Underwater Navigation

Scuba diving tips - Improve your navigation

Underwater Navigation

Knowing where you are and where you want to be underwater can be the difference between a poor dive and a great dive. Having problems when navigating underwater is a common problem for novice and inexperienced scuba divers.

Being a good underwater navigator is not about being lucky, it’s all about learning new skills and applying these new skills correctly.

Some Underwater Navigation Tips….

Plan Ahead

Every scuba dive needs a plan and everyone on your dive needs to be aware of this. A good dive brief – use a dive site map if possible – will make for a more organised and safe experience. A key point to the brief is to determine which diver will be the leader as they will be responsible for ensuring the path you plan is followed.


It’s not practical for both buddies to navigate as this can lead to confusion and possible separation. If you are unsure about a specific dive site, speak to your local dive shop for information, tips and local area orientation.

Alternatively ask if they can organise a PADI Discover Local Diving experience.

Enhance Your Compass Skills

Remember back to your PADI Open Water course? You completed a navigation task – a reciprocal heading to be specific- both on the surface and underwater using a compass. Forgotten? You can always ask a local PADI Professional for a quick refresh on the correct procedure for setting your bezel then have a practice on land before the dive.


Alternatively take the next step and complete the PADI Advanced Open Water course. This will improve your compass skills and make you a more proficient underwater navigator.

During the course one of the mandatory dives is the Underwater Navigator Adventure dive. During this dive you will learn how to navigate using both natural navigation techniques and a compass. You will learn about estimating distance underwater and how to navigate a square.

Have A Look Around

Whilst having a compass is a basic piece of scuba equipment, you should not just follow it blindly. Looking around taking natural references can be just as useful on a dive and help you get around a dive site.

For instance, here on Koh Tao the weather is generally nice, clear and sunny meaning on our morning dives the sun rises in the east making it a big compass in the sky. Take note of any distinct features you see such as large coral gardens or rock formations – obviously don’t take notes of fish; they move about..!!

Go Slow

Swim slowly! Not only will you see more and have a longer dive but the likelihood you deviate from your plan is reduced meaning it’s less likely you will get lost. Being relaxed when scuba diving will mean you will be able to estimate distance more effectively as you count your fin kicks, a skill you learn during your Advanced Open water navigation dive.

Become a Navigation Specialist

Become an underwater navigation guru by completing the PADI Underwater Navigation Specialty course and have all your dive buddies wanting you to be their dive leader! Depending on your certification level you would complete either 2 or 3 training dives solely dedicated to enhancing you navigation skills. Learn how to use your compass as accurately as a Pro, as you navigate complex patterns underwater.


We will show you how to create underwater maps so you become familiar with the natural references and eventually know the site like the back of your hand.

Completing this course will give you a head start if you wish to become a PADI Divemaster, providing the foundations of a great skill set you can fall back on when taking out paying customers.

The PADI Underwater Navigation Specialty can also be used as one of the 5 PADI Specialty courses required if you are working towards becoming a PADI Master Scuba Diver – the highest non professional rating within the PADI system of recreational diver training.

Author: Neil Davidson (PADI MSDT #294100)

Crystal Dive Koh Tao

7/1 Moo 2
Tambon Ko Tao
Koh Tao
Surat Thani

E-mail: info@crystaldive.com

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