Sea bed underwater navigation
Underwater navigation using compass

- Belinda Pretorius

Often referred to as “pilogate,” naturally navigating your way underwater is an incredible skill to have as a diver.

Knowing how to naturally navigate means that you are not dependent on anything other than your own senses and observations and don’t have to rely on a compass.

Too many divers spend too much time staring at a compass and not enough time taking in the stunning surroundings.

You can always Tune Up Your Scuba Skills.

So, How Does it Work?

Natural navigation is all about ditching the compass and learning how to use your surroundings to find your way around.

There are a number of different ways to naturally navigate your dive, and you may choose to use one or a combination.

The trick is to find a system of navigation that works for you; every diver has their own personal method.

Here is a look at some of the natural features you can use to navigate underwater:

Underwater navigation using Landmarks

Natural features that stand out and are easily recognizable are a great way of navigating. Remembering them should be easy and they should be fairly easy to find again. If visibility is good, this is a particularly good way of navigating.

Here's  How To Survive A Silt-Out!: Diving In Low Visibility.

You’ll need to make a mental note of the landmark and keep it in mind as you venture away from it.

Keep in mind that landmarks are permanent. Your landmark should be something like a boulder, a wreck, or a particularly unique plant; don’t count on the abnormally large fish with the creepy eyes to stay in one place.

Underwater navigation requires landmarks

Scuba divers navigating in the surface at the Red Sea - Credit: S1001

Underwater navigation using Light

If you are not at too great a depth and visibility is good, you can use the way the light hits the water and the position of the sun to help get you oriented underwater. This works especially well if the sun’s position creates different levels of brightness; you can use the different light variations to determine which direction you are going as well as to find your way around.

If the light is good but you don’t trust yourself to use the sun as a navigation tool, you can also look up to the surface to see how the land lies. This really won’t help you know which direction you are headed, but it will help you to find your way around.

Do you know that you can also Get Started Scuba Diving At Night?

Underwater navigation using light

A diver using light as a navigation tool - Credit: Sebastien Burel

Navigate in Current

If you know the direction of the current beforehand, you can use it during your dive to keep you oriented as to which direction you are going. Currents tend to be fairly consistent, but weather conditions can greatly affect it.

Here's our guide on How To Dive Currents

Many divers also use surge direction as a navigation tool, since they can be felt at depth as well. The problem is that waves flow one direction while surges are a back and forth motion. It’s a good idea not to rely solely on surges until you are completely comfortable with them since their motion allows for a 180 degree directional error.

Current direction use for underwater navigation

A diver can use the direction of the current as a navigation reference - Credit: Rostislav Ageev

The Best of Both Worlds

Divers who are attached their compass will be happy to know that you can use a combination of both orienteering and natural navigation.

You may find that as you become more comfortable with natural navigation, you let go of the compass and be your own navigator.