“How’s the vis?” is one of the first questions a diver asks before entering the water at most any scuba diving destination. Vis is diver talk for visibility, or how clear the water is, and how far you can see while diving.
It’s an important question. And valuable information when you’re diving in a quarry that’s also a popular dive site. Sometimes the sediment that lies on the bottom when the water is motionless gets all stirred up, and the water gets cloudy.
Especially on a day when the quarry hosts a big diving event.
I know one diver who took his new underwater scooter on its first excursion. He found the water stirred up, and so cloudy that he couldn’t see the front end of the scooter.
He crashed into the wall soon after starting his dive.
Uncertain visibility conditions are constants at scuba diving destinations these days. To deal with the low vis conditions I started taking compass readings before every descent. I find the north, south, east, and west orientation of the quarry so I have an idea of where I’m going while I’m finning around at depth.
And I set the bezel ring so I can find my way back to my dive entry point when the end of my underwater experience gets near.
That habit helped me out on a number of dives lately. Even when I’m in clear water, and visibility is twenty feet or more setting my compass up before the dive helps me keep my position bearings. With the compass settings I get back to my entry point without surfacing to figure out where I am.
I found my compass a handy tool again recently when I dove France Park in Logansport, Indiana.
A local dive shop had a treasure hunt scheduled. And the quarry hosted a couple of scuba certification classes during the day.
I drove in for the treasure hunt, but got to the quarry for an early dive some three hours before the scheduled event.
That was a good idea vis wise.
After setting up my compass my dive buddy and I started our descent. The first dive visibility was up to fifteen feet for most of the adventure. In some spots it went up to twenty.
My partner told me after the dive that he saw a couple paddlefish while we dove. One even came up beside me and as my buddy tried to get my attention it swam away. I didn’t spot any paddlefish this day.
I did visit with a skeleton driving a school bus though. As I peered at him through the windshield he waved at me. And a large bass hovered in front of the bus, keeping the skeleton company.
Our second dive turned out quite different than the first. My compass was still set up, but we started our dive on a different heading. We headed out along the mining road that runs across the bottom of the quarry. After finning a few minutes we ran into a class of dive students.
Suddenly we couldn’t see anything. And steering by compass became necessary.
We continued on our course. But with more than a hundred divers in the water for the treasure hunt, and the students, visibility came and went through the rest of the dive.
My dive buddy and I followed our navigation plan, and the compass steered us successfully back to the beach at the end of the dive.
I always say there’s no such thing as a bad dive. I know some divers don’t feel that way when they can’t see where they’re going. I even wondered a couple times under poor vis conditions when I got lost, and had to surface to orientate myself.
But since I got into the habit of setting up my compass I have no doubts about my water sport. No matter what visibility conditions I find.
I still find things and places to explore even with limited vision. And my underwater navigation skills are much better with all the practice.
That’s how I enjoy scuba diving when I can’t see where I’m going.