Exploring the underwater world is one of the most exhilarating, awe-inspiring activities you can experience, and scuba diving’s popularity has increased exponentially in recent years.
Seeing all the sea has to offer below its surface as you scuba dive in an enticing prospect, but any experienced diver will know that without all the necessary gear and equipment, you won’t get very far in your underwater exploration.
This is especially true when it comes to dive compasses. These waterproof instruments are what keeps you on course, helps you safely navigate your dive site, and get back to the boat before running out of air. The goal is to swim - not sleep - amongst the fishes, so safety is paramount in every diving excursion.
Dive compasses can also help if a current sweeps you away from your familiar dive site, or if the visibility in the water is poor.
Let's take a look at some of our absolute favorite dive compasses.
The Suunto SK8 provides reliable, accurate bearings to keep you going in the right direction, making it a clear choice for our top pick. The liquid-filled compass is highly responsive and provides accurate readings without delay.
It features both Northern and Southern hemisphere orientation due to an upgraded magnet, meaning you can use this compass to explore more of the sea without proximity to the poles affecting the accuracy of your bearing.
The retractable compass couldn’t be easier to use, as it snaps right back into position after you’ve read it. If you struggle to keep your compass level, the 30-degree tilt tolerance makes this the perfect choice as this is 2-3 times more forgiving than other standard dive compasses.
A phosphorescent compass card makes it easier to read, as do the bezel twin heading indicators which allows you to align the lubber line to track your course. Plus, the rotating bezel is excellent for preventing sand from dirtying or contaminating your compass.
Next up on our list is this retractable dive compass from Trident, most commonly appreciated for the clear visibility it provides and its long-lasting performance.
Mount this compass to a retractor clip for easy underwater navigation, or utilize the swiveling gate snap clip to attach it to your belt or BCD. It’s approximately 2.5 inches in diameter with a total length of 5 inches, so the small unit won’t hinder you during your dive.
Don’t worry about the small size restricting your ability to read the unit display, as the glow-in-the-dark backing means this compass provides a clear reading even in low-lit areas, which is great for use in darker waters or at night.
There’s also a side view window which means you can see your bearing at a glance, without having to level out the compass. This is a useful feature as customers report issues with the accuracy if the compass is tilted.
Next, we looked at this wrist-mounted analog dive compass from Oceanic, a great choice for anyone who doesn’t like the thought of relying on retractable cords. It’s designed especially to provide quick, accurate readings and responds well to movement.
A large rotating bezel allows you to plot your course and stick to it while a high visibility lubber line helps you to aim your compass. The bearing indicators are also large, which makes it even easier to read.
Despite this, the overall size of the compass is relatively small at 2 x 2 x 2 inches and weighing just 0.81 ounces, so it won’t be a cumbersome addition to your scuba diving kit.
The Oceanglo-luminescent floating card also enhances the visibility of this compass in dark environments by absorbing light and is able to reflect this up to 7 times quicker than other materials for longer periods of time.
The Scuba Choice diving compass we looked at impressed us because of its mounting versatility and compact size, with a diameter of just 2-1/3 inches.
The module mount allows you to choose how you want to attach your compass to your equipment which provides more flexibility to suit your personal preferences. However, you may need to purchase separate module housing depending on how you choose to mount it.
It can provide precise readings up to a tilt of 25 degrees, although anything beyond this and you may find it becomes less accurate. There is also a maximum depth restriction of up to 80 meters.
Some customers report that it’s less responsive than other options, but the affordability of this compass means it’s a great entry-level piece of kit that is a good choice for beginners.
The last compass we considered was this Cressi underwater compass, available either as a module or with a strap and hose mount to suit your preferred method of mounting.
In the nature of most dive compasses, it does require being held at a level position in order to give a truly accurate reading. It doesn’t offer as much tilt tolerance as others which is something to consider if you think you’ll struggle to keep it flat.
However, the gun-sight window allows you to precisely track your heading without having to level the compass and look at it from above. There is also a red lubber line to help with orientation and a rotating ratchet bezel that features a double pointer.
The luminescent backing provides clearer visibility in darker environments and 10-degree intervals divide the face so you can distinctly see the direction in which you’re swimming.
Best Dive Compass Buying Guide
Why Are They So Important?
Before we dive any further into what makes a good compass, we first wanted to explain what exactly this piece of equipment is used for, and why it’s so important to have one.
Essentially, this waterproof instrument is what divers use to navigate underwater terrain. From searching for a specific dive spot to getting safely back to your boat, a dive compass will lead the way by pointing you in the right direction - literally - as the free-rotating magnetized needlepoint of the compass shows you the direction you’re swimming in.
Diving without a compass is a sure way to end up disorientated or even lost, and you can waste precious minutes of your exploring time trying to make your way back to your pre-planned route.
To make the most of your diving experience, plot your course before you set off and ensure you have a good-quality dive compass to keep you swimming straight.
Digital vs. Analog
You’ll find that diving compasses are either analog or digital. The one you’ll be better off with depends largely on the type of diving you’ll be doing, as this will determine what the specific purpose of your compass is.
If you’re diving at a particular site with a known end-location in mind, an analog compass will keep you on course as it provides an accurate bearing however you use it. These are easily maintained and operate without a battery.
Digital compasses tend to be more expensive, but this is because they offer more than just navigation. Their sensors respond to magnetic fields and include features such as a barometer, thermometer, and stopwatch.
Unlike your local swimming pool, you can’t just dive down to the bottom of the ocean to retrieve your compass if you drop it or if it comes loose.
Luckily, there are different ways to secure your dive compass so you don’t lose it underwater, and so you can easily check it as needed.
One of the most popular ways to mount a dive compass is at the wrist.
Rather than having to fuss with gauges or attachments coming from your Buoyancy Control Device (BCD), this method of mounting is similar to how you’d wear a standard watch - it simply straps on.
With just a flick of your wrist, you can clearly view your compass to easily determine your bearing, and you can plan the remainder of your dive accordingly.
Typically made of plastic or carabiner, a retractable clip is a cord that fastens your compass to your BCD to keep it close to hand and safely attached to your person during a dive.
It’s another convenient way of checking your dive compass as the retractable cord can be pulled towards you when you need to read it and will automatically snap back into place when you’ve finished.
With any compass you purchase, a mount that attaches to your pressure hose will be included. This style of mounting method means your compass falls in between your pressure gauge and/or dive computer, another two other important pieces of diving equipment.
This can be useful for someone who likes to do their safety checks in one go, as the information is displayed all in one place meaning you’ll know both your direction and current underwater pressure with one glance.
This is the most standard, yet also the most versatile method of mounting your compass. The module housing can be attached to any gauge that allows it, to your wrist, or to a retractable cord depending on your preference.
However, only the module housing is included, so you may need to purchase additional equipment if planning on using one of the latter mounting methods.
So which one should I choose?
No matter how it mounts, it should be both comfortable and easy to reach your dive compass at any point during a dive. When deciding on which type of mounting method to go for, consider what will be the most convenient for you.
For example, if you often take underwater camera equipment with you on your dives, a wrist mounting compass may be easier to read as it doesn’t require any reaching back so your hands are free for filming.
Nothing about being underwater is like being on land, which is exactly what makes scuba diving so enthralling. However, when it comes to reading your dive compass, the altered environment is not necessarily a good thing.
Above water, holding your compass horizontally in your hand is a simple task and will pretty much always give you an accurate reading. Below water, it can be slightly more difficult to be aware of your own orientation, let alone whether or not your compass is perfectly level.
As a result, most dive compasses try to mitigate the inaccuracies that can be caused by tilting, as holding it at an angle can taint the reading you’re given and thus lead to mistakes or errors in judgment.
Tilt tolerance compensates for holding your compass at an angle, and the more tolerance it has, the more you can tilt it without skewing the reading. However, more tolerance also tends to result in a larger unit, which brings us to the next factor you’ll want to consider...
There’s enough equipment that accompanies scuba diving to fill a whole boat - okay, maybe not literally, but you catch our drift. As such, it’s understandable that you’ll want to choose a dive compass that isn’t so big it hinders your diving ability.
However, this also needs to be balanced with the fact that you need to clearly read the unit display, as this is the entire purpose of a dive compass. Larger units provide clearer visibility, especially in murkier waters, so don’t choose one too small on the basis of saving space.
As well as having a clear, large display, the ease with which you can read your compass can be improved by the level of brightness and other features.
For example, luminescent materials can be used for the unit display which makes it easier to read in low-lit environments, which is a useful addition for anyone diving at night or in deeper, darker waters.
Side view navigation is another feature that can improve the readability of your dive compass, as it provides you with a quick-glance view of your bearings instead of needing to level your compass for a full reading. The level of information provided in this space depends on the brand and can vary between models.
Compass Liquid Fill
To keep the compass’s inner workings from being damaged by the pressure as you dive down deep, they’re typically filled with either oil or less viscous water.
Compasses that are filled with oil tend to provide a smoother experience, as they’re less responsive to inadvertent movements for more stable direction, whereas less viscous water-filled compasses can be too receptive and end up picking up on movement it shouldn’t.
As we’ve already established, a dive compass is an essential part of your dive kit. It’s therefore important to choose the right one to suit your needs.
Because of the different styles available, each offering its own features and functions, you’ll need to factor in the type of diving you do when making your decision. Once you have, we hope this article has helped point you in the right direction of a compass that will do the same.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you use a dive compass?
It’s not enough to just own a quality dive compass, as you’ll need to actively use it whenever you’re planning on diving.
Using your dive compass can be tricky at first, as it requires being held at a certain angle in order to provide an accurate reading. Hold the compass completely flat in front of you and align the lubber line with your body.
Next, set the heading by turning the bezel until the 2 index marks are on either side of the north arrow, making sure to note your bearing by counting the number of degrees the bezel turns by. Now you can start to swim in that direction whilst keeping count of your leg strokes.
At what depth will the compass stop working?
This will depend on which compass you end up using, as it can vary between models.
However, most dive compasses are designed to withstand large depths in order to be suitable for scuba diving.