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How To Choose A Dive Compass: Our Complete Guide

The beautiful underwater world is a no man’s land. You may find navigating underwater difficult due to poor visibility, veering off course, or being separated from your diving buddy or guide. It can be very easy to get lost underwater. Currents can even sweep you away from your current position!

This is where a dive compass comes in as it helps you orient yourself in the water and find your way back to your previous locations. It’s easy to overlook a diving compass as an essential piece of diving gear but not only is it capable of making your dives more enjoyable, it can save your life.

I like that dive compasses are lightweight and affordable. And there is no reason for you not to invest in a quality dive compass to be part of your regular scuba diving equipment.

Below you’ll find a buying guide to help you choose a diving compass that’s right for you. Here we go.

Why Do You Need A Dive Compass?

A dive compass is an important scuba diving device that provides you with accurate bearing readings which helps you navigate underwater. This can make your dive more enjoyable and even save your life when you veer off course due to getting carried away by the beauty of the underwater world, poor visibility, carried away by currents, and so on.

Analog vs. Digital Compass

Analog compasses are cheaper, more accurate, and never run out of battery compared to digital compasses. Digital dive compasses are rarely made alone and come as extra functions in dive computers.

If you want a dive compass that’s part of something bigger, then you should go for a dive computer with a digital compass. On the other hand, if you want a dedicated compass that can give more accurate bearings, digital compasses rule all day.

What Is A Lubber Line?

There’s a red line marked on dive compasses (all compasses, in general) that points to the direction ahead. This red line is called the lubber line and you can set it by first holding your hand, with the compass, straight out in front of you and then setting it from there.

You can watch some Youtube videos to have a better idea of how to set your compass. The good thing is that once you’ve set your bearing, you can travel towards your target without having to hold your hand out again.

How To Choose Your Diving Compass?

Below are factors to consider when choosing a dive compass:


An ideal dive compass is compact and convenient to wear while also being easy to read underwater. The dive compasses on this list meet these criteria as they are large enough to be conveniently read underwater and will not become a burden in any way throughout your time underwater.


What’s the use of a dive compass you can’t read? This is why you should go for dive compasses that have large markings, high contrast, have a simple design, and are made from luminescent materials.

The benefit of luminescent materials is that they glow underwater and allow you to read the compasses in low-light situations. Note that the luminescent materials need to be charged with light and may not be bright if they are not exposed to enough light. But this isn’t an issue as you can easily shine your dive light on the compass briefly to charge the luminescent materials.


Nobody wants a compass that’d point them in the wrong direction! This is why you should buy compasses with strong magnet systems that are calibrated for your hemisphere. More information about hemisphere calibration below.

Tilt Compensation

Generally, compasses have to be held perfectly straight and level for them to work properly. However, it’s not easy to do this when scuba diving as you are underwater. As a result, dive compasses’ manufacturers implement ’tilt compensation’ in their products, a feature that allows you to tilt the compass towards your face for easy reading without compromising functionality or accuracy.

The tilt angle is a measure of how much you can tilt your compass without compromising functionality and the higher it is, the more you can tilt your compass without reducing accuracy.

Hemisphere Calibration

There’s a switch of the earth’s magnetic field when you go from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere and vice versa. Since the magnet in your compass depends on the earth’s magnetic field to function, a magnet calibrated for the northern hemisphere will not work in the southern hemisphere due to the change in the earth’s magnetic field.

Check the hemisphere calibration of the magnet you are buying to ensure you are choosing one that will work in your hemisphere.

Dive compass manufacturers now produce compasses with a balanced magnet system that can work in both hemispheres and you should go for these models if you can.

Mounting Options

Some dive compasses have straps that allow you to wear them like a watch, some come work a retractable clip that can be attached to your BCD, some have hose clips that can be attached to your high-pressure clips, while others come as a module that can be mounted to gauges, wrist housing, or a retractable unit.

The mounting option you go for is a matter of personal preference.

Side View Window

It’s common to see analog dive compasses having side windows which makes them easier to use. The benefit of the side windows is that it allows you to have a quick snapshot of your current course without the need to level and read the entire compass.


An important feature if you intend to get value for your money. Go for dive compasses with a robust and rugged bezel that can take some abuse. Also, it’s important that the bezel of your compass have a tight seal to keep water and sand out.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to get lost underwater especially when you are exploring caves or shipwrecks. There are other instances, which have been discussed above, that can steer you off course. Getting lost underwater can quickly become a matter of life or death and a dive compass, just like a dive reel, can save your life by helping you get back to your starting position.

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