How to improve your underwater navigation for scuba diving

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While working on my Advanced Open Water Diver certificate with Hawaii Eco Divers, I’ve had the chance to develop and expand upon many of the skills learned in my basic Open Water class. Learning these skills is exciting and rewarding with a classroom as beautiful as Shark’s Cove. This particular dive site is full of diverse underwater topography, with lava tubes and intricate reef systems. With such a seemingly complex dive site, I’ve always found it fascinating how divemasters navigate so effortlessly. However, it becomes surprisingly accessible once you learn the basics of navigation.

Learning underwater navigation.

Trust your compass.

As it turns out, my internal sense of direction was not as strong as I thought. There were times I thought I was swimming in a straight line, but ended up far off my mark. While your mind may tell you to go in one direction, odds are your compass will reliably set you on the right path. That being said, this was a weird feeling for me when I started the dive. At times, the compass led me on a trajectory that didn’t feel right physically, but of course it was always correct.

 

Use natural references.

When a dive master leads you on a dive, they usually aren’t overly fixated on their compass. This is because they use natural references to align their direction. As a beginner, this was the hardest part for me to get used to. When I started leading the dive, I was glued to the numbers on the compass to the point that I lost some of my situational awareness. I didn’t realize that I was swimming at an unnaturally fast pace, leaving everyone far behind. Once I became more acclimated to using the compass, I began to identify natural references that aligned with my direction. Once identified, I would focus on those references instead, only using the compass periodically. With this approach, I became better equipped to navigate around obstacles, rather than sticking to a direct line. This also let me expand my focus to the surrounding environment, allowing me to get more enjoyment from the dive.

 

Navigating in patterns.

Use patterns.

Using patterns helps diversify the dive, rather than travelling in a straight line out and back every time. These set patterns also help you to see more during the dive without getting you lost. That being said, many divemasters who are familiar with the local topography are able to navigate complex patterns effortlessly. I started by practicing simple patterns like squares and triangles on land to get comfortable with following these directions. Once in the water, I practiced these skills again at the surface. Eventually I was able to utilize these techniques at depth as I led the dive.

 

Share responsibilities.

Reducing the amount of responsibilities you have makes a huge difference during the dive. Navigating on top of controlling buoyancy, depth, remaining air, and keeping track of a group, can be a handful. Multitasking will come with practice, but it also helps to share the responsibility between other divers. I lost my ability to multitask once I put my focus on the compass. In my case, having someone else hold the camera and take over filming made a huge difference.

 

 

Once I got the hang of basic navigation, it was very fulfilling and reassuring to know exactly where I was going. Knowing the basics of navigation reduces anxiety and confusion underwater. This creates a space for a much safer and more enjoyable diving experience. Once you know where you are going, you can spend more time experiencing the wildlife and underwater topography. Taking this class with Hawaii Eco Divers has definitely made me a more confident and self-reliant diver.

If you are an Open Water diver who wants to take the next step and refine your skills, check out our Advanced Open Water class! With this certification, you will learn the basics of underwater navigation and deep diving, along with three other adventure dives of your choice. The skills you will learn here will help you to become an exceptional scuba diver.

 

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