Using a compass for navigation while diving

Many beginning divers fail to truly learn how to use a compass for navigating underwater. Typically, when they learn to scuba dive, the course they dive through is simple and requires very little compass training. While most scuba diving schools include time to learn how to read a compass, the compass is rarely necessary and thus, the new scuba diver doesn't commit the basics of compass navigation to memory. However, in practical, real-life diving environments, the ability to read a compass and understand positioning while underwater is critical. The circumstances that impact your diving experience aren't controlled as in most . Below, you'll discover the basics of using a compass for navigation as well as the importance of learning advanced techniques.

Basics of using a compass for navigation

Learning to use a compass underwater requires knowing the parts of a compass and how it works. Many beginning divers are confused by the compass card and needle. Both appear to swing or spin within the compass case as the diver's position and direction change. However, that's not how the compass works. The card and needle of your compass remain stationary while the compass case actually spins around them. Experienced divers know this fundamentally, but it can easily confuse those who are new to scuba diving.

When you're using your compass to determine your position and direction, you must hold it parallel to your body. Holding the compass at an angle (even slightly) can result in marking an inaccurate course.

An important key to learning how to use a compass effectively when you're underwater is practicing the activity you intend to do while diving. Many scuba diving schools don't allow divers enough time or practice to truly master the compass. When you're planning a dive, practice using your compass topside before going underwater. If you're unable to use your compass correctly topside, it'll be useless to you during your dive.

Clearwater versus dirty water

Many divers (both beginning and experienced) believe that using a compass while scuba diving in clear water is unnecessary. But, doing so is actually a valuable exercise. Clear water allows you to grow accustomed to your compass while having the advantage of optimal visibility. That way, if your compass is providing confusing information, you can figure out the reason while diving in an clear environment. You may even want to venture off-course to note how your compass reacts. When you eventually dive into environments with extremely limited visibility, you'll have already mastered how to use your compass to easily find your position and chart a course.

Going beyond the basics

Most divers, when first learning to scuba dive, are taken through straight courses. While straight courses are a great way to grow accustomed to your diving gear and being underwater, they don't offer an opportunity to truly test your mastery of the compass. Find opportunities to practice diving courses with multiple turns. Start with a box course. Then, swim a triangle course. Note how your compass reacts each time you change your direction during the patterns.

If you're serious about learning how to use your compass for navigational purposes (and you should be), take the time to practice topside and go through courses underwater that require several changes of direction. After a while, you'll be able to teach others how to use their compasses effectively.

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