How to Find Grid References

Written by c. taylor
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How to Find Grid References
Reading a four, six or eight number grid reference isn't as difficult as it may seem. (world, blue map image by Doug Stacey from

Finding a location using a grid reference isn't as complicated as it sounds. The references themselves are telling you where to look and at what scale. A grid reference consists of four, six or eight numbers; the more numbers used, the higher the precision of the location. A four-number grid references, locates an area 1,000-by-1,000 meters. A six-number grid reference, locates an area 100-by-100 meters, and a eight-number reference locations a 10-by-10 meter square.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Separate the number into sections. It will effectively look like "XX YY X Y X Y," but with the actual numbers instead of letters. Letters are placed here to delineate the axis, such as X-axis (east-west, or "eastings") and Y-axis (north-south, or "northings").

  2. 2

    Take the first two digits and look at the bottom of the map for the eastings line number corresponding to those numbers.

  3. 3

    Read up that line until you locate the northings line number corresponding to the second set of two digits. You are not at the bottom, left corner of the 1,000-by-1,000 meter grid area. If this were just a four digit grid reference, you would be done.

  4. 4

    Subdivide the grid into 10 even eastings and northings lines, so you end up with a 10-by-10 grid, each representing a 100-by-100 meter section, within the bigger grid. This can be done mentally or with a ruler and pencil. The lines are numbered zero through nine.

  5. 5

    Read the fifth digit and locate the newly drawn easting line corresponding to that number.

  6. 6

    Read up that line until you find the newly drawn northings number that corresponds to the sixth digit of the grid reference. You are now at the bottom, left corner of a 100-by-100 meter grid section. If the grid reference was just a six digit, you would be done.

  7. 7

    Again, subdivide the 100-by-100 meter grid square into 10 evenly spaced eastings and northings lines.

  8. 8

    Locate the new eastings line corresponding to the seventh digit of the grid reference.

  9. 9

    Read up until you find the northings line corresponding to the eight number of the grid reference. You are now at the bottom, left corner of a 10-by-10 meter grid square, which completes the reference.

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