Underwater Navigation: I Want to go Home!

by Jim Lapenta:
underwater navigation
As an SDI/TDI Instructor it has come to my attention that some divers possess less than optimal skills related to underwater navigation. The benefits of developing these skills should not be underestimated.

Underwater navigation encourages the new diver to improve their skills overall, adds to their confidence level, and increases their general comfort. We should not look at underwater navigation as simply a course. It is a way to improve every aspect of every dive experience. Being able to return to your starting point utilizes more than just a compass, line, or a few features. The diver is required to use effective communication, good dive planning, buddy skills, buoyancy control, and gas management.

A good class will place heavy emphasis on the subjects noted previously as well as basic navigation skills. Use of a compass, natural navigation, use of lines and reels, documenting a site, and awareness of hazards all should be included. It should allow plenty of time for practice and use small goals to promote success; rather than large ones that result in frustration. A good navigation course adds to every facet of a diver’s skills. It is one of the most important classes a new diver can take.

So what are the results of a good course and practice of the skill sets?

  1. Increased Safety – Resulting from proper planning, effective communication, and the use of actual buddy skills. This comes in the form of actual physical safety as well as mental and emotional well-being. If you know where you are and how to get back to the entrance or boat, your stress level is greatly reduced. Stress can lead to panic, and panic can kill.
  2. Better Air Consumption – Knowing your course and needed pace allows you to relax and not exert excess energy. Exertion increases air consumption. A slow, relaxed, course and speed may allow you to spend more time at the desired goal of the dive.
  3. Better Buoyancy and Trim – Successful underwater navigation relies on good buoyancy and trim to stay on course, do not silt up the area, stay in good buddy position, and make effective use of navigation tools.
  4. Better Buddy Skills – You have to be in close and effective contact with your buddy to navigate as a team. Sharing the tasks of monitoring course, depth, time, air, and features reduces the load on each team member.
  5. Better Communication Skills – If you can’t communicate effectively with other divers everyone on the dive suffers. Using slates, wet notes, lights, hand signals, and proper surface communication skills before the dive is vital to success on any dive. Underwater navigation requires you to use all of these and polishes the skills.
  6. It’s Very Cool and Fun! – Rarely have I met a person, diver or otherwise, who is not impressed when I talk about swimming a site and making five or six course corrections, using a compass, the features of a site, and if the vis is bad – a line and reel or spool, to find my way back to within a couple yards or even feet of where I went in. Students who complete my underwater navigation class are often in awe of their own abilities. It increases their confidence and sense of accomplishment as well as giving them a feeling of security.

Underwater Navigation is not just about getting out and back. It’s about doing so safely, confidently, and in a manner that is effectively working on all your dive skills. At the same time, it’s a lot of fun to do!

Contact your local SDI Instructor and ask about taking your skills to the next level with this highly beneficial specialty.

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