Underwater Navigation – a waste of time or a key skill for divers?

Divers planning their next dive

Divers planning their next dive

The navigation section of the PADI Open Water course is often something that students struggle with and generallyspeaking are not too confident in.   However once mastered the satisfaction of navigating your way back to a starting point in less than perfect visibility is always a buzz for me.


  • Do you always carry a compass on you dive equipment?
  • Are you confident in using it?

The answer to these questions may to some extent depend on where you do most of your diving. If you typically dive in clear warm water you would probably argue that you can usually see where you want to get to so I don’t really need to use a compass. Whilst that may be true to some extent even in the clearest water, you rarely swim just in a straight line and then just turn round. How do you manage on night dives – can you always just rely on being able to see where you need to get too?

For me using a compass is something I’ve always enjoyed and being a graduate of the Boy Scouts considered myself as reasonably competent with one. I was therefore somewhat surprised that I initially found it difficult to navigate properly underwater. In addition to the common problem of losing track of buoyancy as soon as I started using the compass, I also found that I wasn’t always swimming in a straight line with one leg being stronger than the other – quite a common occurrence apparently.

Diver looking at his map before getting into the water

Diver looking at his map before getting into the water

These  issues are usually easy to resolve and the majority of students manage to follow a bearing and plot a reciprocal course on the Open Water Course.  However, for some this may the last time they actually use the compass, yet they are amazed when instructors on subsequent courses or guided dives, take them to specific features on a dive and bring them back to the dive boat or the correct part of the beach. Learning to navigate confidently is not difficult and whilst some people would have you believe it is a “black art” that takes years of dedication, most people can quickly develop the skills with a bit of practice and the right tuition.

So why not give it a try. Not only will you be able to impress your buddy by getting him back to a particular spot that you saw on a previous dive but didn’t have time to explore fully,  you may also  find you generally get more time on the site as you can go straight there. Even simple techniques like taking a bearing to the reef or buoy etc. before you enter the water can help you find your way back at the end of the dive.

The PADI Underwater Navigation course is ideal if you want to hone your compass skills and learn to navigate like a pro.  You can even learn how mark a position in open water so that you can return later.  Ideal if you h

Nav Finder

Photograph of a great diving aid - the Nav Finder

ave dropped something or if you want to return to a particularly interesting part of a dive site.  You will also get to play with the PADI Nav Finder which is a very helpful piece of kit that is used in conjunction with a compass and a pencil.  It allows you to plot a course between several points and once finished the Nav-Finder will display the heading and distance from your start point.  Brilliant.

If this has whetted you appetite to find out more why not ring your local dive centre and ask them when they are running their next navigation course.

Now where did I leave the car – I’m sure it was round here somewhere?!

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