Disoriented While Navigating by Compass in Low-Visibility Water

Two novice divers attempt to perform too many tasks at once and had to abort dive.

Reported Story

My dive buddy and I are very new at diving and it was my first dive without an instructor. I had a new dive computer and a new compass. We were headed to a specific spot and had a choice between descending to 35 feet (11 meters) and then following that depth around the bay, or taking a compass bearing and going straight across. I was very comfortable with a compass on the surface, so I opted for the latter. This was the first time I’d ever used a compass under water.

My buddy was following me. We got disoriented and I have no idea what direction we ended up going (probably circles). We also had a lot of trouble controlling our depth. I think this was due to a combination of having no fixed reference points; we were in the middle of the bay in approximately 20 feet (6 meters) visibility, and trying to do too many things, namely follow a compass bearing and control my depth on equipment I’d never used before.

We ended up at 65 feet (20 meters) as our max depth. At some point, we both independently lost control of our buoyancy and did emergency ascent from fairly deep, probably around the 65-foot mark (20 meters), which scared both of us.

We aborted that dive and decided that we were done diving for the weekend. There was an instructor there who was loosely coordinating everyone and I let him know what had happened. My buddy and I watched for symptoms but, thankfully, none showed up.

Lessons learned include keeping dives simple, not trying new equipment without controlling all possible variables, not trying to do too much at once, remembering that a lack of fixed references requires impressive vigilance on the depth gauge and, when something goes wrong, I’m done diving until I know I’m OK.

Edited by Jeanette Moore