellite transmitting devices such as inReach, Zoleo or SPOT.

  • Battery Life: Opt for a tracker with sufficient battery life to last throughout the expedition. Longer battery life means less worry about recharging during the journey. Typical LTE devices will last 6 days on 2-minute location updates. An inReach may last anywhere from 2 - 14 days with 10 min updates, a Zoleo around 4 days with 6 min updates, and a SPOT 1-2 weeks with 5-10 min updates.


2. Familiarise Supervisors, Asessors and Participants with the Tracker and management interface




Before the expedition, provide thorough training on how to use the GPS tracker. Everyone should understand how to turn it on, where to mount it for optimal operation, how to check battery levels, and activate SOS features. Encourage them to carry the tracker securely and keep it accessible in case of emergency.


3. Set Clear Expectations

Make sure participants and supervisors know the purpose of the tracker. It is not a navigation tool; instead, it enhances safety and coordination. Emphasise that they should will still navigate using maps and compasses, as well as adhere to the expedition’s planned route. Supervisors and assessors should be made aware of any device limitations in terms of coverage or frequency of updates. They should also be aware that regardless of the tracking device type, in order to remotely monitor a group location their mobile phone will need some kind of network connection. That could be just simple 2g to receive SMS location updates, right through to 4g and 5g for full map-based tracking.


4. Regular Check-Ins

If using trackers will one or two-way messaging capability, designate specific check-in times when participants update their status using the tracker functions. This ensures that supervisors can see an "OK" or "Help" request and potentially respond promptly if needed. LTE devices update location the fastest, every 2 mins (or faster at expense of battery). This can aid supervisors in monitoring and preventing groups going off-course for extended periods.


5. Emergency Situations



In case of emergencies, participants should know how to activate the HELP or SOS function on the tracker. Different devices function different ways. Some devices will send an SMS to the supervisors, whilst others will contact an international emergecy response centre who will coordinate a rescue. Supervisors should educate the users on when and how to use HELP or SOS functions, and must be prepared to respond swiftly and coordinate with rescue services if necessary.


6. Real-Time Monitoring

Supervisors can use the tracking system to monitor participants’ progress in real time. If a group deviates from the planned route or faces challenges, supervisors will of course generally hope the groups self-correct uysing their learned techniques, but of course when a group really takes a hard right instead of a hard left and is heading for the sunset, they can intervene promptly. Real-time monitoring also allows for adjustments based on weather conditions or unexpected obstacles.


7. Post-Expedition Review

After the expedition, use the tools provided by the tracking system to review the progress along the planned routes, where the system will show a playback of planned versus virtual. This can be a valuable teaching tool. Also gather feedback from participants and supervisors. Discuss any issues encountered with the tracker and identify areas for improvement. Use this feedback to enhance future expeditions.


Conclusion

GPS trackers play a vital role in ensuring the safety and success of Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. By choosing the right tracker, providing proper training, and setting clear expectations, participants can focus on their adventure while supervisors have the peace of mind that comes from knowing everyone’s location.


Remember, technology is a valuable tool, but it cannot replace supervisors, and will never replace the essential skills of navigation and teamwork that DofE expeditions teach. Let the trackers enhance the experience without overshadowing the spirit of adventure!


I hope you find this article helpful for your DofE expeditions! If you have any further questions or need additional information, feel free to reach out. Safe expeditions! 🌟

           

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