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Fog / navigation - when spearing from shore

Mr. X

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I had a unusual and unsettling experience while spearfishing in Devon this Summer. While out at sea a sort of hazy fog formed late in the dive and, with the light chop, it caused me to completely lose sight of the shore line. Quite unsettling and potentially scary.

Fortunately I was diving over the large tidal reef at South Milton beach, so I knew I wasn't far from shore. Also, I had just dived through the prominent rock arch from the back, so knew that I should be facing shore - but then it occurred to me that I didn't really know at what angle the arch was to the shore. I started to swim slowly towards where I thought the shore was. Fortunately I bumped into a SIT kayaker and, being higher up, he could see the shore and pointed me to my entry point. Had I continued I would likely have reached shore but a bit further down, as long as I didn't get any further disorientated.

So, no harm done but I decided to cut my dive short at that point and call it a day.

I wondered if anyone else had a similar experience? Or had any tips?
 
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Mr. X

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Fyi I had an emergency whistle on my float but no compass. I used to wear my small Sunnto mountaineering compass clipped on my watch strap (a very useful tool when accurate navigation is essential, as it allows fast, frequent checking) but had got out of the habit of wearing it. Found it very useful in the Tetons and Cascade mountains.

A compass would have been reassuring in the case above. I will probably add one to my float now. Wearing a compass would be safer though, if you become separated from your float (fairly unlikely for me, as I always keep my speargun clipped to my float).
 
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Brochman

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Jul 16, 2016
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As you said a Compass would have got you out of the situation. I wear one all the time as it is very partial to fog here in the north with the cold air hitting the warm air from the south but i also use it under water for navigation whilst snorkeling from area to area rather than surfacing to look where I am so spooking the fish.

A Jotron divers strobe light on your float might be an idea so showing where you are to other watercraft, they often come up on Fleabay cheap rather than buying new and use one C cell battery so it lasts a long while. You can also use them as a marker beacon on the shore for night time spearfishing and on the bow and stern of a Kayak so you can be seen by other vessels.
 
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bobandsausage

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Sep 12, 2010
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I had a unusual and unsettling experience while spearfishing in Devon this Summer. While out at sea a sort of hazy fog formed late in the dive and, with the light chop, it caused me to completely lose sight of the shore line. Quite unsettling and potentially scary.

Fortunately I was diving over the large tidal reef at South Milton beach, so I knew I wasn't far from shore. Also, I had just dived through the prominent rock arch from the back, so knew that I should be facing shore - but then it occurred to me that I didn't really know at what angle the arch was to the shore. I started to swim slowly towards where I thought the shore was. Fortunately I bumped into a SIT kayaker and, being higher up, he could see the shore and pointed me to my entry point. Had I continued I would likely have reached shore but a bit further down, as long as I didn't get any further disorientated.

So, no harm done but I decided to cut my dive short at that point and call it a day.

I wondered if anyone else had a similar experience? Or had any tips?
Fortunately never been in that situation... But I try to keep my bearings by noting wind/ wave/ current direction (even if it's just keeping track of which direction my float is being pulled, though that's going to change over the tidal cycle)
 
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Mr. X

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Yes, good point about float pull. There is a headland I swim around and back. It's useful to know which way the current is pulling before committing to the most exposed section. Unfortunately it does change during the dive occasionally.
 

Mr. X

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As you said a Compass would have got you out of the situation. I wear one all the time as it is very partial to fog here in the north with the cold air hitting the warm air from the south but i also use it under water for navigation whilst snorkeling from area to area rather than surfacing to look where I am so spooking the fish.

A Jotron divers strobe light on your float might be an idea so showing where you are to other watercraft, they often come up on Fleabay cheap rather than buying new and use one C cell battery so it lasts a long while. You can also use them as a marker beacon on the shore for night time spearfishing and on the bow and stern of a Kayak so you can be seen by other vessels.
Thanks. Several interesting ideas. Yes the strobe might also be useful if washed out to sea and/or needing helicopter rescue.
 

Andrew the fish

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Oct 17, 2010
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strobe idea is interesting for marking the shore. So far I used lantern to mark the trailhead and where my backpack is, but lantern can be easily mistaken for some other lights on shore.

I have been nearly lost once, when BC was raging with wildfires and there was to much smoke in the air. But that was different, I knew there was smoke and turned back, scared shitless, when shore was just barely visible. Thank you Mr.X for bringing this up. I spearfish from shore, much like you, and we do get a fair share of "arctic smoke" here in British Columbia. In retrospect, I really should have geared up for navigation long time ago.
 
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Derekn

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May 26, 2010
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strobe idea is interesting for marking the shore. So far I used lantern to mark the trailhead and where my backpack is, but lantern can be easily mistaken for some other lights on shore.

I have been nearly lost once, when BC was raging with wildfires and there was to much smoke in the air. But that was different, I knew there was smoke and turned back, scared shitless, when shore was just barely visible. Thank you Mr.X for bringing this up. I spearfish from shore, much like you, and we do get a fair share of "arctic smoke" here in British Columbia. In retrospect, I really should have geared up for navigation long time ago.
I was diving a very familiar local reef on a low tide when a very thick fog suddenly appeared out of nowhere and caught both my buddy and I by surprise. We could not see the beach or any other familiar landmarks as the fog was so dense and to make matters worse the viz underwater was 2-3 metres at best.

When we were swimming out to our regular hunting spot, the reef was on our left side so we figured we would swim back in and keep the reef on our right side, however there is a sizeable gap in the reef which we swam through without realising and the reef was now on our right side making us believe that we were heading back to the shore.

We ended up getting completely disoriented and we both had a different opinion on which way the beach was. We decided to stay where we were and hope it lifted or eased off as we had plenty of time before the cold would set in and stronger currents would become an issue. Fortunately we heard a dog barking and swam in that direction while maintaining a visual on the reef, it was a frightening experience to say the least and I don't know what would have happened if the dog had not come along.

I now have a small Garmin eTrex mounted on my float and a cheap Silva orienteering compass as a backup. I also have a waterproof pouch to keep my phone on the float as well. The Garmin does not have any built in maps but it has a Track Back function which will guide me back to where I started from and it works perfectly as I did use it in fog when I was 2Km out to sea in my Kayak. Just be aware though that a gps may not work in fog and can lose 'sight' of the satellites but you should at least have a recorded track and the compass to set you in the right direction.
 
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Mr. X

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Great post Derekn. I figured I probably wasn't the first person to encounter this problem. The potential seriousness of the problem starts to dawn on you quite quickly. I wasn't even aware of any fog when I started my dive.
 

Derekn

Rubber Bandit
May 26, 2010
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Great post Derekn. I figured I probably wasn't the first person to encounter this problem. The potential seriousness of the problem starts to dawn on you quite quickly. I wasn't even aware of any fog when I started my dive.
The same for us, the fog appeared without any sign of it coming about half an hour in to our dive which was on a fine, late summer evening when we started out. We were about 300 metres from the shore on a low tide in 1-2 metres of water, hunting the reef so we were heads down most of the way out and completely oblivious to what was coming our way. Two hours later though and it could have been a very different and highly dangerous situation. It was frightening at the time when I realised I had little or no idea which way to go and at risk of getting into some serious danger.

I like the strobe idea for my float, especially at night, but I'm not sure how visible it would be in a very dense fog. The key takeaway for me from my experience was try not to panic and that if it is safe to do so, stay where you are until you can determine your location and which direction you need to swim.

Without visual reference, you could try to listen for audio cues such as fog horns, bells, boat motors and maybe even road traffic to give you some idea of where the shore and open sea are. We were lucky when we heard the dog barking but maybe there could be horses or livestock grazing on a headland or shore that would occasionally make some sounds.

I definitely agree that a compass would have been the single most effective instrument that would have gotten us out of our situation without any doubt. A basic gps with track back would also have been very useful and has got me out of trouble in a similar situation. They're also very useful when simply snorkelling or spearfishing especially when you have a wrist worn compass and want to track a heading while keeping your head in the water, the gps I occasionally use to mark underwater points of interest and I can download my tracks along with time/distance data and import them into Google Earth for my own interest.
 

arca_tern

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Oct 14, 2006
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Dumb question but was the sun not easily visible as well? Couldn’t it be used for basic navigation provided you notes it’s position when you were on the shore?
 
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