What happens at an event?

At the Event you will undergo:

  • Selecting a course
  • Registering your entry
  • Getting out on the course
  • Post event

These will all vary slightly depending on the event and the location. The following steps provide a guide only of what to expect at an event. If you are unclear at all, follow instructions (generally displayed near registration) or ask someone for help. Orienteers are a very friendly group always willing to assist if asked.

Selecting a course

At an event there may be up to 10 courses which vary both in length (from around 1.5 up to 10 km), and in their navigational difficulty. Completing an orienteering course may take about 20-40 minutes for the easier courses, and 1-2 hours for experienced orienteers on the more difficult courses. People new to orienteering should try the shorter "Easy" or "Very Easy" courses first. Later you may progress -- if you wish -- to running alone as hard as your map reading ability and fitness will allow.

Note that summer events at metropolitan areas typically don’t have a choice. For these events the aim is often to collect as many control points on a map as possible in a set time period. Harder control points or those further away are typically worth more points. This format is known as a score event.

Groups may choose to do a course together, with a small extra charge for extra maps.

Adults who are familiar with map reading (eg. from bushwalking) can usually go straight to a navigationally easy or moderate level course. Children and those with no map reading experience, it is better to choose a very easy course to begin with.  Competitors may advance from one level of the course to the next as they learn the basic map reading and navigational skills and successfully complete the easier courses and gain confidence.

Event information boards will describe the courses which are available and any other information which you need to know If unsure at any stage, please ask.


After you have decided on your course you will probably have to fill in your details on a combined registration form and control card. The registration form is usually a tear-off end of your control card.

At many major events, pre-marked maps are provided to entrants who register and pay in advance. These pre-entries usually close 2 weeks prior to the event but there will be some "enter on day" courses available as well. If you are pre-entering an event, you will fill in your registration information at home, and the organisers will have your control card ready for you when you arrive at the event.

Registration information is most important as it provides the organiser with a record of all the participants and as a check that you have returned safely.

Having completed the registration information, proceed to the registration table and pay the entry fee. At minor “come and try it” events, you will receive a copy of the map and the "control descriptions" for your course. At major championship events, you first see your map and course only as you start off. You may be allocated a start time at registration, or at the start, or you may even just start yourself when ready. Ask the organisers how the start will work if you are unclear. When you are ready, make your way to the Start keeping in mind your start time if allocated.

The following event entry fees are an example from Orienteering ACT in 2006.

   Member Type


     Green / Blue  Red / Orange
 Adult  Member  $6 $8 
   Non-member  $10  $15
 Junior / Concession  Member  $6  $6
   Non-member  $10  $10
 Family Maximum  Member  $18  $22
   Non-member  $30  $40

Extra Maps: metropolitan $2, non-metropolitan $3

When a series of events are held, some states will provide discounts for entering the entire series at the same time.

Master Maps

For some minor events, you will be required to copy the locations of control sites from a master map (there may be several – make sure you choose the right one) onto your map. This may or may not be after your start. If you are a newcomer, ask for assistance – someone will be willing to help out. You don’t want to accidentally mark a control point in the wrong spot and spoil your event.

Control Descriptions

These fully and accurately describe the location of the control markers on your course. Included is the identifying code for the control to enable you to confirm you are at the right control! There is an international symbol (graphical) version used at major events but English versions should also be available.

Control descriptions may be on the map, or you may have to collect them separately or be provided them at registration.

The start of the event may be some distance from the registration area, so before you set off, check that you have:   

  • Your map and a plastic bag to protect it
  • The control description list
  • Your control card
  • A compass (if you want)
  • A whistle for safety
  • A watch to check the time

The route to the start will be indicated by signs and/or streamers.

The Start

At the start, report to an official. Wait for your start time or ask to be allocated a start time.  Competitors doing the same course are generally separated by at least two minute intervals to minimise following. You may stay in a group if this is how you have entered.

The starter will generally call out start times, and a series of beeps are traditionally used to start each wave of competitors. Mae sure you collect the correct map, or copy the correct master map as required. Once ready, you can start navigating your way around the course.

On the Course

As soon as you are ready, navigate (find your way) to your first control.

A number of skills are generally used to navigate your way. The basic skills include:

  • Orientating your map for direction (turning it so that the North Arrows face magnetic north) – this can be done using the sun as a guide, features on the map and ground or by using a compass
  • Feature recognition – using symbols on the map to recognise objects on the ground or vice-versa
  • Distance estimation – being aware of the scale on the map, and how far you have travelled

Coaching tips produced for private use only are available here.

Control sites are generally marked by orange and white, triangular markers, called flags. These are often hung from trees and bushes or metal stands.  The control number may be found on the side of these flags or on the stand. Urban events often use metal plates or ice cream buckets. Remember your control descriptions will provide detailed information about the feature your control is on.

When using a control card, the plastic punches will be hung from the flag, or on the metal stand. These are used to mark the relevant box on the control card (e.g. the punch for the first control goes in box number 1).  Each flag has a different patterned punch and this is used to indicate that you have visited the correct control site. In urban events, you may have to write the corresponding code of the control marker on to your control card. Whatever marker system is being used, a sample will be displayed at registration.

During a normal line course, you must visit the controls in their listed order. The code on the control marker will correspond to your control descriptions to let you know if you are at the right control.

When you get to the control, check that the feature and code number on the control flag or stand match your control description list.  If you are sure it is the control on your course, use the punch on the stand or on the control to punch the corresponding numbered square on your control card.

If you are uncertain where you are:

  • It is extremely rare for someone to be totally lost at an orienteering event. It is more likely for you to be unsure of your exact position but to be somewhere relatively near the control.
  • First try to relocate yourself.  Use obvious, linear features such as tracks, fences or creeks, if available, or go back to your previous control.
  • If you are still "geographically embarrassed" and are unable to find where you are on the map, ask another orienteer for help or wait for assistance at any control you find.  Someone will collect the controls after the course closure time and will be able to take you back to the assembly area.  If you follow the safety bearing given at the start, you may be able to get back to the assembly area on your own. 
  • If all else fails, or if you are injured, stay still and blow your whistle.  The emergency signal is six blasts at ten second intervals, repeated every two minutes.  Anyone hearing this must abandon their course and come to your assistance.

The Finish

As you pass the Finish (marked with a banner and often the same as te start at minor events), your time will be recorded and written on your control card which is handed to the finish officials.  The card will then be checked to see that the controls on your course have been visited. 

If you do not complete the entire course which you have chosen, always report to the finish so the organisers know that there are no competitors still out in the bush at the conclusion of the event. There will be a course closure time for each event, and you must return to the finish by that time to enable the organisers to ensure you are safe.


Provisional results are always displayed near the registration shortly after you finish. Final results are generally published on a club or association website as well as newsletters. At major events, results are based on age classes and separated for Men and Women. At smaller events, results are based on the courses provided on the day.

After the EventElites talking over the best route

Keep your map to study and perhaps draw in the way you went and look for better route choices. You may like to discuss your event with a more experienced orienteer or coach so that you can learn from your mistakes. Discussions about courses can be a great social starter.

Now is a good time to set up the barbecue, make a start on lunch and have a drink, relaxing in the clean forest air away from the stress of the city. Some food and equipment supplies are often available at events as well. Consider becoming a member of a club to experience the sport further.

Electronic Timing Systems

While a number of electronic timing systems are used in orienteering world-wide (2 systems dominate), the Sport-Ident (SI) system is used in Australia.

SI is generally only used at major events, although it may be used for the start and finish only at some minor events.

They system replaces the card punching system traditionally used at orienteering events.  Because the units for the syste have to be mounted on a support, the control flags are used to hang the timing device.  The control number will be on the SportIdent device and in some cases on the control flag.  SportIdent has been used internationally for some years and is now used for major events in other states.  In Queensland we are now using the timing system at all major events as well as at special events ie National Orienteering Day, Forest Racing Series.

How is it used?

It consists of a small plastic electronic card (SI-card) which is of oval shape and 5 cm long.  It is attached by a strap to a competitor's finger.  It contains user information such as:

·          Unique user-id

·          Name

·          Date of birth

·          Club

·          Contact details 

Other information that the card contains is:

·          Course Information

·          Control Numbers

·          Total Elapse Time

·          Split Time for each control leg

How does it work?                                                                  

At the Start, Finish and control sites, the special electronic punches (SI-units) which are mounted in plastic boxes and are attached to the control flag or stand.  To record their start and finish times as well as the time at which each control was visited, a competitor simply places their SI-card in this unit.  It will then flash a ligh and produce a beep to indicate the information has been successfully transfered from the unit to the card.  The control number and the time it was visited will now be recorded on the card.  After completing the course, this information is downloaded into a computer, producing information on the total elapsed time as we al the individual split times for each leg.

What if I do not have a SI-card?

At events where electronic timing is being used you can hire an SI-card (normally about $2.00), however if you lose it or damage it you will be asked to re-pay the full replacement cost.  Alternatively, if you are going to be a regular participant it is certainly worth your while to purchase one.  The cost is  around $45.00 (incl GST) and they are available on request from state associations.

Should a unit fail, what do I do?

If for some reason the unit does not produce a flash and beep, the stands still have ordinary punches and the competitor should punch the side of their map instead.

Further information about sport-ident is available from clubs and state associations.