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Keeping straight while surface swimming

Thread Status: Hello , There was no answer in this thread for more than 60 days.
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New Member
Aug 21, 2001
I´m embarrassed to admit it, but I have a lot of trouble keeping on a safe course on long surface swims in water too deep to see bottom. I drift off course quick and either zigzag along or waste a lot of effort peeking ahead.
I don´t want to try the scuba approach (but an expensive directional computer gadget) or the classic approach (drag a log on a rope), but am hoping somebody has one of those cool little tips on keeping straight.

As long as you are not being rolled in the surf a basic compass sure helps. The ones that allow you to set a heading and glow in the dark have been around along time. My Suunto is over 25 years old, and just recently started dropping paint, no batteries.
If you adjust to the sets and your current dislocation rate you can set usable targets on the shore to move toward. This advice does not include adjustments for rips, which you either ride or swim across at a right angle. If you do not already know this technique, you might give it a try.

Best wishes,

Do you swim in circles to the left or the right?
Whenever I teach a basic scuba class we start with the compass on dive three. You can tell right away who is left-handed and who is right-handed by which way they start to swim- in circles. A compass is the easiest way if you can't see the bottom. The only other choice is to look up ever few kicks to see where you have gone.
If you can figure out which leg is stronger, and which way you swim in cirlces, you can mentaly try to counter act the effect by kicking more with the opposite leg. It happens to everyone.
Actually, looking up all the time and sighting things is what I´m trying to avoid. I was hoping for some cool Yoda-type advice on sunrays or some such.
I was about to say that looking at a compass would be as distracting as looking above water, but it suddenly ocurred to me that having a tiny compass inside the mask would work, maybe stick it in the lower corner of the lens with bubble gum or something higher tech. Then I could check it while face down and flailing away.
(Do they have name for right and left deviations, like hooks and slices in golf?) Thanks for the input.
Hi Dude,

The whole idea of a compass is that you don't have to look much,
except at the compass with the bearings set on it while underwater. The mask compass idea is great, perhaps obtainable at a toy store for pilot testing. If you dolphin kick there is little problem in either seeing the compass or small amounts of slice ?

Once warmed up I tend to travel on compass underwater much of the time, Think of it as gravaton waves orienting you to where you want to go.

If you are the sensitive type you might want to get in touch with the feelings in the bridge of your nose.

Good luck with the bubble compass,

Doug Morgan,
Lantzville, B.C.
Evinrude haircut

A heads-up-display compass, either high or low tech sounds like fun but there is no substitute for the no tech look-where-you're-going solution. If you keep your face in the water too much then you might not see the idiot on the personal watercraft bearing down on you. My advice is to save the compass for underwater navigation. At the surface, poke your head up for a look on a regular basis because those boats can sneak up on you despite all the noise.

Tom Lightfoot
I think they apply for changing course of anything. Veer, if the heading number increases and back, if the heading decreases.


Clearly the context must be considered in deciding to navigate in UW or surface mode.
In a congested harbour with jet skis and power boats, sail boat, other divers, etc. it would not be advisable to keep your eyes on the bottom all of the time. On the other hand in relatively empty open water or protected bays with no surface craft why keep looking around in the air, after all, that can be done from the shore. In these more quiet contexts motor boats are easily heard, and with some form of surface marker
most quieter craft like kayaks and sail boats will most likely stay away. I fear this can not be said for most motor boats, at least not in my experience.

best wishes,

Doug Morgan,
Lantzville, B.C.
Yeah, you gotta keep an eye out. But I love the idea of having an in-mask compass. In fact, I can envision putting more stuff in there (lowering volume, I might add). A clock, of course, small depth guage. An entire DASHBOARD of little goodies, preferably with little green lights like an airplane cockpit. I suppose a casette deck would be out of the question?
my friend was doing a project and i suggested that(except a full dive computer, scuba type ect.).........

oh well it would be possible if you had the computer mounted above the ear and a small wire running to a mini projector in the mask skirt and then projected onto the lense....

this is probably the wave ;) of the future.. and i think it can be done but would can a pretty penny

well my 2 cents

oh and if anyone has an old dive computer they dont want and a micro projector feel free to e-mail me and ill see if i couldnt pull it off
Think wing.

You will have to practice this but with some effort it will dramatically reduce circling. Figure out which is your preferred direction. As Jon pointed point out we normally turn away from our dominant side. Once you do this you may want to mark your fins so as to always put them on the same foot as they can have differential thrust. But this differential thrust is seldom strong enough to have a significant effect on the direction of turn.

The next step is easier to do in a pool. You impede the turn by moving the are arm opposite your direction of turn away from your body which produces drag which attempts to pull you in the other direction by causing that side to go slower. That sounds more complicated than it is; for 95% percent of use we will be using our dominant arm. (Some people have even found that if they put their dominant arm forward and keep their dominant arm to the side they swim straighter. My arm gets tired so I don't use this much.)

It maybe helpful to try this without kicking to get a sense of the effect and to learn the balance points because this is a balancing act. Once you can balance drag and thrust to produce a straight glide then practice swimming laps your eyes closed. Start by using a slow kick and stay with that until you have good control then pick a faster speed.

Don't be dismayed when you start hitting the lane markers again at the faster speeds because as your speed goes up the amount of deflection in ratio to drag effect goes down. This is important to understand as the samething happens in currents. You may be kicking at your normal rate but it is the rate that the water is moving past your body that determines the drag coefficients.

Clearly the trick is learning to have very consistent kick rythmns and amplitude. If you can't or haven't developed a consistent kick this same exercise may help you to develop one. Whenever you feel the lane marker adjust the degree of drag so that you turn back towards the center of lane without opening your eyes. Once I got so I could do a lap with out hitting the lane markers I was able to do much better in open water. If your pool doesn't have lane markers swim with your that is the direction of your turn a few feet from the side of the pool or have a buddy swim on your turn side. I have also found it helpful to zigzag from one side of the lane to other as a way to learn how to control the effect.

Unfortunately, it is not like riding a bicycle and I have to retrain if I have been dry to long. Or maybe I have just not mastered it. I still drift some but I can go 50 to 100 meters with less than 10% of drift. In others words when I look up I am still pointing in the general direction that I wanted to travel. If I haven't practised I stll have those wonderful moments of complete disorientation when I look up do not see what I expect to see. This only works in conditions that are stable. But the nice thing is that it is easy to insert into training sessions without adding more training time.
I have seen small globe type compasses that are attached by a suction cup. I guess that they just stick onto the front upper corner of your mask- it might be worth a try. You may also try mounting your compass in another area. I have a compass mounted on my scooter. This is essential when I use it for scuba, but could be just as effective if I were going to use it for freediving- which is a blast! I could see a small compass attached onto the muzzle of your speargun. I could also see attaching it to your video system- some of them are quite small. Tekna used to make one that was smaller than a quarter.
Otherwise, some of your other ideas would work- keeping the suns rays to one side of you while you swim, or making sure that they breaking waves are always hitting your body at the same angle as you swim. In the end it might just be easier to look up and have a peek.
I have same problem also my cressi HF,s suck on the surfas swimming on back takes care of both for me fins are more effective & I just focus on any fixed point of reffrence and swim away from it the cons are fast moveing or no clouds on way to shore and not good in sharky waters hope it help
P.S new member 1st reply
OK Angus,

You been holdin' out on me with this tracking info (or maybe you told me and I forgot). More likely, I have been shy about statingI have the same challenge as Snorklebum (thank you Sir Snorklebum for bringing this up - I was not aware of my embarassment). So, promise me you will go over this with me next time we dive! Very Cool technique Mark!:cool:

Yoda would be proud of you.

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You might use the trick we practise on outdoor finswimming races: 10 kicks, heads up, 10 kicks, heads up...

You'll get used to it and it enhances your natural sense of direction a lot. Besides, it's cheaper than a compass and you don't have to drag it along.

Trust me, I swim in waters where you cannot see your own hands when you stretch out your arms.
(Which might also be a good reason for not trusting me...:t )


I luv it !

I just love this stuff ! That's cool , a compass and depth guage inside a mask . Where do I buy one ?
Actually, how would you get lcd stuff or a compass so close to your face and still have your eyes focus on it without blurryness ?
My wife cracked up when I showed her that thread discussing it, but it looks really feasible . ;)
It's amazing what people can do when they put their heads together .:D
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I was looking for good present last year and I found a mask with a built in periscope so you could see above the water. It was in a toy shop (so probably no good for diving) but its still a good idea!:cool:
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