5 Beginner Tips for Underwater Navigation


While for some divers, underwater navigation is as easy as finding their way around a parking lot, for other divers traversing even the simplest of sites does not come without a struggle. But to be fair, navigating your way underwater with no pathways, signs, or prominent landmarks is a challenging skill to master.

Below we list five beginner tips for underwater navigation which will allow you to mark your course, see some fantastic marine life, get back on track if you are lost, and return safely to shore or your dive boat.

Get Your Compass Settings Right Before Heading into The Water

Scuba Diving

First Things First, it is essential to review and practice how to set your compass. And just in case you have forgotten here are a few reminders as you go into the water:

  • Hold your compass correctly: the best way to hold your underwater compass is by holding it in front with the lubber line directly in the center of your body. Make sure it is placed flat out and not tilted to any side.
  • Set your heading: the lubber line should be pointed in your desired direction. Then turn the bezel to allow the north arrow to sit directly in between the two index marks. Also, take a look at the bezel and note the number, so it helps you with your bearing.
  • Swimming: once you set your compass, swim out slowly as you count your fin kicks. Make a mental note to count just a leg during the stroke. Again place the north arrow in between the index marks to navigate right where you wish to go.

Keep an Eye On Your Air Consumption

Scuba Diving

For most new divers, when they first get a hold of a compass, the next step they often take is to swim off. While you are all pumped up navigating and exploring what is underwater, it is essential not to forget to keep an eye on your air consumption. This is because watching the air consumption at intervals can serve as a turnaround point while underwater. Also, it can serve as a more reliable measuring tool than kick cycles and can give you a good indication for progression while scuba navigation.

Take a Reading Before You Descend

Divers Alert Network

Irrespective of the dive site you choose, before you set off underwater, it is beneficial to take a reference point from the surface. When you set one before exploring deeper, you can check your underwater compass to have an idea of your movement. In addition, you can set your bearings to natural surface markers or set the bearing in the “direction of the reef” before hitting the water bed. It is a great way to nip the fear of getting lost and boost your confidence before heading out underwater

Learn to Measure Distance underwater 

Another essential tip for scuba navigation is your ability to measure or predict distance. For more experienced divers, they can tell the range either by timing their dive or from the air left in their tank, although this technique might not be accurate when you are faced with changing currents or quickened breathing. Thus if you are a less experienced diver counting the fin strokes might be a better idea. However, you will need a great deal of concentration so you can remember the number.

Use Nature as Your Guide Underwater 

As you explore more diving sites, you begin to feel the importance of natural navigation. When you are out there on the reef, there are so many things that can guide your movement, such as sand patches, the angle of the sun, sand ripples, reef outlines, etc.

 Another handy natural navigation guide is depth. When you are cruising along a reef, there are several diving sites you can navigate your way around merely by relying on depth. While relying on depth, take note of significant waypoints in the reef such as a sponge, a coral head, etc. Such waypoints can help you find your way. 


Before your dive, remember to always have a visual picture of where you are going. Don’t go wandering aimlessly around the reef. Take it step by step, practice your navigation skills and don’t push your limits. Ultimately after plenty of practice, you’ll be confident to dive deeper.

So dive safe, dive deep and have fun!