When we ask divers what skills they feel most in need of improving, one of the top three is always underwater navigation. Most women can find their way around Westfields blind folded but take the dirt away from under our feet and we immediately take away our powers of observation.
Following the dive guide, staying with the group and taking no responsibility for where you’re going does nothing to develop your navigational skills. So when you come on our DM led shore dives, please leave the group and practice finding your own way.
One of the first things you’ll notice is an unmistakable directional cue. It’s a “natural” compass needle more constant than a magnetic compass and easier to read. It’s the trend of the bottom, from shallow to deep. Since dive sites are usually located along a shoreline, “shallower” is the direction toward shore and “deeper” is the direction toward the sea. So if you begin the dive with shallower water on your left, you can find it again by returning with shallower water on your right. Putting the wall to the left when going and to the right when returning is the extreme case, but even the flat area on top of the wall has a shallow-to-deep trend, very noticeable if you look for it.
You can estimate distance by counting fin strokes or minutes, but cylinder pressure is probably easier because you check that frequently anyway. Assuming a constant depth, you could swim out for 100 Bar. The return should take 100, leaving 40 for reserve.
You can use the depth to navigate a loop route as well as an out-and-back. Note the depth of the mooring or anchor before you leave it. If it’s 10 Meters, it will still be 10 meters when you return. You can drop down to 30 meters and swim along the bottom for about half your bottom time, then ascend to 10 and follow the bottom back to the mooring. Other orientation cues are the direction of the sun, the ripples in a sandy bottom (usually they’re parallel to the shoreline) and the current.
As you strike out into the unknown, divide your route into legs, each no longer than you can see through the water, and pick out a memorable landmark at each end. At the same time, pay attention to the big picture. Try to visualize a bird’s-eye view of the dive site with you moving across it. Sketching the site on your slate may help, too.
Doing your navigation specialty course will also give you more techniques to improve your skills. But nothing beats practice. Next time you dive, don’t just be a follower, take control, hone your skills and you will be navigating like a pro in no time!
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