To take bearings

to ascertain by the compass the position of an object; to ascertain the relation of one object or place to another; to ascertain one's position by reference to landmarks or to the compass; hence (Fig.), to ascertain the condition of things when one is in trouble or perplexity.

See also: Bearing

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, published 1913 by G. & C. Merriam Co.