There are many benefits to being able to
find your way underwater.
It can allow you to locate a new favorite dive spot or relocate an old one.
Being able to get to your designation underwater can save you a long, tiring surface swim and, in the process, reduce the risks posed by boat traffic.
Knowing how to find your way can help ensure you finish your dive as close as possible to the boat or exit point on shore.
Generally, as you begin to feel more comfortable and familiar with dive sites, you’ll start using natural navigation underwater. Distinctive features, visual references and clues from the surrounding environment will guide you successfully during the dive. As you know the dive site better, you may use your compass less.
If it’s an unfamiliar site, pay close attention during the briefing. During those 10 minutes the guide will share all the crucial aspects of the dive. He or she will probably mention key landmarks and features that can aid in natural navigation. Take notes on a slate if you need to. Which way is the reef? Will you swim back to the boat, or is it a drift dive? Use the opportunity to note details of any depths, hazards, or points of interest on the route, such as a significant pinnacle or outcropping.
What is natural navigation?
Simply put, natural navigation is finding your way underwater using only the clues that nature — and occasionally man — provide. It’s how you would instinctively find your way if you’d never heard of compasses.
Knowing more about how to take advantage of these clues can help you find more, see more and do more underwater.
In addition to the dive briefing, lots of other clues can help you use natural navigation underwater:
Most of the time, sand ripples form parallel to shore. Therefore, if you are swimming at 90 degrees to the ripples, you are generally swimming either toward the shore or away from it.
Sand ripples are not something you would typically use as your sole means of navigation. Rather, they work in combination with other clues to confirm you are headed in the right direction.
This is perhaps the most common tool divers in South Florida use for natural navigation. While reefs can form as isolated patches of coral, they generally form in surprisingly straight lines. Therefore, a typical reef dive may consist of little more than following the reef line away from your starting point.
A unique coral formation, some form of man-made debris or other objects cans serve as landmarks to help guide you on your way.
In South Florida, offshore currents generally parallel the Gulf Stream, running from south to north. However, there are spots along our coast where the current will generally run in the opposite direction.
If you would like to become one of those divers who never seems to get lost, there are a number of ways you can learn more. Among the best is to sign up for our Underwater Navigation course. It covers everything you’ve read here and a whole lot more.