Scuba diving is an exhilarating sport. There’s a whole new world to discover beneath the vast sea, which is why getting lost while exploring isn’t unheard of.
On land, we depend on street signs, maps, and the internet to guide the way to our destination. But we don’t have that same luxury while scuba diving; at least, not in the conventional sense.
This is where diving compasses come in. These underwater devices are invented to help you easily navigate the questionable depths of the sea. Unfortunately, many of these compasses are either poorly designed or don’t work properly at all, which causes divers a lot of frustration.
So, in this article, I’ve listed some of the best dive compasses you should bring with you during your next underwater adventure. Let’s dive right in!
What are Dive Compasses?
In a nutshell, dive compasses are waterproof diving instruments that are used to navigate underwater. They’re more utilized by scuba divers rather than free-divers and surface-supplied divers. This is primarily because the latter two don’t require much direction than the former.
Like any other compass, a dive compass’ direction is determined by a free-rotating, magnetized needle that points North. It also has a fixed lubber line which indicates a diver’s direction of travel when held forward. Depending on the model, the lubber line can either be black or red.
The main window contains four cardinal points (N, S, E, W) and a 360-degree course. Most diving compasses also have a rotating bezel that’s used to set starting directions for underwater navigation.
Unlike standard compasses, the casing found in diving compasses is extremely watertight. More often than not, they can function in sub-zero temperatures and over 100ft in depth with ease. The fluid inside the compass damps the movement of the needle and prevents the housing from collapsing under high water pressure.
These water devices come in many different mounts, with the most common being wrist-mounted and console-mounted models.
Top 5 Dive Compasses Worth Your Attention
For obvious reasons, navigation underwater is a lot more challenging than on land. This is why professional divers always recommend carrying a fully calibrated diving compass whenever you’re scuba diving. Here are five noteworthy compasses that’ll give you peace of mind while underwater!
1. Oceanic Wrist Mount Compass – Best Overall
The Oceanic Compass has everything you’ll ever need in a wrist mount compass. A large, clear display? Check. Bright luminescence? Check. Highly accurate readings? You know it!
This compass features a unique luminescent floating card called “Oceanglo,” which, according to the manufacturers, makes the face glow up to seven times faster and longer. This is further backed by user reviews, with some claiming that it’s one of the brightest underwater compasses they’ve ever owned.
The numbers around the compass are slightly larger than average, which is great news for those who are looking for an easy-to-read unit. The lumber line is equally easy to locate. Its rotating bezel ensures smooth movement and quick response when you most need it, even under extreme underwater pressure.
Furthermore, the rubber-like strap is flexible with just the right amount of stretch. No matter how bulky your diving gear is, you won’t have to worry about it fitting around your wrist.
- Extremely responsive to tilting
- Glows well in the dark
- Large, easy-to-read markings
- Provides accurate readings even in extremely deep depths (200ft +)
- Might be too large for some users
- Strap’s quality could be better; some users had it snap after a few dives
2. XS Scuba Retractable SuperTilt Compass – Runner Up
If you’re looking for a small, retractable mounted compass with easy-to-read markings, the SuperTilt may be the one for you.
This compass can be attached to your BCD through a 25-inch stainless steel snap hook or a split ring. Its vertical interior and luminescent dial allow you to easily read the markings even in the darkest of settings.
To make reading even easier, the SuperTilt comes with headings marked every 30° in 5° increments.
The strong magnets it comes with ensures near-perfect accuracy, tilt, and response. The ratcheted bezel allows you to rotate the compass with or without gloves with ease. So, even if you decide not to attach it to your BCD, you don’t have to worry about it being too slippery to handle while underwater.
- Easy to read in low light
- Has a wide variety of viewing angles
- Twin heading indicators allows for easier reading
- Can be removed using a quick release buckle
- Retractable cord is quite bulky and adds a bit of weight to the device
3. Suunto SK8 Scuba Diving Compass – Best Retractor Mount Compass
Suunto is a notable name in the scuba-diving community, primarily due to the company’s high-quality diving gear and equipment. The SK8 is one of their most popular compasses to date, delivering unmatched stabilization and underwater readability.
This high-quality, liquid-filled compass has a tilt potential of +/-30°, making it two to three times better than standard diving compasses.
Furthermore, Suunto designed the SK8 with a firm-grip bezel that prevents dirt and sand contamination. This not only makes the view of your compass extremely clear, but it’ll also allow it to turn smoothly in whatever condition you may encounter.
Another great thing about this compass is its calibration card, which can be used in both Northern and much of the world’s Southern Hemisphere. From California’s Monterey Bay to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, this compass has you covered!
- Can be used in sub-zero temperatures
- The large side-reading window makes it easy to use and read
- The extra-long wrist strap allows you to wear it comfortably over thick wet and drysuits.
- High tilt tolerance allows a more accurate reading
- Not the most attractive
- Can be expensive to some
4. DGX Tech Compass – Easiest to Read
DGX Tech proves that you don’t have to spend a small fortune to buy a hardy, fully accurate diving compass.
Designed with extra-large figures, along with top and side reading options, this unit is increasingly easy to read. With this compass, you won’t have to constantly correct your wrist just to understand which way it’s pointing.
When it comes to accuracy, its powerful magnets and 360° ratcheted rotating bezel is top of the line. The needle card moves smoothly even in turbulent waters so you can get a reading whenever needed.
The bungees attached to the DGX Tech are easy to adjust and remove. You can wear it anywhere you find comfortable; on your wrists, arms, and even your thighs.
- Reasonably priced
- Comfortable, snug fit
- Sharp, big numbers for easy readings
- Highly luminescent face that’ll guide the way in even the darkest of trenches.
- Works well in extremely deep, dark waters due to its high tilt tolerance
- Azimuth dial needs a bit of resistance as the needle turns at the slightest bump
- Sight glass may be too big for some users
5. Cressi Underwater Compass for Scuba Diving – Best Modular Compass
The Cressi Compass’s modular design is what separates it from the other models in this list. It’s a great alternative for those who find wrist or arm compasses a bit restricting, as you can simply attach it to your existing dive computer or console.
Other than its great accuracy and tilt range, this compass is equipped with a bright red lubber line to prevent any confusion while navigating underwater. The ratcheted bezel has a double pointer to further aid your way North. It’s fairly luminescent, as well, which is a great plus!
- Made with scratch resistance polycarbonate, making it highly durable
- Quick calibration even if it isn’t perfectly level
- Great value for the price
- Numbers are a little small, making it harder to read at times
Features and Factors to Consider When Buying a Dive Compass
There are a handful of things to consider before getting yourself an underwater compass. Remember: along with your standard gear, your diving compass will be your best friend while submerged, so it’s imperative to choose a device that best suits your needs.
Analog vs. Digital
When shopping for diving equipment, you’re likely to come across analog and digital compasses. Analog compasses are mostly preferred by professionals because they’re easy to take care of and repair.
They also don’t require batteries to operate. Because of their simple design, they tend to last much longer than digital compasses.
When it comes to accuracy, analog compasses are a bit of a mixed bag. High-quality models with a tilt potential of +/-30° show the most accurate readings. “Cheaper” models with less tend to get their needles stuck or stop functioning entirely when submerged underwater.
Digital compasses, on the other hand, often come with a ton of other features such as a thermometer, barometer, and even a stopwatch. They’d sometimes show the time, too. Although they cost a lot more than analog models, they’re more accurate and easier to read.
However, because these units either need to be charged or require an external battery to operate, they’re not the most reliable.
Where would you like to mount your compass? Would you rather it be wrapped around your wrist like a watch, or attached to your pressure hose? Or perhaps you’d want with a retractable cord, out of the way, only pulling it out when you need it?
Your choice entirely depends on personal preference and comfort. The most common attachment options are as follows:
- Wrist clip – allows you to check your compass without having to fiddle with the gauge connected to your BCD.
- Retractable clip – connects directly to your BCD with a plastic or metal clip with a retractable cord.
- Hose clip – secures to your high-pressure hose.
- Module – comes without a clip and gives you the freedom to add a module of your choice.
What’s the point of having a compass if you can’t read it? Before buying a device, make sure that the markings are large and bright enough to read. Search for a compass that has a bezel with headings in 30-degree numbered increments and indicator marks every 5-degrees, as it’s much easier to understand than the alternative.
Ideally, the markings should be in big, bold fonts; bigger than what you’re used to in standard land compasses.
Furthermore, the key points of the compass should be marked with self-luminous or phosphorescent materials in case you’re diving at night or in low light conditions.
Many dive compasses come in only one size. However, you’ll find the occasional few that are a bit larger or smaller than the standard. Generally, the bigger the compass, the bigger the numbers and markings are.
You shouldn’t ever squint when looking at your compass, so don’t hesitate to choose a larger one when necessary.
It’s important to note, however, that larger compasses tend to be slightly heavier. So, for instance, if you have small wrists, it might be a bit of a distraction while exploring. In such a case, you can either buy a compass with a retractable attachment instead or search for a standard-sized compass with bigger indicators.
Tilt tolerance refers to how far the compass can tilt before the needle gets stuck in the zero-degree plane. When you exceed a compass’s tilt tolerance, it’ll stop working properly and its accuracy drops. Therefore, the higher the tilt tolerance, the better.
Dive Compass Location
Before you buy a compass, make sure the product is calibrated in the hemisphere you’re planning to dive in.
Some compasses are only calibrated in the Northern hemisphere, while others are both Northern and Southern. If your compass isn’t calibrated in the desired location, it won’t give you an accurate read.
Is it illegal to dive without a compass?
No, diving compasses are an optional piece of equipment. If you’re merely a recreational diver, you can forgo this item entirely. However, if you’re planning to dive with a buddy in deep waters, it’s considered to be invaluable and extremely important.
Even if you’re a confident, experienced diver, there’s no telling when accidents happen. The panic and stress you might feel when you find yourself in the middle of nowhere can be avoided if you’re carrying a compass. Better safe than sorry!
How do you read a compass when scuba diving?
Reading a compass underwater is fairly easy. First, hold the compass directly in front of you. Make sure to point the lumber line vertically towards the center of your body. The compass should lie perfectly flat.
Once you get your starting position right, point the lubber line towards the target and swim towards it. While doing so, periodically wiggle the compass to make sure it isn’t acting up. When taking a heading, rotate the bezel until the hatch marks point north. Then, while swimming straight, follow the arrow.
Be patient, go slow, and don’t panic. Your attention shouldn’t always be focused on the compass. Look for natural “landmarks” like reef corals, and the like. If you have a diving buddy, communicate with them so you can find your way back much quicker.
How do you fix a stuck needle inside a dive compass?
The easiest way to fix a stuck compass is to give it a few hard taps using the palm of your hand. Doing so will allow the needle to dislodge and right itself back.
If that doesn’t work, submerge your compass in hot, but not boiling, water. After a few minutes, take it out from the heat and leave it out to cool. Then, tap the compass once again. This should loosen up the components and unstuck the needle.
Most dive compasses come with a manufacturer warranty. If everything else fails, you can send it in for a free replacement.
How do you remove air bubbles from a compass?
Bubbles form when a compass is exposed to extreme cold. Although they don’t affect the overall accuracy of the compass, you’ll find it difficult to read what’s written in the glass. Instead of throwing it away, there’s a relatively easy way to remove the bubbles yourself.
First, drill two small holes in the side of the compass. Then, remove the fluid inside using a small syringe. Once all the liquid is removed, replace it with a few drops of oil with the same syringe. The second hole will prevent bubbles from forming while you’re filling it up.
You can then fill the holes with adhesive to seal them shut.
When we get lost at sea, diving compasses are among the best things to rely on. They not only help to navigate your boat, but they’ll also give you a sense of peace and safety while exploring the vast, undiscovered seas.
All of the listed compasses above are some of the best you’ll find in the market. My personal pick is the Oceanic Wrist Mount Compass because it has a clear display that shines brightly underneath the dark ocean depths and a high tilt tolerance. The fact that it’s a wrist-mount is a huge plus for me!