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Underwater Navigation Tips

Find Your Way Back EVERYTIME with Underwater Navigation Skills

An underwater compass helps guides scuba diversEvery scuba dive is more enjoyable when you know where you’re going, where you’ve been and where you are at any given time underwater. The confidence that comes with this knowledge saves time, reduces stress and makes your scuba diving experience more efficient and fun. While many scuba diving sites offer clear water and plenty of visual aids to navigation, scuba divers can learn to use a few tools and techniques to easily find their way even when visibility is poor and the environment is featureless


  • Ask for information before you start your scuba dive. On an organized scuba diving trip, it’s likely you’ll get some tips for navigating your way around the site during a formal briefing. But when you’re on your own, ask your local PADI Dive Shop or Resort for advice before you go. Most local scuba divers are happy to share tips and information.

  • Once underwater, have a look around your entry point before you head off. Like leaving your car in a parking lot, it helps to notice where you start so you'll know how to get back. Are there any unique rocks near your entry? Is the bottom sandy or rocky? Is there vegetation or debris nearby you can use as a landmark? Don't use fish or anything else that might move before you get back! If you’re diving from a boat, note the name of the boat and pay attention to what it looks like from underwater. There’s nothing more embarrassing then ending a successful scuba dive by boarding the wrong dive boat!
    Notice the current before starting the scuba dive. When exploring any dive site, like a coral reef or shipwreck  for example, it's best to start your scuba dive into the current, so you’ll work against it at the beginning and let it help you return at the end. If you begin with the current, though, you’d have to swim against it coming back and could run out of time or air before you get there.

  • During the scuba dive, continually note your surroundings and your instrumentation. Scuba divers who focus only on their destination often find they have no clue how to get back to the shore or boat when the time comes. If the bottom is sandy, notice if there are ridges in it and which way they run; usually ridges run parallel to the shoreline. In low visibility it’s good to know that in some areas water temperature varies with depth, and if disorientation is a factor, remember that the bubbles from your exhalation always go up!

    Take a compass heading to help navigate your dive

  • Learn to use your dive compass for underwater navigation. Even in clear water, you can get turned around and lose track of which way back to the beach or a boat at anchor. A dive compass can make it easy to enjoy your dive and get back where you came from without having to surface for a look. Plus there’s nothing like the feeling you get when you successfully hit your mark!
    Use a dive compass on the surface to get back on track. If you find you have to come up to figure out where you are and spot where you’re going, it's much easier to take a compass heading to your target, then drop down underwater for the swim to get there. Swimming on the surface in scuba equipment is slower and more tiring than underwater. Learning underwater navigation skills will be invaluable in such situations.