Do you get lost underwater?
Ooohh Underwater Navigation!
Do you have a sense of direction underwater or do you leave it to chance? If we are honest, the ability to read a compass is one skill that most divers are poor at. Often the words “underwater navigation with a compass” leads to embarrassment, that’s a no-go, can’t do that and confusion. Sadly, most people prefer to follow the dive guide, which in turn, if you lose the group you will find yourself immediately lost.
Underwater navigation requires basic knowledge of a compass and a bit of practice on dry land. The most important rule is to trust your compass, although sometimes you might think it is wrong! The north arrow always points to magnetic north, and this feature does not change throughout your dive.
Here are a few steps to make you feel more comfortable with an underwater compass:
Which compass to purchase?
Make sure you have a compass that is for underwater us and you can read easily. The bezel should turn in both directions without restriction. The lubber line must be well marked and the index marks easy to recognise. There are many different types to choose from, so ask for advice at your local dive centre. The Suunto SK7 or 8 is one of the best wrist compasses on the market. There are other compasses that you can fit into your console, or onto a flat board which is attached to your BCD.
Most compasses show numbers in 30 degrees increments. For the four standard directions, your compass might show you letters or numbers. For North, it might read N or 0/360, for East, it can be E or 90, South will be S or 180 and West will be W or 270.
Hold the compass level at all times!
Hold the compass directly in front of your body. The lubber line that runs down the centre of your compass should be also the centre of your body. Keep the compass perfectly flat and level, do not tilt it towards or away from you. If you tilt the compass, you will be able to see the background underneath the compass face; this should not be visible at all when held flat. Should you tilt the compass too much, they may stick in one position and not move.
How to swim with the compass?
Always swim slowly and count the kick cycles if necessary. Be aware of your depth while you navigate, most divers tend to ascend as they watch the compass. Try to relax and breathe normally, this will help you maintain a constant depth.
Set the heading:
First, point the lubber line in the direction you wish to go. Turn the bezel until the north arrow sits between the index marks. Keep the compass level or flat, take the reading of the degrees on top of the lubber line. This number at the top of your lubber line indicates the number of degrees in which you intend to travel. The number at the bottom end of your lubber line (the end nearest to your chest) is the number of degrees which will bring you back to where you began, along the same line.
Practice makes perfect!
Practice on dry land first with a buddy. Think up a reciprocal direction and walk it together. When you master this, place a towel over your head so you can only see downwards and practice again. Your buddy must be aware that you do not trip over something, or walk into an object.
Prepare for your dive:
Underwater communication can sometimes be complicated. Take a slate and pencil with you and write down your compass headings; this procedure eliminates confusion underwater. It also helps to communicate with your buddy about direction.
Use natural navigation as an aid.
Take note and look at the area around you. Look behind you as well, objects and rock formations look very different from the other side. Set your compass heading, swim while you keep the north arrow between the index marks. Try not to stare at the compass all the time, look ahead for objects that lie in your pathway. Orientate yourself on the object and swim to it. Check your compass again, make sure you are on the right track and continue your journey. if you use natural navigation as part of your journey, it will help to determine if a current is present. When you swim towards an object in your path and you find you drift away, this is a signal that current is present. Watch the sea-grass, this will provide a good indication of current. When it’s bent constantly in one direction, that direction is the flow of the current. Correct your course if required and continue your journey.
Use the main points of the compass.
Try to use the main compass points only until you become familiar with compass navigation. This way you do not need to remember specific compass degrees. North, east, south and west points on your compass are easy to find and remember. A reciprocal course with these points is the easiest way to go there and come back.
How to improve your navigation skills?
A good way to improve your navigation skills is to take the PADI Adventure dive, underwater navigation. With instruction and guidance from your PADI instructor, this dive is dedicated to navigation only. You will practice your reciprocal course, learn how to navigate a square, use natural navigation and learn how to measure distance underwater. This is a fun dive, but you will learn a lot with respect to natural and compass navigation.
PADI Underwater Navigation Specialty.
For those who have grasped the basic navigation concept, why not hone your skills further? The PADI underwater navigation speciality offers a great way to gain full confidence in your compass. You will not only use north, east, south and west, but multiple compass bearings to accomplish different patterns. After the three dives of this course, it will leave you confident to navigate around dive sites and even night dives with easy.
Come and join us at Dive Smart Gozo and learn more about navigation.