We described one of the primary reasons why people take the Advanced Open
Water course in the last article: the Deep Dive. Now we turn to the other mandatory
dive of the course, which is perhaps an even more important a reason for taking it:
the Navigation Dive. While perhaps not as exciting as the Deep Dive in the minds of
many, the skill sets learned on this dive are definitely some of the most useful that any
scuba diver will ever learn.
It’s no surprise that many divers are still a little nervous when they first start
diving. The underwater world is vast, it’s full of the unexpected and it’s a completely
alien environment to land dwellers. We operate in a two dimensional perspective,
however, underwater, we suddenly find ourselves having to work in a truly three-
dimensional space. It can be slightly dizzying, yet thrilling all the same. The biggest
problem we tend to encounter as a result of the new 3D environment is a lack of
visual perspective. We lose distance, we lose our bearings and we lose our sense of
gravity. Visibility (which is affected by location, seasonal variations, storms, etc.)
can also be a highly compounding factor. So what does this all mean? It means that
if we don’t stick to some basic navigational concepts it can be very easy to get very
On the Open Water course, students are taught some very basic compass and
navigation skills. Effectively, as a basic Open Water Scuba Diver, you have learnt to
swim in a reciprocal heading, with one person navigating and the other counting
kick cycles. Navigating a dive site is usually a little more complicated then that and
this is where the advanced navigation skills truly come into play.
Although navigating a dive site can be more complex than the navigation taught
on the Open Water course, it is not typically overly difficult. Believe it or not, the
majority of dive sites are usually well-defined and fairly small areas. They are often
well mapped by previous divers. As a result, with some minimal planning before a
dive, even fairly junior divers can easily plot a navigable route around a site.
What the Advanced course offers is an opportunity to start to truly understand the
use of that most basic navigational device, the compass. Although daunting to many
at first glance, a compass is a very rudimentary instrument. There is a reason why
compasses, in one form or another, have been around for a very long time. With the
instruction a diver receives on the Advanced Open Water diver course, they’ll soon
be able to navigate squares, triangles and other geometric shapes.
What we at the Toronto Scuba Centre do to make this even more of a useful skill, is to
also educate our divers as to how to determine their individual average kick cycle.
Many divers swim 20 feet in a different average time than they would to swim a
corresponding speed for, say, 10 feet. By demonstrating and actually getting our
divers to determine their average kick cycle for a given distance, we help them
consistently swim equal distances at a given rate, thus enabling them to reach their
starting destination each and every time.
Beyond compass navigation, the other aspect of the navigation dive is to foster a
greater awareness of natural indicators underwater. By making note of various
topographical or man-made features on a dive, (such as unique coral formations, old
anchors or mooring points, ship wrecks, etc.) we can always determine where we
are at a given point on our dives. This is especially so if the features are additionally
set out on a dive site map, as we can then determine precisely where we are in
relation to our dive plan goals and objectives.
Learning to navigate is a quintessential skill for underwater exploration: we
can avoid any known dangers; we can reach our goals and objectives safely; and,
perhaps most importantly, we can get back to the boat at the end of our dives,
avoiding an incredibly annoying long surface swim!