How to Read GPS Coordinates

If you love exploring the countryside, it’s possible that you have a GPS receiver unit to help you navigate hassle-free All you have to do is simply input an address or automatically geotag photos, or even perform an internet search and the receiver does the rest of the work- which is giving you your exact position.

Most of the times, you may feel the need to obtain the GPS coordinates because most devices provide them. However, pilots, sailors, outdoorsmen, geocachers, and others often need to use GPS coordinates. It would be hard for these people to find the exact locations of places without the coordinates.


Now sometimes, you might need to find the directions to a certain place and the device provides you with the directions in GPS coordinate- which you’ve got no idea how to read or rather elaborate them. Now this can be a bit devastating especially if you’re searching for specific locations.

The tricky part about GPS coordinates is that there are different formats available. For example, a certain location may be expressed as N30.578945, S-67.896745. In other forms of coordinates, the location may also be expressed as N30 9065’, W067 68.0634. The first number represents latitude while the second number represents longitude, with the –minus sign indicating West.

What are GPS Coordinates?

Coordinates basically define a position in a grid system and they indicate the distance of a point, horizontal (x) and vertical (y), from known references or axes. In other words, these coordinates are specifically the two distance measures from the reference axes. The same notion is true for GPS coordinates read from GPS receivers or navigators. The two values read from the units are the latitude and longitude of the specific point at which your GPS navigator/receiver is positioned at that time.

How to Read GPS Coordinates

Latitude and Longitude

As stated earlier, GPS coordinates are commonly expressed as Latitude and Longitude. The earth is divided into latitudes and longitudes.

Latitude lines indicate how far north or south of the equator a location is. Longitude lines indicate how far east or west of the Prime Meridian a location is. The Prime Meridian is at 0 longitude, extending east and west while the Equator is at 0 latitude, with the poles being at 90 north and south.

Now to read the coordinates, divide the earth into the Northern and Southern hemispheres for the first set of numbers on the GPS coordinates. For instance, the coordinates N40 44.8845 indicate an imaginary latitude line, 20 North of the Equator. The coordinates S73 68.3524 represent a line that is slightly more than 73South of the Equator. The S sign is sometimes represented by a – minus sign.

Now read the second set of numbers on the GPS coordinates in order to determine the east or west of a line. For example, the coordinates W50 45.3925 stand for 50 west of the Prime Meridian for a specific location in the western hemisphere. The coordinates E20 08.45 indicate just over 15 to the east of the Prime Meridian.

Where the two coordinate numbers intersect for North/South and East/West, this is the point that will help you establish the exact location of a place. For example, the GPS coordinates N40.7128 and W74.0059 point to New York City.

UTM Coordinates

GPS units may also be set to show position in Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM). UTM basically divides the globe into a grid of many zones. It was specifically designed for use with paper maps to help remove the effects of distortion formed by the earth curvature.

Although UTM is not commonly used than latitude and longitude, it works best for those who need to work with paper maps.

Other Methods of Obtaining Coordinates

If you’re always having a hard time reading GPS coordinates, there are various tools you can use to make it much simpler, besides the handheld GPS devices. You can use GPS Apps to obtain the exact coordinates. There are various GPS apps for various OS you can download. You can also use Google Maps which provides accurate coordinates wand which we use to whithin our where am i service..

Understanding GPS coordinates is very important, and the good thing is that it’s not that hard to read them. Furthermore, GPS devices and other tools such as apps are designed to let you select and find caches without necessarily inputting coordinates. However, some allow you to input the cache locations directly.

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