Navigation Dive

Advanced Open Water

Dive One

The first of five open water adventure dives to pass the PADI Advanced Open Water Certification

Filled with excitement and anticipation, I take my first dive into the blue waters off the coast of Playa Blanca, Lanzarote for the first of five dives to complete the Advanced Open Water PADI Certification. It’s the navigation dive and we’ve had our briefing: There are three practical tasks to complete pass the certification. First we need to find our way back to a beautiful yellow tube sponge on the rocky reef using our natural navigation skills, next we will do a 180 degree turn with the aid of an underwater compass and to finish off we will dive a perfect square. It sounds simple enough.

I have a brief mental flashback from upper school; I recall my outdoor pursuits orienteering skills were pretty good and my natural navigations skills (or ‘gut nav’ as I like to call it) have always served me well. Having done our buddy check on shore, we give the ‘all okay’ hand signal, then descend under the soft waves. I’m immediately awestruck by the clarity of the water and the beauty of the underwater landscape and fish.

There are two students, myself and a chap called Kris. We stay close to our instructor Marian, who glides effortlessly through the water with the ease and grace of a mermaid. It’s time to start the exercises. Marian points to the yellow sponge which will be our starting point, then takes us on a journey across the reef. We pass shoals of fish, rocks, corals and sand mentally noting anything which may be of help in finding the way back. After a while, Marian signals she is lost with her hands and Kris and I must decide how to get back using only hand signals for communication.

Kris looks up and points in the opposite direction to where I instinctively feel we should go. He seems quite insistent, taking Marian by the arm and showing her too, but she is unable to help us with the test and shrugs. I point again in the direction of the sponge and decide to set off knowing Kris will follow. We make our way back, using hand signals and agreeing which way to go. We make it. The yellow sponge is in site and Marian claps her hands to indicate we have passed the test. Next is the 180 degree turn, which is trickier underwater than you might think. This is because it’s the body which needs to turn 180 degrees, whilst keeping the compass in the original position. Finally, it’s diving a perfect square, using the compass and adding four x 90 degrees turns to arrive within six meters of the place we started. Kris and I complete the tasks and it’s time to head back, we swim gently, watching colourful fish up to twenty meters away in the beautiful warm, clear water.

On the way back, I start to rise high in the water; my tank is becoming lighter as I use up the compressed air. I start to lose control, depressing the button on my buoyancy aid, desperately trying to dump air, but nothing happens and I rise quickly to the surface like a balloon. It worries me. I’ve never lost control like that before. Marian pulls my dump cord; I slowly sink back down and we continue the dive. Its shaken my confidence but was not dangerous as we were only in seven meters of water.

It turns out on the natural navigation task that Kris spotted a eagle ray, which is why he was pointing in the other direction. It just goes to show how easy it is for signals to be misinterpreted underwater. I was disappointed I had missed the ray, but thrilled to have completed the first challenge.


The skills covered in the navigation adventure dive

Natural Navigation
180 Degree Turn
Square Navigation
Hand Signals