You can see the dive boat, but the distance, steep chop and boat traffic argue against a surface swim. That’s why you have a compass.

STEP 1: Take a Bearing

Make sure you hold the compass level, or you’ll get a false reading. (To check, rotate the compass body slowly. The card should not move. Another check: tilt the compass body one way or the other and see if this frees the card to rotate.) Now sight across the compass toward your target and read the heading, either on the far side of the compass card or through the window on the near side of the compass body. Do it again, to be sure.

STEP 2: Set the Bezel

While still aiming the compass at your target, rotate the bezel until its arrow aligns with north (or the arrow) on the card. Now you don’t have to remember your course. Just steer until the bezel arrow aligns with north. To return from whence you came (called “steering a reciprocal course”), rotate the bezel 180 degrees. Some bezels have two arrows 180 degrees apart to make this easier.

STEP 3: Find a Landmark

Whether swimming on the surface or following the bottom, it’s much easier to aim at an object out near the limit of your visibility and go to it than to watch the compass constantly. Aim “just to the left of that coral head,” for example. When you get close to it, read the compass again and find a new mark. No bottom? You’ll have to follow the compass. Be sure you keep it level. If you wear your compass on your left wrist, one trick is to point ahead with your right arm and grasp your right elbow with your left hand. That braces the compass in front of you. In any case, check frequently that the card is free to turn.


The “card” is the part of the compass that rotates, and always aligns with magnetic north. The body is the part you hold or strap to your wrist. Most compasses (like the one pictured here) have compass headings N,S,E and W on the card and a point or arrow on the body. Some have the headings on the body, the arrow or pointer on the card. Regardless of the configuration, use your compass to orient yourself to north, south, east and West before you dive.


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