Motorcyclist Guide to the Galaxy: Dealing with Murphy, Part 3

Mar 29, 2018 View Comments by


Motorcyclist Guide to the Galaxy -

In previous articles, we have established that when traveling the unexpected is likely to happen and therefore it is wise to carry a communication device, either a phone, asset tracker, or satellite communicator. Yet not everyone owns satellite communicators and they’re not free. Occasionally a backup plan is needed, and other cost-effective survival tools can help us deal with adverse situations in those times.

Ideally, one would carry many instruments, tools, and hundreds of books on various topics. This is impractical, especially on a motorcycle. But the smartphone, being our Swiss Army knife database, can provide applications and store such information, even in offline mode. To be fair, and play devil’s advocate, I know smartphones can also malfunction, drown, or be lost and stolen. But for our purposes, let’s assume your phone is intact and in good working order when the unexpected happens.

Survival applications

Determine your location

Motorcyclist Guide to the Galaxy -GPS location

Consider the following situation. You need help but you’re lost and cannot describe where you are with any accuracy. Or perhaps it’s a case of having to leave the motorcycle and gear behind. Writing down the location usually ensures you’ll get back to it later. In both instances, however, the easiest way to describe or pinpoint a location is through usage of the geographic coordinates system—namely, latitude and longitude. And for that data to be recorded accurately, your smartphone merely needs to have its GPS turned on. No data plan is required, and even airplane mode will work. Many applications will do the job of displaying phone coordinates as received from the GPS. My Android currently utilizes the free GPS Test application, in which the coordinate values can be shared or saved into the clipboard, allowing you to avoid a lot of typing if they need to be texted or emailed.


Find the heading

Motorcyclist Guide to the Galaxy - Compass heading

Knowing which direction is north is a fundamental navigational skill. During a clear day, it’s a simple matter of observing the sun’s location and figuring out a close approximation of your heading based on time of day. In the morning, the sun is in the east; at noon, to the south; and we turn west for the sunset. Even without a watch you’re likely to make a good guesstimate. On a clear night, finding Polaris, the North Star, comes readily to anyone with basic knowledge of the major constellations. The distinct shapes of Ursa Major (shopping cart) and Ursa Minor and Cassiopeia (a W shape) are easy to spot. Polaris is the brightest star in Ursa Minor, and Google’s free Skymap app displays all of the constellations with their names. Aside from any survival needs, when the app is first opened up in camp and shown to your children, grandchildren, and/or friends, it’s bound to elicit a number of “oohs” and “ahs,” as almost everyone loves learning about constellations.

Yet clouds often hide the skies or you may be in the middle of a tall forest or down in a canyon and unable see the skies clearly. That’s when one calls upon the handy magnetometer found in all smartphones. These accurate sensors, reactive to the Earth’s magnetic field in the current location, are, in other words, tiny compasses. There are many compass applications available and, again, data plans (or even GPS) aren’t required because the apps rely on the Earth’s magnetic field.

That said, a few caveats: First, magnetometers need to be calibrated from time to time, using an amusing voodoo-like ritual which entails moving the smartphone rapidly along the three axes of movement (roll, yaw, and pitch); second, magnetometers are strongly affected by magnetic interferences, in areas with basaltic rocks, for example; and finally, magnetic north is different for each point on earth due to Earth’s magnetic field deviations.

Some applications, such as GPS Test, calculate headings very precisely by differentiating GPS readings while the current location changes, a process similar to GPS speed calculation. You need to move around a bit to get it to work, but it is dead accurate on any given point on Earth.

Signal and draw attention

Turning on a bright light is a good method of signaling and drawing attention. All smartphones have a powerful LED flashlight. Make sure you know how to turn it on with an application or through the phone’s settings. But a constant light, even a bright one, may go unnoticed when surrounded by other lights. Human brains react to rapidly changing lights and tend to ignore the constant one.

Morse code has long been used as a reliable and common way to communicate. Used over telegraph lines, it also works with sound and visual cues. The international distress signal is SOS (Save Our Souls), which in Morse code is … — …, or dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot.. Now, imagine an aircraft or ground rescue team you want to signal. You could use a flashlight, if one is available, and switch it on and off in the right rhythm. Another option is to use your hand to block and reveal the LED to create the SOS sequence. An even more sophisticated option is to use the Morse Code Flasher app, which flashes the LED automatically and accurately. Some apps also contain the full Morse code table.

Mend broken things

Motorcyclist Guide to the Galaxy - 3D knotsIf the bike is dropped, the subframe can be broken and luggage and gear smashed or torn. For more serious situations there may be bodily injuries and even wounds that require immediate attention.

Ask experienced sailors about knots and they’re likely to expound at length about their uses in almost any situation. Knowing knots and which ones to tie when and where are essential survival skills on the sea, but most landlubbers, including motorcyclists, could certainly be of service to themselves and others by learning more about them.

The Knots 3D app contains hundreds of knots for different topics, among them camping, fire and rescue, and first aid. Every knot has a 3D animated display that is easy to follow, along with accompanying instructions and other details.

A cheap six-foot rope from any hardware store is all that is needed for practice.



The applications and techniques described above can make a real difference and perhaps save a life. Be prepared. Download, organize, and practice all of them, so that when the time comes you will know where to quickly find and efficiently make good usage of these tools. RR

Morse Code Quiz

..-. .. .-. … – / ….. / .-. . .- -.. . .-. … / – — / ..- -. -.. . .-. … – .- -. -.. / – …. .. … / –. . – / .- / ..-. .-. . . / .-. — .- -.. .-. ..- -. -. . .-. / …. .- –

Text and images: Yuval Naveh
Illustrations: Wikipedia

Tags: , , , , Categories: Chronicles