Last November we looked at the PADI Underwater Navigation Specialty Diver Course and why it was worth taking. Today, we will look at some basic tips to aid in your underwater navigation.
Pay Attention to the Dive Briefing
Prior to the dive the boat Divemaster will usually give a briefing regarding the upcoming dive. The depth and topography of the dive and any interesting critters or formations to look for will be discussed. The Divemaster will also alert the divers to any potential problems that might arise. By listening to this briefing you will be aware of the best course to follow and the dive parameters (depth, time, currents, landmarks, etc). This will make your navigation easier.
Note Your Surroundings
Once you are on the bottom and ready to begin your dive take a moment to note your surroundings. Look for any unusual corals or landmarks. This is like checking the row number of where you park your car in a parking lot. When you return to the same area at the end of the dive it will make it easier for you to note that you are near the boat.
Note Your Course
Take the time to notice where you are as you progress through the dive. Note your depth and how long you have been diving. Naturally, make note of how much air you have remaining. When you are working your way back this will enable you to verify that you are on the proper course back to the boat.
Use Your Underwater Compass Properly: Keep It Level
Refer to your underwater compass frequently during the dive. Note the direction you are traveling and how long you have been doing so. Be sure and keep your underwater compass level when using it. If it is not level the disk or needle can touch the glass surface preventing the compass from giving you a true heading.
Maintain a Reserve: Air & Time
The Divemaster will give you a time limit for the dive and will also tell you to be back on board the boat with at least 500 psi of air in your cylinder. Always allow extra time and air in the case of a problem. Start back a little early both time wise and air wise. If the weather were to become choppy or windy the extra air in your cylinder would allow you to use your regulator on the surface instead of a snorkel, making it less likely for your to swallow water.
Plan for Contingencies & Trust Your Compass:
Allow for current when you plan your route. If you are navigating to a wall a good trick is to purposely navigate to the right or left then turn to the side you purposely missed. This makes sure that you do not accidently miss it and not know which way to go.
Lastly, if you hold your compass properly, trust it. We sometimes get nervous when navigating and think that we have been diving longer then we really have. Trust your compass, it you use it correctly it will take you there.
Learning good underwater navigation and safety techniques will make your dive more enjoyable and safer. It will cut down on long, tiring surface swims and will help you return to the boat with plenty of time and air to spare. Good underwater navigation is the only way to dive.