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Special map symbols

Text author: Luděk Krtička Last update: 2022-07-24

Map specifications can never completely describe all objects in reality through map symbols, as reality is very diverse. These differences are often due to different geographical environments and cultural practices. For this reason, there exist special map symbols (non-standard symbols, unique symbols) in map specifications that can be used to map different prominent objects with a single map symbol. For example, while the 115 Prominent landform feature map symbol is most commonly used in Europe for terrain platforms (past charcoal burning places), in Australia it is commonly used to map large termite mounds. Or, while on one map a 529 Prominent impassable line feature marks an impassable pipeline, on another map a bobsleigh run might be mapped this way. If used, the definition of such a map symbol is often mentioned in the competition bulletin, on major events presented at team officials meeting and the definition of the symbol must be always given on the map.

Special map symbols available in ISOM and ISSprOM:

Example of defining special map symbols in bulletin in an easy to understand format:

  • black cross = car wreck
  • black circle = playground equipment
  • green cross = large tree stump or root mound

Quite often the term “special man-made feature” is used by organizers to define 530 or 531 map symbols, but this is incorrect as man-made features are numerous and often not prominent (waste baskets, fire hydrants, parking meters and individual street lights). Therefore, it is always necessary to specify exactly what objects are mapped by a given symbol.

On the printed map the definition is usually made by combination of map symbols graphic and text:

Special map symbols map
Example of definition of special map symbols given on the map. Illustration by: Luděk Krtička (CC BY-SA 4.0)
TOM special map symbol
Example of a poorly defined special map symbol using ambiguous terminology “Special man-made feature”. Information about special map symbols in WOC 2021 sprint team officials meeting presentation. Illustration by WOC 2021 (CC BY-SA 4.0)