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How to contribute data to T4A, part 1: tracks and waypoints

Yes, you can take part in mapping Africa. Follow these simple instructions and learn how to record and submit GPS data from your next overland trip.

How did Tracks4Africa develop its reputation as the go-to route finder for travellers in Africa? We are a navigation company built for overlanders, by overlanders. We collect, catalogue and process your travel information in order to produce some of the most trusted GPS maps of Africa out there. Thanks to you, our navigation products are reputed as reliable, up-to-date and detailed. And we’d like to keep it that way! Share your data with us and help others travel Africa informed.

How do I get involved?

There are three different ways to contribute data to Tracks4Africa:

  1. Submit GPS data from your overland trip (read more below)
  2. Register on our website to correct, add to and update our online database
  3. Get your business listed as a Point of Interest (POI) on our various platforms

As you journey through Africa, you can record valuable GPS data along the way (in the form of tracks and waypoints) and send it to us. We use this information to update all T4A maps as well as our website listings.

If you don’t have trip data to share, don’t worry. Like we said, there other ways to get involved! We cover these in Part 2 and Part 3.

How do I submit GPS trip data to T4A?

We’re looking for two types of GPS data contributions: tracks and waypoints.

A track is a breadcrumb trail of your current GPS activity. In other words, it’s the road you have just driven or the path you have just walked.

A waypoint is a stopping place on a journey. Waypoints can be notable sights and attractions, toll gates and checkpoints, border posts, accommodation, fuel stops, and any POI (Point of Interest) that you come across. The sky’s the limit!

Both tracks and waypoints are immensely valuable because they tell people what roads to follow and what to look out for along the way.

It may seem complicated, but rest assured that collecting, preparing and submitting your GPS data is actually quite simple. All you need to do is 1) make sure your GPS is set up correctly and 2) apply a few of our quality checks so that your data is of a high enough standard that we can use it.

Let’s get to it.

t4a stock image
We use your GPS data to update all Tracks4Africa products, including our traveller’s atlas, guidebooks, paper maps, GPS maps, smartphone apps and our online interactive Africa Map.

Prep your GPS

First things first, make sure that you have a strong GPS signal.
Mount your GPS in the windscreen of your vehicle so that it has a clear view of the satellites. Consider getting an external antenna fitted if you think you might struggle with poor reception. A weak signal will lead to low-quality data recordings, and that’s if you manage to record any data at all!

Next, you need to adjust your GPS settings in order to record the best quality tracks and waypoints.

While there are slight differences between Garmin devices in terms of functionality and user-interface, adjusting the settings should be a fairly similar process across all models.

Recording Tracks

Step 1

The “Lock on Road” setting under Setup > Routing must be switched OFF at all times.

If this setting is switched ON then the GPS will follow the road that is already on the GPS, even if you veer off of it. This would lead to an inaccurate real-time recording of your unique track. For example, if you are driving parallel to a road, the GPS will assume that you’re driving on the road itself and fail to record a new track showing that you followed an alternative path. Switching it off guarantees that the GPS lays down your actual position on the earth at all times.

We are aware that some city navigators, such as the Garmin Drive series, are automatically set to “lock on road” and cannot be changed to another setting. However, please do not discard tracks or not submit them just because the GPS is set to “lock on road”.

Step 2

Some Garmin GPS devices have a WAAS function. WAAS satellite coverage is only available in North America, therefore, this function should be disabled when you travel Africa.

Go to Setup > System > GPS and set it to ‘Normal’ (not WAAS)

Step 3

Lastly, you need to adjust the Track Recording settings.
Under Setup > Tracks, change the following:

Track Log

Track/Trip log recording must be ON. It should say ‘Record, Show on Map’.

Recording method

Set it to “Auto”.

Recording Interval

Set it to “Most often”.

Auto archive

Set it to “Daily”. Never save the current track yourself, as only about 10% of the recorded points are saved this way.

Colour

This one is totally up to you. However, the default colour on most GPS devices (light blue) should do the trick as it’s easy to see and shows up clearly on the screen.

That’s it! Now you’re ready to record your tracks as you travel.

T4A tip: If you are concerned about running out of recording space on your GPS, download your data daily to your laptop (see explanation below).

Recording Waypoints

Not sure what type of waypoints or POIs we’re looking for? Here’s our shortlist and what details to include:

NB: For any service, whether a shop, lodging or public service, please include contact details: telephone number, email address, website and other relevant contact info.

• Accommodation: The name of the establishment and type: camping, self-catering, hotel, lodge, B&B, etc.
• Picnic sites: These can be official sites for day visitors or roadside pitstops.
• Community services: police stations, hospitals, doctors, pharmacies, etc.
• Other services: supermarkets, restaurants, fuel stops, towing service, tyre repair services, where to buy a SIM card and airtime, a reliable butcher, farm stalls, etc.
o NB: When plotting a fuel station, please note if petrol and/or diesel is sold.
• Entry gates or reception areas: Include whether you have to report or register.
• Toll gates and checkpoints: veterinary checkpoints, veterinary gates and police checkpoints where permits are checked.
• Warnings: Indicate if the road conditions could be problematic e.g. very muddy/sandy/rocky or meant for 4×4 only. Include whether a permit is necessary, a guide is required or a place is considered dangerous, etc.
• Permanent road closures
• Points of Interest (POI): sights such as monuments, natural attractions, museums, lookout points, etc.
• Border controls: opening and closing times, costs, must-know info, other services offered, etc.

Solitaire - Namibia
When it comes to making waypoints, the more detail the better! For example, a POI about the Namibian town of Solitaire should name notable attractions, mention what facilities and services are available and give some travel tips. Picture by Janine Reyneke.

Rules for creating waypoints

1. Only create a waypoint once you have pulled over. If you try to mark one while driving, it can be out by hundreds of metres. Plus, it’s unsafe to work on your GPS while moving.
2. Categorise your waypoint according to what it is: viewpoint, shop, lodge, etc.
3. Accurate spelling for each waypoint is a must.
4. Write a short description. The more detail the better! For instance, if it’s a takeaway spot, note some of the items on offer.
5. Always give contact details where possible.
6. It is better to provide fewer waypoints that are informative and useful rather than hundreds of waypoints with virtually no meaning. Quality over quantity!

Need to know

While we receive plenty of data contributions for things like accommodation, restaurants, campsites and shops, we don’t always get as many for services. Any service point, whether it’s a police station or tyre repair shop, is a valuable addition to our database. Just think, you could save someone a lot of stress by providing information on the useful services you come across.

How do I get the data off my GPS and onto my computer?

You’ve reached your destination, your tracklog is full and your waypoints are detailed and precise. Now what?

You need to download your data onto your computer using Garmin’s software, either Basecamp or MapSource.

These applications allow you to view Garmin compatible maps on your Windows PC/laptop, do route planning, and transfer tracks, waypoints and routes between your computer and GPS device. Both are free to download.

Watch the video below for a tutorial on how to download tracks from your GPS

Follow these step-by-step instructions on how to extract your tracks and waypoints.

Garmin MapSource

Connect your GPS to your PC

Open Garmin MapSource

Click on “Transfer” at the top of your toolbar

Select “Receive from Device”

Mapsource1

The following window will pop up

mapsource2

Tick the boxes of what you would like to receive

Click on “Receive”

The data will be listed on the left-hand side of the screen

mapsource3

Save it to your desktop by going to File > Save As

Save the file in the file format that Mapsource prescribes: .gpx format

mapsource4

Garmin BaseCamp

Connect your GPS to your PC

Open Garmin Basecamp

Click on “Device” at the top of your toolbar

Select “Receive from Device”

Basecamp1

Select the device name to receive data from and click “OK”

Basecamp2

The data received from your GPS unit will then be listed on the left-hand side of your screen

Basecamp3

Save it to your desktop by going to File > Save As

Save the file in the file format as BaseCamp prescribes: .gdb format

How do I send my data to Tracks4Africa?

Once your data has been downloaded, you are ready to send it to us!  To submit data via our website, you need to register first. If you email us directly, you don’t need to be registered

For email, simply send your file as an attachment to newdata@tracks4africa.co.za. If the file is too large, you may need to compress it using something like WinZip.

We will notify you when your data has been processed. We may also come back to you with some questions if we need clarification on anything.

Anything else I need to know?

While you don’t have to become an official member of the T4A Data Community in order to contribute, we do encourage it.

Our community forum is run as a Google group and anyone using T4A GPS maps is welcome to join. Membership is free and voluntary.
As the best place for fellow travellers and experts to share information and ask questions related to using our GPS maps, it is the heartbeat of the T4A community.

Useful Links

Overview of T4A quality standards for data submissions

FAQs about GPS Maps for Garmin

Join the T4A community

Let us know about your experience