Twelve Ways to NEVER Get Lost on a Dive
Just kidding. I only used that in the title to get your attention. You probably will still get lost plenty of times, but over time, following these tips will allow you to preserve an ever-increasing level of awareness in water. Practice these on every dive, and you will soon see improvement.
- Plan the dive. Have a look at the dive site map. Figure out where you want to go and where these spots are in relation to the dive boat/shoreline.
- Orient. Getting a proper orientation is a part of your 5-point descent procedure and is an important step towards better navigation. Take a bearing for whatever landmarks/buoylines/reef/boats you are using as reference.
- Descend feet-first. The less you tumble through water, the more oriented you will remain on the dive. Try to remain facing in the same direction, so you can correlate what you see on the bottom with what you saw at the surface.
- Stop before you go. When you reach the bottom, stop for a moment. Use your compass to orient yourself to your map. Look around for landmarks (rocks, corals, ropes) that will help you identify the scene when you return.
- Use bottom contours. This only really works on steeply-sloping dive sites: if you know the anchor is at 20 metres, you can find it by following the bottom slope to 20 metres, then following that contour.
- Stick to your route plan. Don’t just follow your nose in a random pattern, and certainly don’t let fish be your guides: Stick with your
original plan. For example, if your plan was 50 metres north, then 50 metres south, it will be very difficult to become disorientated during the dive. Navigating pentagrams is much more confusing
- Look for landmarks. When crossing a flat bottom, look for memorable landmarks, preferably in sight of one another: a rock outcrop, a large sponge, a bit of litter. If they are just out of sight, use your compass. Make your transit of the bottom a series of legs, from A to B to C to D, and you can find your way back.
- Look behind you. On an out-and-back route, look back from time to time, try to register some features as seen from that vantage point. Landmarks usually look very different from the other side, so by doing this you’ll be more likely to recognize the scene on your return.
- Pay attention to compass headings. If you need to make an underwater transit from the descent line or anchor to the reef or the top of the wall, note the compass heading and note the scene when you arrive. The reciprocal course will return you to the anchor.
- Note the direction of the sun. You can usually see it from under water. If it’s on your left when outbound, it should be on your right for the return.
- Note the current. Although this may change, generally over the short span of a dive you can use the current to help you determine which way you are moving.
- Learn the names. When you can identify the different sponges, corals, etc. along your route, you are more likely to recognize them, and as such, they become landmarks, not just “stuff”.