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Improve Compass Course Accuracy

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By Harry Averill

Dramatically improve your compass course accuracy.

It’s been a long and relaxing dive. You and your buddies have gone from one coral head to another. You snap photos and marvel at the aquatic life. The catch is, your pressure gauges say it’s time to head back to the boat. Unfortunately, you’ve lost track of where you are.

The good news is, you are in very shallow water. Coming to the surface to take a compass heading on the boat won’t create the problems usually associated with bounce dives and sawtooth profiles. You surface and see the boat approximately 100 m/330 ft away. You take a heading on the boat so you can return on the bottom.

You and your teammates could swim back on the surface. But you remember your instructor telling you to avoid long surface swims when possible. Underwater, you avoid waves, strong surface currents, and boat traffic. You have plenty of air left, so returning to the boat underwater seems like the best option.

With your buddies in tow, you align the centerline of your compass with the centerline of your body and swim at a relaxed pace. You remember from your Advanced Adventures course you can expect to cover roughly 25 m/80 ft per minute at this pace. Your relaxed pace should get you back to the boat in four minutes.

Four minutes pass. You look up. No boat. Not even the shadow of the boat on the bottom.

You and your teammates surface. Looking around, you spot the boat 20 m/65 ft away. You elect to swim the rest of the way on the surface.

You’re frustrated, though. All the way back, you kept your eyes glued to the compass dial. You did your best to keep your body aligned with the compass’s centerline. What went wrong? And what can you do to prevent this from happening in the future?

Compass use has limits

Underwater compasses work best over short distances. Why? Because no matter how carefully you try to keep your body aligned with the compass, you can still be off by more than 10 to 15 degrees. Several factors can affect this.

Despite your best efforts, the centerline of your compass may not be perfectly aligned with your body. This is especially true when using wrist-mounted compasses or compasses built into wrist-mounted computers.

A current coming from either side of your direction of travel can easily push you off course.

Most of us have a leg which is slightly stronger than the other. You tend not to notice this when kicking, but your dominant leg can push you off course in the opposite direction.

As the earlier example shows, over the length of a soccer or football field, these factors can cause you to miss your target by more than the length of a dive boat.

So what can you do?

There are several steps you can take to improve compass course accuracy.

  • Keep compass legs short: If you must travel a long distance in shallow water, consider surfacing partway through to double-check your heading.
  • Use a frog kick: It is less likely to affect your course if one leg is stronger than the other.
  • Allow for current: If you detect a cross current, alter your course slightly in the direction from which the current is coming.

This may be the best trick

If swimming in poor visibility or over a featureless bottom, you may have no choice but to keep your eyes glued to the compass and hope for the best. But if you have even modest visibility, there is a trick that can dramatically improve your compass course accuracy. Here is how it works:

  • Start by pointing your compass in the right direction. In other words, the heading you set on the surface.
  • Sight down the centerline of the compass. See if it is pointing directly at an object in the distance. It can be a rock formation, a coral head, vegetation or a man-made item. It doesn’t matter.
  • If it is, put the compass down and swim to the object. If it is pointing slightly to the right or left of an object, swim to that point.
  • When you reach the object, use the compass to identify yet another distant object and swim to it.
  • If there are no objects in your line of travel, follow the compass as you normally would until you see an object in your path. Then swim to it.

Repeat this process until you arrive at your destination.

Because the objects to which you are swimming can’t move, you can achieve close to 100 percent accuracy. It’s also a lot more fun than having your eyes constantly glued to the compass dial.

Things to remember

Compasses can help you in several ways.

  • If you know the correct heading, they can help you find a wreck or other dive site when entering from shore.
  • They can help you take a shortcut across a body of water rather than having to swim all the way around the edge.
  • As you read at the beginning of this article, if you lose your bearings in shallow water, surfacing to take a compass heading on the boat or exit point can allow you to return underwater.

Preventing problems, however, is better than having to solve them.

  • Make sure you always know where you are underwater. Don’t just wander aimlessly.
  • Remember also surfacing to take a compass heading on your exit point may only be a viable option if diving in shallow water, typically 6-10 m/20-30 ft or less. If deeper than this, you do not want to be bouncing up and down like a yoyo.
  • If using a dive charter, remember the captain probably went to great lengths to park over the best underwater scenery. You’ll see the most by sticking close to the boat.

Your Open Water Diver course covered only the most basic facets of underwater navigation.

You can learn more about finding your way underwater by taking the SDI Advanced Adventures course.

You can further expand on this by following Advanced Adventures with the SDI Underwater Navigation Specialty Diver course.

Just ask your instructor or SDI Dive Center.


To find out more about International Training, visit www.tdisdi.com.

From its humble beginning in 1994 to today, the group of training agencies Scuba Diving International (SDI), Technical Diving International (TDI), and Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) form one of the largest diving certification agencies in the World – International Training. With 24 Regional Offices servicing more than 100 countries, the company today far exceeds the original vision the founders had when they conceived the idea on a napkin, sitting at a kitchen table in the early 1990’s.

Dive Training Blogs

Join Me On My Commute To Scuba Diving Key Largo! (Watch Video)

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Sunrise was so beautiful the other morning, I wanted to take a time lapse of my drive from home in South Miami to Key Largo before morning dives with Horizon Divers.

I thought you might enjoy taking the ride with me! Silly I know! But here’s 2 minutes of chill!

D.S.D.O,

James


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Dive Training Blogs

Ten Sensational Spots to Snorkel or Learn to Dive!

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A guest blog by PADI

Snorkeling has long been a beloved way to explore the underwater world. With vibrant coral gardens, large schools of fish and a vast underwater topography to explore, snorkel excursions are a great way to experience both your own backyard and create memorable holiday memories to last a lifetime.

But often these sensational snorkel spots are an equally a great place to make your first ocean dives. Whether you participate in a PADI Discover Scuba Diving experience or take the PADI Open Water Diver course to become a certified diver, you’ll be guided by a trained PADI® Professional who will be looking out for you the entire time as you take your first breaths under the ocean. This experience allows you to have an intimate connection with the location you are exploring as, oftentimes, you will have the opportunity to see even more marine life than you would from the surface of the water.

To help you plan your next ocean adventure— whether it be down the road or on your next overseas adventure (whenever that may be!) —we have rounded up ten sensational spots where you can both snorkel and learn to scuba dive!

  1. Kohala Coast, Kaanapali, Maui, USA

Not only does Hawaii come with beautiful scenery above water, but the island chain equally boasts some of the most incredible underwater landscapes in America. One of the best places to experience this is along the Kohala Coast in Kaanapali, Maui—whose calm and clear waters make it a favorite spot amongst snorkelers. But it makes for an equally exceptional scuba experience, where you will get to do either do a boat or shore dive and get amongst the turtles, tropical fish and dramatic underwater landscapes.

Photo Credit: PADI

  1. Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia

Be delighted by one of Australia’s most beloved underwater gems—the Great Barrier Reef. Featuring a rainbow of colorful coral gardens and hundreds of tropical fish species, there is plenty to explore here. It is an ideal spot for groups that want varied experiences as tour operators can cater for those that want to snorkel, those that want to learn to dive and those that are already PADI certified. And when you’re not in the water you will get an enriching reef talk where the experts, who will take you though ways in which you can play a part in conserving the reef system.

  1. Sharks Bay, Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt

For those that don’t want to spend the whole day out on a boat but still want to have a memorable experience on the Red Sea, Sharks Bay in Sharm-El-Sheikh is a great option. With stunning house reefs and wrecks in a marine protected area, the colorful underwater experience is beloved by both those that snorkel or do a discover scuba through the area. The boat ride to the house reef is a short one and the memories will certainly last you a lifetime.

Photo Credit: PADI

  1. Poor Knights Island, Northland, New Zealand

Have the perfect day out at one of New Zealand’s first marine reserves. Dubbed by Jacques Cousteau as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world, Poor Knights Island offers something for everyone. You can easily spend hours swimming through the dense kelp forests and archways full of fish! And in between snorkels you can sign yourself up for a PADI Discover Scuba® Diving experience, where the chances are high you will encounter nudibranchs, long-tailed stingrays, devil rays, sea turtles and even an occasional orca!

  1. Stingray City, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

With unique marine life and spectacular underwater topography, Stingray City in Grand Cayman is a stunning spot to explore the ocean. It is famous for the large of stingrays that come through in search of a meal and offers water enthusiasts a special encounter with them. Those lucky enough may even get a kiss on the lips from these friendly sea creatures. Whether you are snorkeling or doing a discover scuba experience here, make sure you also have your camera in hand, as this spot is extremely photogenic and you’ll want a keepsake of you and your new underwater friends.

Photo Credit: PADI

  1. Great Astrolabe Reef, Kadavu, Fiji

One of the most intimate places to snorkel and also have your first diving experience is in the Great Astrolabe Reef. A few seconds underwater and you will quickly discover why Fiji is regarded as the soft coral capital of the world. It is a great spot to have your “Finding Nemo” moment and chances are high that you will also see manta rays and resident white tip reef sharks while you’re in the crystal-clear warm waters. With only small groups exploring the reef at a time, it is the perfect spot to have a special moment amidst the pristine nature.

  1. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo, Florida, USA

With this state fully re-open for business (at the time of writing), ditch the crowded amusement parks and beaches for Florida’s underwater park at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which was the first of its kind in America! What makes this an equally great place to snorkel and learn to dive are the shallow waters that have an immense landscape for you to explore. You’ll see abundant sea life with over 650 types of fish, 40 types of living coral the famed 12-foot submerged statue of Jesus.

  1. The Blue Hole, Gozo, Malta

Whether you are snorkeling or diving for the first time in Malta, taking a giant stride into their blue hole is a must-do bucket list item. It’s no surprise this is a favorite spot amongst ocean lovers, as Jacques Cousteau rated this spot one of the best in all of Europe. Be amazed as you watch the natural light rays bounce off the beautiful reef—illuminating the unique topography of the area. For those that try a dive here, it will certainly set standards high for future dives to come!

Photo Credit: Manuel Bustelo

  1. Robberg Nature Reserve, Plettenburg Bay, South Africa

What’s cooler than snorkeling with seals? Diving with them! Plettenburg Bay in the Western Cape is home to some of the friendliest seals who are keen to play all day long. Sign up to snorkel with them for the day during an ocean excursion or do a discover scuba experience— where you learn to dive in the pool first and then head to the ocean to find your furry friends! Either way, it is only a short boat ride out to find the seals, meaning you’ll have plenty of time to play with them in their natural habitat.

  1. Crag-y-Mor, Wales, United Kingdom

Explore the cooler (literally) places in Wales by going on an underwater snorkeling or diving adventure! There are both half-day snorkeling and diving trips that give you a new perspective of the coastline—where both seals and historical ruins are in abundance. While there are magical marine life encounters in these waters all year long, summer offers a chance to see the water sparkle from both moon and blue jellyfish. And if you’re lucky enough, you’ll swim passed walls that are covered in red sea squirts!

Photo Credit: PADI

Ready to dive in? Visit padi.com or contact a PADI Dive Center or Resort to start planning your snorkel or scuba trip!

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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