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How to Navigate Underwater While Scuba Diving

Underwater compasses, natural landmarks and your kicks all play a role in finding your way on the bottom.
By Travis Marshall | Updated On May 1, 2021
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How to Navigate Underwater While Scuba Diving

Underwater compass

Knowing how to find your way underwater makes diving easier and more enjoyable

If you’ve ever been impressed by a divemaster who effortlessly brings divers right back to the boat, you’ve seen how expert underwater navigation makes diving more fun.

Every diver learns the basics of underwater navigation in the Open Water course; the PADI Underwater Navigator specialty course helps you advance your skills, so that you can make your way underwater, in good visibility or bad, because you know how to use both landmarks and your compass to stay on track.


Advanced underwater navigation requires a lot of practice because there are so many factors to consider, including current, visibility, underwater topography and your goals for the dive. The Underwater Navigator specialty gives you the opportunity to practice everything from compass navigation to map making with an instructor over multiple dives.

One of the greatest benefits you’ll receive is confidence. Knowing where you are, and how to return to your starting point, no matter the conditions, is one of the best ways to increase your independence as a diver. And that confidence may inspire you to plan your own dive adventures close to home, rather than only joining divemaster-led groups on vacations or local diving charters.

What You’ll Learn

You’ll spend a portion of the course learning and practicing with your compass—how to take a bearing from the surface before starting your dive, along with how to use the compass to make turns and follow a plotted path underwater.

You’ll also learn to estimate distances underwater using fin kicks, air consumption or time. You’ll find out how currents can impact navigation and how natural landmarks can help you keep your bearings. And you’ll create your own map to explore a dive site with confidence.

The PADI Underwater Navigator specialty course is open to any diver with an Open Water (or Junior Open Water) certification. Taking the Underwater Navigator specialty can also count toward the navigation portion of the Advanced Open Water course.