Ten Tips to Improve Your Underwater Navigation
It is never fun to lose directions or get lost underwater, while diving, that is why you have to enhance your navigation level and use the skills you learned to return smoothly and departure at the correct exit point, whether you have dived from a boat or a shore.
Lately, I have been on a boat trip. All the conditions were good: the waves, the vision, and no currents. The diving experience was in an amazing! coral reef where the maximum depth was 18m (60 ft). All the parameters were perfect for a safe, smooth dive.
The trip supervisor grouped the divers and we all listened to a briefing by the local guide before we dived. At the beginning of the dive, we met a large group of manta rays passing by and that was a lot of fun. All the divers followed that group of fish and we managed to take amazing photos and clear, close videos of manta rays. Thirty-seven minutes later, all the divers exited the water except for 2 fellow-divers who were a little late, exited far from the boat, and continued to swim on the surface on their way back. The local guide kept checking up on them until they made it back. While we enjoyed talking about the dive and the creatures, one of the fellow-divers told me that they lost directions while following the manta ray shoal. Each of them asked the other about the boat location and the way back hoping that they had the answer, but they did not. They started to worry a little bit about what if they went the wrong way, the distance they would swim, how long they would have to find, and what if the crew would not find them. They kept swimming until they had to exit because of the air supply, and that is why they exited late and far from the boat.
There are several steps to follow to improve our underwater navigation in order to be able to return and exit smoothly using the natural navigation technique. We all learned the skills of using a compass in the open-water diving course, the advanced diving course, or the adventure diving level. There was a mandatory dive to learn navigation skills, so let’s remember the content of that dive.
Natural navigation requires a diver to use and benefit from the features and characteristics of the diving sight to decide the starting point and learn the way back. You need to master the integration of natural navigation skills and compass use skills so that you would not get lost underwater in your upcoming dives. I listed ten tips for you on how to reach the exit point and how to know the way back, whether you are diving in a coral area or visiting a sunken wreck.
Listen Up to the Briefing Before Diving
Good planning for diving starts before you get into the water. If you are on a diving trip with a group, listen carefully to the instructions of the diving guide or the trip leader. Stop whatever you are doing meanwhile and pay attention. You will have a good understanding and valuable information on the diving sight, depth gradient, currents, and the nature of the sight. If you are planning to dive independently with a buddy from shore or somewhere else, get a full description of the sight and, if possible, a map from a local diving store or other divers in the sight so that you would be able to put a good diving plan.
Follow the Leader
It is wrong to head into the water without assigning roles. Even if you are diving with a buddy of the same level as you, a leader of the dive has to be selected to take the lead in setting the directions, the start points, and the return time. Focus on the course of the plan and keep an eye on the time, depth, and distance.
Start Correctly from the Beginning
Whether the diving was from a boat, by entering the water on a surface float, by following an anchor line to the sea bed or even if it was shore diving that requires surface swimming through the waves or a long walking distance to the point you intend to dive from, you should start using natural navigation skills and compass skills the moment your head goes underwater. Pay good attention to the natural references, such as rocks or coral reefs, memorize them or take notes on your note board and point out these references to your buddy so that they would notice. Determine the depth and make effective use of your fellowship system in that regard.
Look at the Watch and Determine the Time
Swim for a certain time you have already decided upon with your buddy then turn around and swim the exact time in the opposite direction. If there was a current, make sure that you start your dive in the opposite direction of the current, then turn around and head back with the direction of the current and you will reach fast. Keep an eye on your air consumption. There is great advice called “rule of a third”; use one-third of your air in going, one third in returning, and the last one third for safety stops and discovering the area.
Pay Attention to Natural Features
Use and take advantage of the natural features that you use in your nature navigation. It will make your dive easier in terms of the directions and destinations, just like you walk in a park or a mall.
Select your course: The best way is to select a specific line for the course of the dive. In a lot of diving sights, there might be sand or an edge of a reef. You and your buddy can plan to dive among these reefs, sands, or descend at a depth among the reef. All you have to do is to choose the direction, time, and depth with your buddy.
Notice the features: In a lot of diving sights, you will find a lot of special coral formations or things that are noticeable to make this site unique. Notice these things and take advantage of them to find your way back.
Fallow the flight: Check the angle of the sunlight at the beginning of the dive and try to keep it in check while descending. If you were heading towards the sun at the beginning of the dive, the sun must be behind you as you go back. If you were diving from a big boat, try to search for the boat shadow at the bottom when you think you are getting closer.
Check Your Compass
Check your compass while on the surface. As soon as you get your head underwater, check again immediately. Set your course using the degree and then check it again. I have met a lot of divers that took wrong compass paths at the beginning of the dive because of the rush in setting the direction and degree. Use the earth line drawn on the compass and make sure you are holding the compass correctly with both hands in front of your body. Using one hand does not give you the correct reading in most cases, so the compass must be in its correct position. Set the direction of going then reassure from the direction of returning. Repeat this before you start swimming; it is totally okay.
What I mean here is don’t make the course of the dive a racetrack between you and your buddy. Keep calm and don’t cut long distances. The creatures and the corals are all the same whether you were close to the boat or 100 meters away, so there is no point in cutting a long distance on your dive. Your calmness will keep you in the range of comfort and peace and you will save more oxygen definitely be able to apply natural navigation skills effectively.
Take a Look
In a sight that is not that deep, you can always achieve a natural ascent to the surface to check the directions if you feel that you are unsure of the way back. This is way better than swimming in a random direction. We all do that whether we are professionals or beginners because unstudied possibilities never do any good at diving.
When you ascend to the surface and reset the direction, make sure to give the boat crew an OK signal so that they know you are not in trouble.
Get Good Equipment
Choose a good compass that is practical and ask your dive buddies or your instructor for the Good brands. When you buy a diving computer, it would be best if it had a digital compass. All of your equipment must be in perfect condition for your needs of size and weight as well as the diving season, water temperature, and all the other parameters.
Make sure that you always have your full necessary equipment and never let go of the surface breathing tube. It is good to have a surface guiding sign. And when you dive from the shore, it is best to put an outside signal to make sure of your correct exit point when you get your head out of the water.
Specialize in Navigation Skills
Like other the skills that are very important and related deeply to divers safety, the skill of underwater navigation is one of the most important skills that all the diving organizations advise of. Note that in all main diving courses, there are navigation skills and search exercises inviting us to understand the nature of the seabed and how to locate directions. PADI association has a specialty for underwater navigation; an amazing specialty that contains 3 dives in open water. Any diver can learn this specialty starting at the age of 10.
Learning these skills from qualified instructors in a small group will reflect positively on your level of diving. We highly recommend this course.