Is a dive compass necessary? You’re exploring underwater. How could you possibly get lost? The surface is always up; isn’t that enough to keep you on track? “The surface is always up” is a dangerously inadequate way of approaching underwater navigation. You need a dive compass.
Another risky thought that many beginning divers have is to learn other scuba diving skills first and deal with the compass later, once they’ve gotten their feet wet. After all, people learn the sport by taking certification classes and diving in groups with professional leaders. The leaders have the compasses, so why does each diver need one, too?
A dive compass is a necessary piece of scuba equipment that every diver must possess and master. To get you on your way to exploring the deep blue yonder, let’s briefly examine why you need to own and use a dive compass.
Why Every Diver needs a Dive Compass
The surface is indeed up. Ascend correctly, and you’ll arrive there healthy and well. The issue isn’t finding the surface. The issue is finding the right point on the surface. Depending on where you’re scuba diving, surfacing in the wrong spot can be annoying at best, life-threatening at worst.
Relying on your eyes instead of on a navigation compass is a mistake that you can avoid by learning how to use this crucial diving tool.
Reliance is a concept that is integral to safety. Even when you’re part of a tour group with leaders who are doing the navigating, and despite the fact that your dive buddy is an expert navigator, you need to know how to follow your planned route and return to the correct spot on your own. Scuba divers rely on each other and themselves for the most successful and enjoyable adventures.
The underwater world is drastically different from the surface world in many ways. When you’re in the depts of the sea or giant lake, it’s easy to become disoriented.
On land, there are landmarks you’re used to. Even in a strange city, you create your own markers to navigate without getting lost. In the wilderness, landmarks are a bit less reliable (“Is that the same rock we passed two hours ago?”).
Underwater, it’s impossible to orient yourself by landmarks (seamarks). Things look different, and they feel different. Our balance system is altered and turning in the water feels different than it does on land. Getting off track without even realizing it is possible.
To avoid the frightening experience of being off-track and lost underwater, learn how to use a diving compass. Integrate compass learning into the work you’re doing to increase your diving skills, and underwater navigation will become second nature
Dive Compass Basics
An excellent scuba compass is an uncomplicated scuba compass. The main criteria when choosing a navigation device is how user-friendly is it for you. Can you easily read it? Do you like the way it operates? While there aren’t considerable variations in the workings of these navigators, each one is unique. Pick one that works for you.
To be easily workable when you’re diving, your compass should be straightforward. The main components of a compass are
- Lubber line
- Side window
The card floats inside the compass. It’s the magnetic piece marked with the cardinal directions (N, S, W, and E).
The lubber line is a small thing that makes a huge difference in your scuba experience. This is the line you see on the surface of a compass. It’s often red or orange but sometimes black or another color. It is either a single line or two parallel lines. And it can be your lifeline. It points your direction, and you follow it. Do it correctly, and you drastically reduce your chances of getting lost or off-track.
The bezel is a ring around the compass and serves to mark your course. Use the bezel to frame north to help you stay your course.
Most compasses have side windows. These are tiny viewing frames used to see your course. Some dives love the side windows on their compass, while others find them too small to be useful. Looking out your compass’s side window isn’t necessary for navigating with a scuba compass.
Navigating with a Compass
How to navigate with a compass is a process that, at first, can seem overwhelming. Don’t throw in the towel, though. Like the rest of scuba diving, navigation is a skill that you learn, practice, master, and use to create the most enjoyment out of this beautiful activity.
A complete lesson in compass calculations and numbers is beyond the scope of this article. As you’re beginning this adventure, a few general tidbits about compass navigation will help orient you to the skill and give you information on which you can build.
When steering yourself around during your dive, keep these general guidelines in mind:
- Compasses can be worn on your wrist or placed on a retractable plate clipped to your buoyancy control device (BCD); alternately, they’re incorporated into your instrument console
- To properly work, your compass must be level and steady
- Always hold your compass flat and aligned with your body
- If you get off course, slowly turn your whole body until you’re heading in the right direction again (just turning your compass isn’t enough)
Even when using a compass, it’s possible to get off course. Sometimes, divers think they’re following their lubber line, but if their body isn’t pointed in the same direction, they’re not actually following the right direction. This slight difference can lead to a significant error.
Also, it’s possible to follow the compass precisely and still get pushed off-track. Sometimes current or a surge will nudge you off course, but the compass tells you that you’re going in the right direction.
Because it’s possible to get off track even with a dive compass, it’s critical to augment your compass with your eyes. Always look around you in all directions, including up and down. Your eyes aren’t reliable on their own, but they make a great navigational back-up for your compass.
A Glimpse into Suba Wrist Compasses
Wrist compasses are popular for underwater navigation because you don’t have to grasp them to use them correctly. A wrist compass is still a compass, however, and must be level. You also must be able to follow the lubber line. To properly use the wrist style compass, you extend your non-compass wrist in front of you and rest your compass wrist across your extended elbow.
When beginning to navigate with a compass, many people wonder what the best compass watch is to buy. The wording of that statement is important. It’s easy to confuse a wrist compass with a compass watch. If you shop for the wrong one, you could end up spending way too much money without getting the product you need.
Buy the Right Device
To navigate underwater, you need a compass. You can buy compasses to wear on your wrist. Known as wrist compasses, they have the features mentioned above conveniently worn on your sleeve.
A compass watch, on the other hand, is primarily a timepiece. It also has a built-in compass. These are typically much more expensive than a wrist compass. Moreover, such watches aren’t exclusively designed for scuba diving but instead are geared toward snorkeling, sailing, or even land use.
When shopping for a dive compass for your wrist, consider things like
- Depth rating
Wrist compasses can cost less than thirty dollars to more than eighty dollars. Rarely are they more than that. If you find one that is over $100, check to make sure it’s a compass. If it’s over if it’s over $100, chances are it’s a watch or a dive computer.
No matter what compass style you choose, check its depth rating. As a general rule, less expensive compasses have higher depth ratings. Know how deep your dives will be, and purchase a compass that will work at your depth.
Additionally, note which hemisphere the compass is designed for. Compasses are magnetic, and they’re oriented to either the north- or south pole. If you’re shopping in a brick-and-mortar dive shop, it’s unlikely that you’ll get a compass designed for the wrong hemisphere. But if you’re buying from online megalithic multi-purpose stores, be sure to read the product description and information thoroughly.
Another underwater sport relies on compass use. Orienteering involves navigating a difficult course in deep water with only a compass and distance meter. Underwater orienteering has been gaining popularity in Europe in recent decades.
For men and women participating in orienteering, whether the underwater or land version, a compass is their primary tool. The best orienteering compass is whichever underwater compass the competitor prefers.
Whether you’re engaging in competitive navigation like orienteering or scuba diving in any body of water, your compass is your friend. Scuba diving is a safe activity when you’re prepared and know how to stay safe. Your compass will keep you on track under water and when you surface.
A dive compass is a simple tool that helps you navigate a world vastly different from the one you’re accustomed to.