In the excitement of learning to SCUBA dive, it can be easy for new divers to forget one very important skill: underwater navigation. Underwater navigation is a crucial component of diving any location, and can be as simple as topside navigation. You just have to learn the skills involved, and put them into practice. Not knowing where you are on a dive can lead to panicking, which can cause you to consume more air than your dive plan entailed. There are a few very simple ways that you can ensure you know where you’re going, and where you’ve been.
Being able to navigate your dive instills you with confidence, enabling you to be a better diver. While the responsibility of navigator usually falls on the dive master on group dives, it is important for you to know what to do in the event that Plan A fails. Learning navigation techniques will also help you to find your way around in low visibility or with a featureless seascape. Taking careful note of your navigation as well as monitoring your gauges can actually prove to be more freeing, as you will be able to enjoy the dive while knowing you’ve got your route under control.
If you’re visiting a dive site new to you, ask local divers for information about the site to help you better plan your navigation before jumping in the water.
It goes without saying that observation is paramount to navigation, underwater or otherwise. Mentally catalog features that will inform you of your location, such as unique rock or coral formations, whether the bottom is sandy or rocky, and what your dive boat looks like from below. Be constantly aware of your surroundings while diving.
Technology is your friend. Learn how to use a dive compass and use it! Personal judgement is not always foolproof, but a compass will always point the right direction.
If you’d like to learn under the watchful eye of an experienced instructor, PADI offers a specialty course for underwater navigation. In this course, you will learn a wide range of navigation techniques, including navigation with and without a compass. You will also be taught navigation patterns and how to create underwater maps. Additionally, the underwater navigation course will educate you to locate an underwater object or position from the surface. The skills you acquire through this specialty course will be valuable for several types of dives, including wrecks diving, night diving, and search and recovery.
While spontaneity can be a very good thing, diving under the unique conditions the sea can present is better suited for a well-laid plan. Don’t lose the way on a dive, lead the way!