December 05, 2012

Diving Tips: Underwater Navigation

Do you often find yourself getting off track when making your way back to the boat or beach after your dive? Underwater navigation can seem difficult at first, but if you want to make getting back to the boat or beach as easy as getting in, follow these five helpful tips.

1. Get briefed.
Underwater navigation starts before you even get in the water. If you're not diving with a local operator, get a thorough site description — and a map, if possible — from a local dive shop or other divers. If you're diving with an operator, pay close attention to the divemaster's briefing. These briefings offer important information about the dive site's features, depth range and currents, which will help you and your buddy to create a dive plan. Be sure to discuss your profile and the time or air pressure at which you'll turn around, and then come up with a basic route.

2. Follow a leader.
Before you enter the water, one diver should be tapped as leader. There's no reason for both divers in a buddy pair to attempt to navigate on a dive. If you're leading, focus on your predetermined path. The diver not leading should monitor time, depth and distance.

3. Begin from the start. 
 When diving from a boat, enter the water and either surface swim to the mooring or anchor line and descend there. Or you can drop down behind the boat and swim underwater to the mooring or anchor. Always start your dive at the spot where the boat connects to the bottom. When diving from the beach, surface swim past the surf zone to the place you plan to begin your descent.

4. Find natural reference points.
 As soon as your head goes underwater, note natural references like sand patches, rock formations, pillar corals or brain corals or whatever. By making mental notes of natural features, you'll be able to use those markers to find your way back.

5. Time your dive.
While diving, swim away from your starting point for a predetermined length of time, and then when you turn around to head in, you should swim roughly the same length of time back the opposite direction. If there's current, head into it on the way out, so the return trip won't take as much time as the way out. Be sure to watch your air consumption. It's helpful to follow the rule of thirds: Use one-third of your air on the way out, one-third on the way back and leave one-third for exploring near the boat and making a safety stop.

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