Over 75 UK emergency services are using what3words to help save precious time and resources. Now many mountain rescue teams are also adding what3words to their essential toolkit. OS Map Grid references and latitude and longitude have long been essential tools for Mountain Rescue teams. Now what3words is providing another way to locate people in trouble, complementing mountain rescue teams existing methods, as many are using it to respond to incidents faster.

Why use what3words?

what3words addresses are accurate to 3m x 3m. They are easier to say over the phone or radio than GPS coordinates and less prone to human error. It’s easy to share a what3words address via one click into messaging apps, including iMessage and Whatsapp. One benefit of the free what3words app is that once responders receive the three words from a caller, they can route there directly with the navigation app of their choice.

what3words addresses can also be entered directly into many apps and tools. For example, ViewRanger has integrated what3words directly into its app, so Mountain Rescue teams already using the app can discover and search for 3 word addresses.

smartphone using ViewRanger1 app with what 3 words

Case studies

Rossendale & Pendle Mountain Rescue

Alan Pepper introduced what3words to his team during a training exercise, which tested a multitude of different locator tools. Pleased with the accuracy and human-friendly nature of what3words addresses, his team has started using what3words alongside their other tools.

‘OS Grid is an essential component but, as an engineer, I feel you can never have enough tools in your toolbox. For us, what3words is an especially useful tool for team members who want to use a smartphone as their primary sat nav’ said Alan Pepper, Rossendale & Pendle Mountain Rescue Team.

Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue

When two children got lost while walking their dogs in the North York Moors, a North Yorkshire Police drone was initially used in the search. But they  were successfully located after using the what3words app on one of their phones to communicate their exact location. It was then possible for Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team to use this information to retrieve them safely.

What are people saying?

‘We come across a good number of sightseers, horse riders and mountain bikers who do not naturally carry maps but feel comfortable using what3words. The system is also working for police and ambulance, so we want to support their efforts by understanding and accepting what3words as another tool to help those in need.’ says Ian Hugill from Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team, adding that ‘there is no debating the importance of map reading skills, however many members of the public today will almost definitely carry a smartphone around with them’

Mountain Rescue England and Wales’ advice to the public is to remember both the life-saving benefits as well as the potential limitations of smart phones: ‘Apps like what3words and OS Locate are a great help in pinpointing a location but they also use up precious battery power so, while we welcome anything that could contribute to safety, we’re wary of adding to people’s reliance on their mobile phones. MREW is keen to encourage those planning a day in the outdoors to carry a paper map and a compass, to know how to use them and also to carry a torch so that these tools can be used if it gets dark.’



Do all mountain rescue teams use what3words?

Volunteer rescuers use a range of GPS tools, apps and systems at their discretion. We recommend checking with your local team directly to confirm whether they use what3words. You can view emergency services that have publicly confirmed they use what3words here.

As a volunteer with mountain rescue, how can my team start using what3words?

Anyone can use the what3words online map and mobile app free of charge. The app works offline, which means mountain rescuers can install it on their own device and use compass mode to navigate to any what3words address – even in areas with little or no data connection.

If you are a member of Mountain Rescue England and Wales, you can access free what3words training material here

To browse a range of apps and services using what3words, visit our product page.