Human beings are used to navigating in three dimensions (or four if they want to be on time) on land. It’s an environment with which we’re familiar. But even in our own native environment, we get lost astoundingly often. That’s one of the main reasons we first invented compasses – to give us at least a fighting chance of getting where we needed to be.
It’s a whole other world underwater. Vision doesn’t work the same way, doesn’t go as far, because water is fundamentally thicker than air. Also, light sometimes gives up the ghost before it can reach you and give you a helping hand.
Underwater, you very often need extra senses to help you navigate. Especially when even up and down are questionable concepts. That’s why we invented underwater compasses.
Using a dive compass can get you where you need to be, and also give you purpose. That can also calm any stress you feel about not being from around here, or not knowing which way is up.
It is astonishingly easy to get separated from a dive partner in deeper, murkier waters. A dive compass can bring you back together and make everything all right. It’s an important piece of dive equipment. Let’s take a look at some of the best on the market.
First, let’s be clear. There are dive computers, and then there are dive compasses.
Many dive computers will already have a compass installed. It’s still worth taking an analog dive compass with you in case you get disoriented. Here are ten of the best dive compasses on the market today.
Best Dive Compass For Scuba Diving
OUR TOP PICK
Given we were impressed with the SWIV, it’s probably no surprise that Oceanic scores highly here too.
The Oceanic analog dive compass can be worn like a watch, but brings the same pluses to your diving experience.
Oceanglo is here too, for the seven times seven illuminated magic that takes so much of the stress out of using a dive compass. There’s a great easy display which makes reading off data a breeze. And there’s the same accuracy from the SWIV, so you know you’re not just getting fed underwater nonsense.
Instead, you’re getting solid location, course and navigation data, where you need it, when you need it, and as bright and as long as you need it.
Essentially, the choice of the SWIV or the analog is down to whether you want your location and navigation data on the same hand as your dive computer or the opposite hand. Either way, Oceanic has you covered with two extremely strong entries in the market.
- Oceanglo brings its seven times brighter, seven times longer magic here too
- Still gives accurate, fast, responsive data, whether or not it’s level
Underwater is a challenging visual environment. If you find yourself squinting at tiny numbers in a hurry, there are plenty of options with bigger numbers for you out there.
You might struggle to do better than the Oceanic Side Scan with clip mount though.
North and South? Big.
What’s at least as important is that the accuracy’s pretty big too.
And, in case you’ve forgotten, it’s an Oceanic. That means the Oceanglo card is built in here as well, so brightness? Big. Length of illumination? Big.
Big, big, big. That whole “Size doesn’t matter” argument has its place, absolutely. But if you need the size bump to get good information underwater, never be afraid to stop squinting in the gathering underwater dark.
Go big. Go bright. Go make your diving life a lot easier.
Unless you’re getting paid as a professional diver, it’s supposed to be fun. So get the equipment that helps you find that fun again.
Increased size of markings for easy reading
Oceanglo for brighter, longer visibility
Great accurate information in a hurry
Good tilt tolerance
There are times when you need all the tech in the world strapped to your wrist.
And then there are times when the best gift to a scuba diver is simplicity.
Simple design. Easy to read compass. Job done, let’s have some fun.
Those are the days when you should grab your XS Scuba Compass Module. It has a frill-free, fuss-allergic look and feel, but it gives you a luminescent face, easy-read numbers, and a joyously visible red lubber line.
Simple. Let the joy of diving begin.
The bezel’s on the large side for a small unit, but that just helps with the simplicity of the piece – a larger bezel makes for easier reading. Also, continuing the simple theme, there’s a side window so you can know which direction you’re heading in, without necessarily having to check the face.
Simple, simple, simple. But effective.
Simple operation with a large bezel
Handy side window
OUR TOP PICK
Size isn’t everything.
Yes, the XS Scuba Retractable Supertilt is among the smaller of the scuba compasses. It’s also been engineered to be easy to read underwater.
A combination of a large vertical interior and a luminescent dial make it more readable than most dive compasses on the market. For added ease of reading, it has headings at every 30°, and is marked off in 5° increments.
You can attach this compass to your BCD with a split ring or snap hook. It has a stainless steel retractor cord, so you’re unlikely to lose it on your dive. Whenever you release the tension, the cord will snap back into place. But should it be necessary, it can be removed fully by undoing a quick release buckle.
If you’re sick of unreadable dive compasses, or if your current compass has stopped giving you accurate readings, the XS Scuba Retractable Supertilt is a great choice to take down with you.
- The retractor cord which gives the compass its name
- Ease of reading, even in limited visibility
- Quick-release buckle, should you need to use it
- Comes with a full warranty
Just as there are watches you buy in a mall, and watches that are correct to within split seconds, the same is true of compasses.
The Phantom Aquatics Scuba Wrist Compass is probably never going to win any pinpoint accuracy awards. But sometimes, you don’t need pinpoint accuracy. Sometimes you need ‘good-enough’ accuracy, at a price you can afford.
That’s where the Phantom wrist compass comes into its own. It’s a good enough option that’s affordable to new or occasional recreational divers.
The 360-degree bezel and the face both have large numbers on them in 30-degree increments. They also have cardinal directions on them in bold, for ease and speed of reading.
That means people who may be unfamiliar with the underwater environment have a quick, easy way of getting to grips with roughly where they are, and roughly where they want to be.
That’s quite good enough to make it a great tool for a particular type of diver.
The Phantom comes with a rubber strap so it can be worn easily on the arm. Alternatively, you can attach it to any regular HP hose. It’s an oil-filled compass that will take you down to 260 feet and still remain accurate.
As we said, it’s not by any means the best dive compass in the world. But it’s good enough for a lot of people when they’re starting out, or if they only dive occasionally. And it’s not going to cost you anything like what you’d pay for greater accuracy.
There’s always a legitimate market for equipment that’s good enough at the right price. That’s the market the Phantom Aquatics wrist compass is aimed at – and it does its job well enough to keep making new fans.
- You can mount it in a couple of ways, depending on your preference
- Oil-filled, so you can still use it accurately at depths over 250 feet
- You can read it off from a side window
If you’re a diver who’s been round the reef a few times, you’ll likely already have a dive computer. Adding a compass module onto that can be confusing. If you’re already an Aqua Lung fan though, try this module, as it fits any of their consoles.
Readability is key in the Aqua Lung Compass Module. The numbers are large and clear and help you get your position in a hurry. Numbers are marked on the face and the bezel every 30 degrees, with marks at every 10-degree increment.
Especially useful though is the fact that several positions - 10°, 20°, 30°, and 130° - are marked in fluorescent ink, giving you an immediate head-start on your position and direction.
The inner face of the module is luminescent too. That means it doesn’t matter if the light conditions are low or dubious, you should still be able to get a reading off this compass module.
As such, attaching it to your Aqua Lung dive computer, or using it as a spare compass by itself, are both great options if you’re an Aqua Lung devotee.
- Luminescence and fluorescence make it easy to read in low light
- Fits onto any Aqua Lung dive computer, and can also be used separately as a confirmation compass
- Price – this is available at a price point that encourages you to pick it up, even as a spare compass
Best Value Compass
Cressi has a strong reputation for making diving compasses, and the Mini SPG encapsulates a lot of the reasons behind that reputation.
You can get the Mini SPG in two versions – as a module for your console, and as a compass you can attach to an HP hose or wrist strap. That allows you to choose the way that most suits you and your diving style. It also allows you to get two or more of the Mini SPG units and use them both ways if you like.
One of the most impressive things in this unit is its powerful magnetic power card. That will give you both great accuracy and a reasonable tilt range, so it’s relatively hassle-free.
It also scores highly in terms of ease of reading, with a luminous face and a bright red lubber line. That means you can always find your course in a hurry. A double-pointer on a ratcheted bezel in this unit means you can also always find North.
All this plus a price point that makes it outstanding value for money means the Cressi Mini SPG earns its place on our list.
- Can be mounted on a module, on a wrist or on an HP hose, giving multiple options
- High accuracy
- Easy to read, with both course and North especially straightforward
- A lot of dive compass for relatively little money
Yes, absolutely, we’re taking a space on this list for the best illumination in a dive compass.
It’s important to realise how vital that can be at depth. You can have the best dive compass in the world, but if you can’t see it clearly, it’s a chunky piece of ocean junk.
So the Oceanic SWIV Module makes it onto our list by virtue of the Oceanglo luminescent floating card.
What’s so special about the Oceanglo luminescent floating card?
Imagine you’re driving alone on an unfamiliar road in the dead of night. No street lighting, no stars. If you turn on your lights, suddenly you have a pathway to follow and an understanding of where to go next.
That’s the effect of the Oceanglo card.
We’re talking about an impressive extra brightness compared to what you might be used to using. And, which is equally important, it holds that brightness for longer. That means you’re not underwater worrying about when the illumination’s going to blip out of existence. Not worrying about whether you read the module right.
The Oceanglo card means you can take the time you need to be sure of your position. It glows seven times brighter, for seven times as long as most cards on the market.
You can feel the stress of course-finding lifting off your shoulders right now, can’t you?
In terms of the accuracy of the information you get when you get it, Oceanic is pretty much on the money. It uses its own proprietary technology and development to give you fast and accurate readings. You also have a choice here between top and side readings – a strong red lubber line helps you keep track of what’s what and who’s where.
You thought we were crazy at first, didn’t you? Recommending a compass based on the illumination it gave?
Still think so now?
Trust us – if you’re diving deep or into murky marine environments, that Oceanglo brightness will make your diving day a whole lot better.
Oceanglo card, giving longer, brighter illumination
Accurate position and course data at an impressive speed
Best High-End Compass
It takes quite a lot to impress seasoned divers.
The Suunto SK8 will do it.
For a start, it’s a very friendly unit. You can add it onto several consoles, including Vyper, Zoop, Cobra and Gekko. That’s a versatility that speaks to a wider market of experienced divers.
The flexibility of its add-on ability means they’re probably not going to have to get a new console just to house it.
Now let’s talk tilt tolerance. Tilt tolerance, if it’s not that great, can seriously compromise the accuracy of the data you’re getting. When you compromise accuracy, you push your dive compass towards the pretty-but-dumb end of the spectrum, however accurate its initial data might be.
The SK8 has one of the best tilt tolerance ratings on the market. You’re looking at +/- 30 degrees. How do you like them underwater apples?
It also brings spectacular stabilization to your underwater game, which means more accurate readings, delivered faster. If you’re a seasoned diver, you know you’re going to appreciate that on your dives.
You’re probably also going to appreciate the bezel, which is firm-grip, and is notched not every ten degrees like some on the market, but every five.
Because Suunto can, that’s why. And also because the more experienced a diver you are, the closer you want to get to precision in your dive compass.
Smooth delivery of accurate data, in big hurry, with market-beating tilt tolerance? Oh yes, please, we’ll take two – one for every day and one for best.
Suunto has delivered a premium experience in this add-on compass. It does everything you want it to. But…better.
Compatible with a variety of consoles
Spectacular tilt tolerance
Stabilization means accurate date, delivered fast
More precision in the bezel-markings
Best for BCD Attachment
Remember all the nice things we said about the Suunto SK8 module?
You’re going to want to remember all those things, because the company has also put out a retractable version you can attach to the BCD.
All the elements that made us want the SK8 module are here, including the tilt performance and a design that shrugs off dust and sand build-up, so it stays as accurate as possible for as long as possible.
If you want to attach a compass to the BCD, go wild and crazy for the SK8 Retractable.
Fantastic tilt performance
Anti-sand design to stay accurate for longer
Best Dive Compass For Scuba Diving - Buyer's Guide
Whether you’re new to diving or have years of experience, an analog compass is your friend down there.
Generally, they’re both more accurate and more reliable than the digital compass in your dive computer. That’s no slight on dive computers, they’re newer and more complex technology. But for accuracy, for backup and for general second level safety, analog’s where it’s at.
But how do you choose the dive compass that’s right for you? There are a handful of things you should consider.
The underwater environment forces you to unlearn some things you’ve been taught.
You were probably taught to keep your compass as flat as possible for an accurate reading, right? Good luck with that in a free-floating multi-dimensional environment.
This is where something called tilt tolerance is important. Check the models you’re considering for their tilt tolerance. That’s exactly what it sounds like – a measure of how much tilt the compass can handle before it starts thinking you’re over the rainbow.
Ideally, buy as high as you can in terms of tilt tolerance. Then hopefully, whatever you get up to on a dive, your angle and position shouldn’t overwhelm the accuracy of your compass.
The best compass in the world is basically a strap-on rock if you can’t read it.
Visibility is vital to the usefulness of your compass. Check the size of the markings and the luminosity. Low light conditions are highly likely to be in your diving future. You want a compass you can read even in those conditions.
The best dive compasses will make it easier for you, with large markings and numbers. Look for big, bold degree indicators in white – that gives you the greatest contrast against standard black backgrounds. Check both the bezel and the interior for the visibility of their markings.
Remember – reading numbers on a photograph online is one thing. Reading them on a real compass in low light underwater environments is something else.
Ideally, buy a compass with numbers and marking bigger than you need them in ordinary air. You’ll reap the benefits in low light water when you dive.
Many dive compasses have luminescent faces. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Go for one of those if you possibly can.
A luminescent face means that it is reflective or lights up, even in low light conditions. They can make all the difference in the world in terms of clarity. In our list, the Oceanglo card used in Oceanic compasses has stolen a march on the market. It has a luminosity that shines seven times as bright, and just as important, stays lit up for seven times as long.
You’ll find the right compass for you based on lots of factors, but in terms of illumination, Oceanglo is so far hard to beat.
Size Is Important
How big do you need your compass to be?
Serious question. There are big models on the market, and there are small. The bigger the model, most of the time, the bigger the numbers and markings, so if you’re struggling to see the information, supersize yourself and make your life better. On the other hand, size usually also equates to weight.
So ask yourself how many extra pounds you’re happy carrying with you underwater for the sake of bigger numbers.
Small wrists? You’re going to feel the weight of a bigger compass like it came from the Cartier store in Hell.
Finally, where do you want to keep your compass while you’re diving? Wrist mounting is one option. Attaching it to your dive computer’s another. But many divers want to clip their compass to an HP hose or their BCD.
If you’re going clip-on, be aware the compass will probably be smaller, for the hydrodynamics of the thing. Usefully, many clip-on compasses are retractable. That way, size is less important, because you can bring the compass right up to your face to focus.
All of these are options. Choose your personal preference and it will lead you to the right dive compass for you.
Location, Location, Location
Hemispheres are fun.
So much fun.
Whichever hemisphere you’re going to be diving in, be sure your compass is calibrated for that hemisphere. The data will be different in each hemisphere, and if you’re not correctly calibrated, you could find yourself somewhere you don’t want to be. In fact, you could find yourself in exactly the opposite of where you want to be.
Told you hemispheres were fun.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a dive compass?
If you’re diving with a divemaster, you can probably hang on to your money.
If you’re diving with just a dive partner, yes, you’re going to need a dive compass.
Why? Because things go wrong. In any system, whenever you think nothing can possibly go wrong…things go wrong. Having a dive compass means when that happens, you don’t freak out.
Knowing where you are underwater takes a whole lot of potential panic out of your diving day. If it’s just you and a buddy, each of you needs a compass.
What is tilt tolerance?
Tilt tolerance is the degree to which you can tilt the compass before it loses its little magnetic mind and gives up the ghost.
The higher the tilt tolerance, the better for everyone. That’s why it’s a factor you should be prepared to pay more money for.
Any compass is only useful while it works. Exceed the tilt tolerance, and it’ll stop working.
So – go high or go home when it comes to tilt tolerance.
Which is best? Analog or digital?
That depends on the world you live in.
If you live in the world where nothing really serious ever goes wrong, dive computers offer a lot of benefits. They’re newer, more sophisticated technology, able to offer you more and more varied data.
If you live in the world where your documents crash, your printer jams and your smartwatch fails to remind you of meetings… take an analog with you.
Your mother would want you to. Take a dive computer too, by all means. But take the analog with you just in case.