Know Where you're Heading

Rallying is all about teamwork, and the skill of the navigator is equally as important as that of the driver. Navigating can be really rewarding and there’s nothing better than getting the route right, plus the driver has to do everything you say!

There are various types of navigation to master with varying amounts of ease or difficulty, and on some events or sections, this is combined with an element of timing.
Quite often it’s the navigator that takes on the administration of the event too, putting in the entry, sorting documentation, ordering maps, booking hotels and making sure that you get to the start of the competitive sections on time. In return the driver tends to look after the car and follows your every command.


Developing a good rapport and understanding between driver and navigator is key to enjoying the journey. Doing well on an event is a bonus, but the main objective is to enjoy yourselves along the way.

Before you go anywhere, agree on which words you are going to use and what they mean. Same goes for hand gestures. There are no hard and fast rules, anything goes so long as you understand one another. Be descriptive, shouting and pointing “That way!” when surrounded by cones on a special test won’t be clear enough.

If a mistake is made, stay calm, do not apportion blame, forget what has happened and focus on going in the right direction. Trying to figure out how you made the mistake, will only make you make another one. And never give up. If you’ve made a mistake the chances are, other competitors will have too.

Whilst you may be fortunate to have a bit of beginners luck, the truth is it’s unlikely to last. The key thing to remember is you’re unlikely to master this overnight, it’s a real skill in which multi-tasking plays a big part and it takes time and numerous rallies to perfect, so don’t get frustrated and stick with it – if it was easy, everyone would be doing it and it wouldn’t be any fun.

Remember, the experienced crews – who will probably be in front of you – have been doing this for years, but the people around you are just like you, and they too will be learning as they go,making mistakes and gaining experience from each ‘incident’ they experience.


The Navigators ‘office’ needs to be well organised and arranged, with places to store pens, maps, road books and time cards, all within the restricted reach of someone who will be suitably restrained in their seat.

The items you will need to navigate will depend on what type of events you plan to do, but the basics will include:

  • A well stocked pencil case of coloured pens, 3B or 4B pencils and highlighter pens
  • A clipboard for your timecard
  • A map board to place on your knees (a sturdy pice of cardboard that will fold in the event of an accident)
  • A romer (a plastic credit card sized item to help you plot on to a map)
  • A good watch/clock and accurate stop watch

Other items can include a navigators ‘potti’ (a magnifying device for detailed map reading), a compass, an A4 clipboard or folder for event paperwork, post-it notes, sticky tape, tracing paper, blue-tac, sweets, travel sickness pills, bottled water, and so on!

What you can’t include in your arsenal of equipment is any form of modern device such as a smart phone, sat-nav or anything that has any kind of GPS tracking or access to the internet. The spirit of historic rallying is to compete in a way that replicates the conditions and the challenges of a by-gone era. Any modern device that removes that challenge and offers an unfair advantage is banned and anyone caught using this technology is seen as highly unsporting.

On an event, take a peek into other competitors’ cars and have a look at what equipment they are using and how they have organised themselves. You’ll often find some unique and inventive ways in which navigators have overcome practical issues within the cockpit.


Almost all events will have a ‘measured mile’ prior to the start of the event. As the name suggests it is an accurate measured mile to check the accuracy of your tripmeter and is set along a road shown in your instructions and marked by a ‘start’ and ‘finish’ sign.

This is set by the vehicle that has set the route and it allows you to check the calibration of your tripmeter to ensure it matches that of the organiser and the route instructions.

The objective is to ensure that after ‘zeroing’ your trip at the start it registers one mile exactly at the point of the finish sign. If it doesn’t then you will need to follow your tripmeter instructions to adjust it so you get the correct reading. Naturally knowing how to do this in advance makes things easier. Getting your trip accurate may take two or three trips along the measured mile, so ensure you allow yourself enough time.


Scenic Tours are the perfect way to gently ease yourself in to rally navigation. With no timing involved, there’s no pressure or penalties incurred if you make an unplanned detour.

The organisers will provide you with a suggested route and a selection of recommended rest halts which they suggest you may like to visit. Their directions will include taking the most scenic route and probably one with the least amount of traffic. Some of the roads used may be narrow with passing places but as there is no element of competition then there is no need to drive quickly to traverse these sections.

Most events use simply ‘Tulip’ style navigation. This is nothing to do with flowers, but the style of instructions used on the Tulip Rally, a road rally that went from the Netherlands to the Alps and back in the 50s and 60s. With ‘Tulips’ the route is defined by a series of small drawings of each junction along the route. These are supported by additional info like road names, numbers or physical things or landmarks that you will see, such as a church.
Sometimes the information given is so straightforward that there is no need to have the Tulip diagram, just a list of instructions.

In addition you may be given a ‘marked map’. This is a map where the route has already been drawn on it. You then simply need to follow the roads marked using information you can see on the map and assimilating it with what you can see out of the windows. A number of organisers also include manned passage controls and/or code boards to help reassure crews they are on the right route.



As these are competitive events, the navigation steps up a notch. But before we get to the actual navigation, there are a number of other elements you need to understand. The first one being the different driven sections within an event:

Driven sections

Transport Sections – Non-competitive routes that take you from one competitive section to another. These are given to you in advance of your start time to plot on your map.

Regularity Sections – Competitive routes, which you will have plotted in advance from a series of instructions, or, you will plot from instructions handed to you at the moment you leave the start of the section (this is referred to as ‘plot and bash’). However not all instructions are plotted on to a map. Tulips, or a sequence of written instructions known as a ‘Jogularity’ (a style of navigation first used on an event called ‘LeJog’), are intended to be followed without the need for a map.

Special Tests – These are short competitive sections held on private ground and are driven as quickly as possible. The route, or course, is shown on a single diagram on a sheet of A4 paper. On this will be further instructions to show where to stop or change the direction of the car and references to navigate the car the correct way through various obstacles.


The whole of an event, from the start to the finish and all the different driven sections in between are connected by official control points. Each one uses different letters and numbers to distinguish what type of control it is and which one it is in the sequence of the event (e.g. MC2 – Master Control 2). Most control points will have a marshal present and they will almost always be a point where your time of arrival or departure is recorded. All these controls are given to you in advance of your start along with your transport sections.

However, not all controls are disclosed in advance. Secret controls, called ‘passage controls’, are used to check you are on the correct route. These are normally manned by a marshal who will record your attendance. If unmanned, a ‘code board’ is used instead, the details of which you must record as you pass. Controls in secret locations along the route that record your time (and direction of approach) are called Intermediate Time Controls (ITC).

Types of navigation

There are a number of different types to understand, but the benefit is, once you’ve got your head around them, they will cover most of those encountered on the majority of events. In fact the HRCR Clubmans events restrict the number of navigation types used to give everyone a better chance of being familiar with the instructions. Endurance events, which are in effect extended road rallies, tend to use the same or very similar navigation methods.

The most common types are:

  • Grid References
  • Tulips
  • Tulip Roadbook
  • Herringbones
  • Gridlines and Grid Squares
  • Map Features
  • Spot Heights
  • London Rally Marked Maps
  • Compass Directions
  • Clock Face Directions
  • Road Colours
  • Junction Direction Acronyms
  • Map Traces
  • Jogularity

You’ll find details of these in the HRCR Navigation Handbook and the HRCR Road Rally Novice Guide which you can view and download here.


Navigation on stage rallies takes two forms – one to navigate along public roads to the location of the individual stages (not necessary on single venue events), and the other to navigate through the timed stages at speed. Often these are both contained in the event ‘Road Book’. using different coloured pages to tell them apart.

Sections on public roads use simple tulip diagrams – as found on scenic tours and road rally events – and include supporting information as well as distances and details of key controls.

Route notes

Competitive sections or stages on closed roads use ‘Route Notes’ (or ‘Pace Notes’ as they used to be called). These involve a number of coded letters and numbers that inform the driver of what is ahead and how to achieve the maximum speed. This system is something that has to be learned in advance and there are many books available on the market to do this. There a number of different ways and systems that can be used, although the two basic approaches are based on a description of the road or notes on speed.

If not provided by the organiser, events may allow ‘note making organisations’ to recce the route and produce a set of route notes for the event that competitors can buy. Patterson Pacenotes supply many of these and more info can be found at

Some events allow a recce period for crews to drive the route (in a recce vehicle – not a rally car) to either compare the route with their purchased route notes or – for experienced crews only – to write their own route notes as they travel through the stage.

Many of the rallies in the UK are not allowed to have a reconnaissance period.

Stage rally crews will often carry detailed maps of the route as a back-up, although few use them to supplement their route notes on competitive stages.

More detailed information on navigation and historic stage rallying can be found in the HRCR Stage Rally Novice Guide which you can view and download here.