How To Improve Your Underwater Navigation Skills
I thought it was time to share some Top Tips To Improve Your Underwater Navigation Skills as this is one area people are often uncomfortable with. There is nothing worse than being on a dive and not knowing which way it is back to the boat, shore or exit point. This can lead to a very uncomfortable dive for many people. So here we go with my top tips to improve your underwater navigation skills in no time.
Plan the dive, dive the plan
One of the most important things for successful underwater navigation happens before you get wet. Fail to plan, plan to fail. Ensure that you collect as much information about the site before hand to allow you to plan your dives. Get as much detail as possible from the local diver centre or other divers with experience of the site on what to expect during the dive. Useful information includes depths, landmarks, drop offs, reef locations, wreck size and orientation and any other information which will help to plan your route. There is no such thing as too much information when it comes to dive planning!
Draw a map of the site
Drawing a map of the dive site on a slate along with the intended dive plan before you get in can be a great reference when underwater. This really helps you improve your underwater navigation. Quite often just the practice of drawing the map is enough to help you visualise the site and you may not even need to use the map underwater. An added benefit of taking a site map is that you can mark certain landmarks as you go Carry an underwater compass Carrying and using an underwater compass is essential when it comes to underwater navigation. One useful tip is to set the bezel of the compass to point in the direction of the dive boat or shore. Once the bearing has been set, it should not be changed during the dive. In order to return to where you started, simply rotate yourself by 180 degrees. Personally, I chose a Suunto SK8 compass, as I found it performs really well underwater even if it is not kept completely flat.
Keep track of your distance
A common mistake made by many divers when it comes to underwater navigation is focusing on the direction but not keeping track of the distance. Knowing how far you have swam out is equally as important as the direction when it comes to navigating your way back to end your dive. If your swimming is consistent, you can measure distance by time. Some divers even use air consumption taking note of how much air they have used on the way out. These methods may not be as accurate as counting fin strokes. However they can allow you to enjoy your dive without focusing on counting the whole time.
Know where your dive boat (or the shore) is
It is very important to note where your dive begins to ensure that you return to the correct spot at the end of your dive. Be observant of your surroundings at the beginning of the dive making a mental note of any landmarks, large rock formations or distinctive features of the reef. Note the direction in which you can see the sun and remember what your boat looks like from underneath if you are diving a site with multiple boats moored.
Use natural indicators of direction
If you are diving in the day and in water with good visibility the sun can be used as a natural compass! Knowing that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, this allows you to use the sun to navigate. Ripples in the sand caused by currents are also good indicators of direction. The ripples always run parallel to the shore. The deeper the ripple, the closer you are to the shore.
Don’t rely on currents as indicators
Currents should not be used as current indicators due to the fact that currents can change direction, twisting and turning throughout your dive. This can throw you completely off course and a long way away from where you want to be!
Trust your tools
One of the most important top tips to improve your underwater navigation skills is to trust your compass. If you find yourself in a situation where you disagree with what your compass is telling you, stop. Give in. Go with the compass. However, this is only the case if you have ensured that the compass was working prior to the dive. Make sure there is no interference from underwater objects such as wrecks or anything else that may be magnetic. When we dive in Malta with DiveWise, we regularly dive at Circkewwa on the wreck of the P29. This wreck is a few minutes underwater swim from shore. Trusting your compass is essential it is a sandy bottom with very few distinguishing features. Trusting your compass is critical on this dive.
Practice makes permanent
Practicing your compass skills on land can be extremely beneficial. Set headings and reciprocals, walk squares and rectangles, noting bearings as you go. Perfecting all of these skills on land will make this so much easier in the water. Another way to gain experience is to practice navigating on guided dives. Instead of just following the fins of the Divemaster, try to navigate on your own. If you start to go off course, the Divemaster is there to keep you right. Keep your slates handy and make a habit of writing down things like bearings, landmarks and times/distances throughout your dives. Practice makes perfect and the more that you navigate, the better you will become. Its ok to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. Now get that compass and get in the water! Now you know my top tips to improve your underwater navigation skills. Its time to go diving and put this into practice. I hope you have found something in here that you can use on your next dive. Check out the PADI Underwater Navigation Specialty to gain lots more hints and tips and start developing your skills today. Below are some of our favourite courses and bits of gear that may be useful for you while mastering underwater navigation.