7 tips for Better Navigation

Do you sometimes wonder where the hell you are on a dive? Easy to follow a guide and be astonished when he brings you directly back to your boat isn't it? Well, you too can possess this amazing skill, giving you a bit more independence, confidence and general all round awareness during your dive. Sounds cool eh? Here we have a look at seven tips to help you naturally navigate whilst you have your head beneath the water. 


Listen up
If you are on a dive boat, make sure you listen to the briefing. Here you will learn a lot about the dive site before you are even submerged. Ask questions about bottom topography, any special points to look out for and of course where to find the coolest stuff! If you and a buddy are going out alone, get a detailed map (if possible) of the site and study it so that you can make a plan of what you will be doing. Also, get a thorough description of the site and the best direction to head in for the best dive. You and your buddy can create a dive plan from this information, deciding on a route, depth range, and the time or pressure at which you will turn around to head back to your ascent point. You can even sketch your own map of the site on a slate that you can take with you so that you have constant reference to what is around you. 

Leader of the pack
One of you needs to guide. More than one person guiding does not tend to work and won't make for a great dive. Select one person in the buddy team or group to concentrate on the planned path. The other buddy can take care of time, depth and distance. Splitting the jobs between you means that each of you can concentrate on a specific part of the dive, making it an all round more relaxing time underwater. 

Take your Starting Positions Please
Diving form a boat: Always make sure that you start at the beginning. When you drop in to the water, be it shore entry, giant stride or backward roll, swim straight to the mooring line or the anchor line. Look around for special features, for example a particular sandy patch, an unusual part of the coral reef or a wall, so that you will easily recognize the point when you return to it after the dive. 
If shore diving, then surface swim out to your planned spot, past the waves, using pointers on land to tell where you will descend. A soon as your head ducks beneath the water, begin to make note of all of the features that you can see. Bottom topography, depth, certain rock formations, these will be key in recognizing your surroundings. 


Look out below!
Pay attention to your surroundings. Here is a list of things that can be a massive help for natural navigation.
Many dive sites will have a sand channel or an edge of reef wall that you can focus on and follow the same way you would a hiking trail. For example, if the reef is on your left at the start of the dive, you can plan to swim in this direction for a certain amount of time before turning back 180 degrees and following the same line back to where you began. Some dive sites might be a sandy channel through coral bommies. You can navigate through these, paying attention to when you turn back.

Look for light
Check the angle of the sunlight as you giant stride into the water and begin your descent. If you are heading into the sun at the start of the dive, then you will have the sun behind you on the way back. If you are diving from a boat then you can use the boat's shadow for navigation. You can often see this from a way away if you struggle with direction towards the end of your dive. 

Landmarks the spot
Dive sites tend to have something special that stands out, be it bottom topography, a particular coral bommie, a reef wall or the way the coral formations sit on the bottom. You may pass an anchor, or go through a swim through at a particular depth. Take note of these and let them help to guide you on your way back. 
Landmarks above water can also help in finding the dive site in the first place. Lining up specific landmarks on land can help you to find the same spot again in the future.


Don't forget your Compass!
Ok, so your compass skills may not be topnotch, but every little helps! Always take a compass with you on a dive. Re-read your open water manual, it teaches you the basic compass techniques that may just get you through a dive. It is very easy to get disorientated when underwater. Tropical waters are so clear that you can easily get distracted and lose direction as the visibility lures you into a false sense of security. Other destinations, for example the English Channel, are quite dark and silty, you may lose your way without reference to a compass. 
After descending, line up the line on the compass (the lubber line) with your body and face the direction that you wish to swim in. It is quite important that you position your compass correctly. A wrist compass is easy to use, hold out your non-compass hand straight in front of you, rest your compass hand on the crease of your elbow, and swim. Keep the compass flat Be careful not to focus completely on the compass alone, you may head straight into some fire coral or miss a whale shark! 
When taking a heading, turn the bezel until the marks reach the North arrow. Ensure that you keep the arrow within the marks and you should stay on course in that particular direction. To turn back, twist your body until the north arrow is in between the markers on the opposite side of the compass. 

Things to buy:
1. Compass - a must have for all divers. You can get one that you wear on your wrist (my personal fave), one that you attach to your BCD on an extendable lanyard or one that is attached to a slate, for recording all of your co-ordinates on.
2. Nav-Finder - An old favorite for old school divers, the nav-finder. It is a simple map marker that lets you plan out and mark a route before going on the dive. You need to have an idea about your kick cycles and how to measure distance whilst underwater. You also need to know how to use a compass. With these two skills along with the nav-finder you can follow a pre-planned mapped marked out. 
3. Slate - Very handy for making notes, before and during a dive. You can jot down key pointers or key co-ordinates or even the main direction to head in. 


Still not sure? No worries, you can take the PADI underwater navigator specialty. This will explain to you in much more detail about your compass and ways to naturally navigate on a dive. For more information you can contact us via email.