Diving with a buddy and spending the time you want looking at the things you want to look at and then navigating your way back to the exit point is one of the great pleasures of diving.
Getting lost underwater should not be a primary concern, it happens to all of us, but if you want to make sure getting back to the exit point or boat is as easy as getting in, here are some great underwater navigation tips.
Get Briefed. Good underwater navigation starts before you even get in the water. If you’re diving with an organised group dive, pay close attention to the divemaster’s briefing. He or she can impart valuable information about the site’s features, depth range and currents so you and your buddy can create a dive plan. Discuss your profile and the time or air pressure at which you’ll turn around, and decide on a basic route. If you and your buddy are diving independently, get a thorough site description–and a map, if possible–from a local dive shop or other divers at the site.
Begin before you enter the Water. Before you enter the water make sure you understand the general layout of the site, take compass bearings and understand the direction you will need to come to find the exit point. Talk to your buddy and plan your dive.
Follow the Leader. One diver should take the lead before you even get in the water. It isn’t practical for both divers in a buddy pair to attempt to navigate on a dive. If you’re leading, concentrate on the planned path. Your buddy should monitor time, depth and distance.
Start at the Beginning. When doing a shore dive, surface swims past the waves to where you plan to make your descent. If diving from a boat, enter the water and either surface swims to the mooring or anchor line and descend there, or drop down behind the boat and swim underwater to the mooring or anchor. Always start your dive at the point where the boat connects to the bottom.
Make a Note. Whether diving from the shore or the boat, natural navigation starts as soon as your head goes under the water. Note natural references landmarks such as sand patches, rock formations, sponges or whatever. If you make mental notes of features you can remember, you can use those visible markers to find your way back.
Trust your Compass. Don’t rely on your gut feel in determining direction. Always have a compass and check it regularly. You may not know exactly where you are, but if you trust your compass, it can point you in the right direction until you recognise one of those landmarks you saw on the way out.
Time the Dive. Swim away from your starting point for a predetermined length of time, and then turn around and swim roughly the same length of time back the opposite direction. If there’s current, head into it on the way out–in this case, the return trip won’t take quite as long. Watch your air consumption as well.
Get some Training. To help you build your confidence and find the risks of using a compass and natural navigation, you should do an underwater navigation course. You will be surprised how much this course will help you.