Navigation isn't your strong point? Especially underwater? Learn all about navigation with Subea!

"I have no sense of direction, I wouldn't be able to draw out my route!" Do those words sound familiar to you? How do some people instinctively find their way, when you would be unable to find the Eiffel Tower in the very centre of Paris! No need to panic, on land and under water, navigation is a skill that can be mastered. After a few training dives, you'll develop reflexes and habits that will gradually become automatic. You'll finally be able to dive on your own. It's a real sense of freedom!
Check out our tips for underwater navigation!

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Finding your way underwater isn't so simple…

The underwater world is filled with little things almost designed to throw us off. The visibility, reduced to a few dozen metres at the best of times, can sometimes stop at about the distance of your computer monitor, making it difficult to estimate distances. Also, the few available visual landmarks are only visible at the last moment, and are therefore of limited use. And then there's the current that's always pushing you in the wrong direction, of course, and that might even change directions as you go deeper. It all seemed designed to help you get lost! Sound, for its part, moves almost 4 times faster in the water than through the air, approximately 1500 m/s! As such, it's virtually impossible to determine the origin of a sound. On top of that, diving involves moving around in a three-dimensional space. In addition to the horizontal aspect of your dive, the vertical aspect must be borne in mind! And yet, it's an essential skill. It will keep you from having to surface during your dive in order to orientate yourself, or from finishing your dive 500 meters from the boat and having to fin your way back. It will provide you with peace of mind and safety.


Planning your dive in advance is absolutely essential!

But we've understood it, underwater navigation is neither easy nor innate. The instructor's briefing will give you all of the important points that you have to remember. Here's an example…
Arriving at the club, you learn dive site will be a spot that's totally unknown to you. Enthusiastic and excited at the idea of discovering a new dive site, you nevertheless realise that a bit of anxiety is creeping in… No call for panic! The instructor's briefing as well as the reflexes that you've developed during previous dives will help you to easily navigate under water. When arriving at the site, your dive leader asks you to pay special attention to his briefing. A safety review is followed by a presentation of the dive site. The briefing will help to give you a mental representation of the site, so that you can remember the direction of the dive, the depths, the relief, the things to see or to avoid… Every element mentioned by the instructor will help with navigation. Don't hesitate to take notes on an underwater slate, this will help you to easily get around and find your way back to the boat. If something isn't clear to you, don't stay in the dark. Ask your instructor for some more clarifications, after all, he's there for that!


Each dive site has its own characteristics.

Some dives may be more difficult when it comes to navigation. Remember to use natural landmarks. The n°1 reference, in good visibility conditions, is the sun. Systematically take note of its position before you jump in. Under water, a bright halo will tell you its direction. While this tip won't help much when the sun is directly overhead, it will be very useful at night, with the bright moon taking the place of the sun. Of course, this method isn't very accurate, and certainly won't be of much use in murky waters! But there are other things that can help with navigation. When arriving at the site, take note of how the boat is anchored and the different emerging relief (cliffs, small islands…) in order to give you a better idea of where you are. Once in the water, check that the surface relief continues with the underground landscape through which you're now moving. Also take note of the depth of the mooring, it's an excellent reference for returning to the boat. During the dive, take note of references that you'll be able to recognise (coral head, boulder…) and remember to turn around regularly to get an idea of what the return trip will look like. There are also other navigation tips… Remember that stationary fish generally face into the current, it's an important point if the dive leader indicated the direction to you during the briefing. Most of the time, the depth will increase as you get further out to sea. And if you're on a sandy bottom, you'll be able to find the coast: the ridges in the sand are parallel to it! Despite it all, it may be possible that the conditions will not allow for "natural" navigation. In this case, instruments are the best thing for finding your way.

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Important equipment when it comes to navigating!

The first item, that you should never be without, is of course your computer. In addition to indicating your safety stops, it will also tell you your depth throughout the dive. A compass, more technical and used less frequency, will help you to find your way thanks to a series of headings that you record and use throughout the dive.To estimate distances between each heading change, you'll have to rely on your finning. For example, 10 m for 12 fin kicks. But remember, not everyone will cover the same distance with the same number of fin kicks, it's a measurement that you'll have to figure out beforehand. But to be honest, many divers, such as the ones in the "pond" (Mediterranean Sea) don't know how to orientate themselves that way since the visibility conditions are generally favourable. And that's not such a bad thing! If your dive site requires the use of an instrument, you'll need a few training sessions with the instructor before knowing how to use it properly.


What's to be done?

Navigation errors can happen, but it isn't a tragedy when you know how to manage them properly. If you get separated from your dive group, look around for a minute, then start making your way up. On the surface, you should use a surface marker buoy to indicate your location. The rest of your group will follow the same procedure, and everything will be all right. If, however, it's the dive boat that you've lost and not just your group, the best thing to do, if you don't have to do decompression stops on the way up, is to surface after having turned around 360° a few times. If you have enough remaining air, locate the boat and then go back down to calmly finish your dive. But in any case, there's nothing for it! You can be certain that the rest of the crew will have a good laugh at your expense. Be creative, say that you came across an ocean sunfish that you just couldn't stop yourself from following, and that's how you got lost. This time, they'll be green with envy!


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                ARTICLE WRITTEN BY

                baptiste digital manager subea
                Baptiste, Subea Digital Manager

                I'm the Digital Manager for the Subea brand. I'm keen on spearfishing and freediving and have been scuba diving for over fifteen years. I have my level 1 FFESSM and PADI certifications up to “Rescue” level.

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