How to Aim a Satellite Dish
By Dan Ketchum
Updated October 02, 2017
The absolute best way to aim your satellite dish is both simple and not-so-simple: Get a professional to do it for you.
Of course, the ideal isn't always doable. If you don't have a cutting-edge, auto-aiming, self-aligning dish, you'll just have to roll up your sleeves, get familiar with a compass (or a compass app) and head up to the roof. Before you climb the ladder, though, make sure you've got two things: A spotter and a well-informed battle plan.
Elevation and Azimuth
Though they may sound like a pair of spells from "Harry Potter," elevation and azimuth are the two key components to properly aiming your dish. While elevation refers to the up-and-down positioning of the dish, azimuth concerns its left-to-right positioning.
You'll absolutely need both of these numbers before you set out. Luckily, there are plenty of free and painless ways to look them up. Oftentimes, your dish's receiver lists them in its setup menu. Otherwise, you can look them up online in a matter of seconds; at DirecTV's Dish Pointer or DP Technologies' DishPointer, for instance, where you can enter your location to instantly get the ideal elevation and azimuth for your dish. (See links in Resources.)
Properly aligning your dish is all about aiming it toward the big satellite in the sky. Now that you've got the azimuth and elevation, you know where it should be pointing – next up: get it pointing that way.
Grab your compass or your smartphone's compass app and an adjustable wrench, and make your way to your dish. With the compass held still and level in your hand, wait for the needle stop moving and then rotate the body of the compass until the needle aligns with north. Once you know where north is, check out those tick marks on the compass (resembling minute and hour marks on a clock) – those are the azimuth numbers. Now, find the azimuth number that you wrote down. This indicates the direction in which the dish should point, so slowly rotate the dish until its aligned with the azimuth number in question.
For elevation, your dish should have a few bolts on it back, residing in slots with numbered hash marks indicating elevation. Loosen the bolts and line them up with the hash marks that reflect your dish's ideal elevation, then tighten them once again.
Though azimuth and elevation are the foundation of good satellite reception, they're not the end of the story.
Always make sure that your dish is unobstructed, for starters. Trees, buildings and leaves positioned directly in front of the dish's signal path are a no-go. As you make adjustments to your dish, wait 5-to-10 seconds between movements to allow the receiver to complete a signal scan – ideally, your signal strength should read between 50 and 80.
Just like at the doctor's office, a second opinion is helpful here, too. Free apps for both iOS and Android phones (such as Dish Align and SatFinder, respectively) help find elevation and azimuth settings specific to your location and include built-in compasses for convenience. Some apps even feature augmented reality imaging to help you see approximately where the satellite resides in the sky – kind of like "Pokemon Go," but with a satellite instead of a Pikachu.
Dan's tech experience includes work in the promotional and creative side of video gaming (with companies like 2K, Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive), as well as feature film post-production and graphic design. As a writer, he's contributed to Techwalla, Verizon, Samsung, Asus, Sharp, GeeksOn, Canon, Panasonic, Linksys and more.