Can GPS Be Used to Fly Underwater?

Global Positioning System (GPS) is a technology widely used for precise outdoor navigation, but what about underwater? In this article, we’ll explore the challenges and possibilities of using GPS for underwater navigation and its potential applications.




How Does GPS Work?

GPS relies on signals from a network of satellites orbiting Earth. These satellites transmit signals to GPS receivers on the surface, allowing them to calculate their precise location based on the time it takes for signals to travel from multiple satellites. But what happens when you go underwater?

Challenges of Using GPS Underwater

Using GPS underwater presents several challenges:



  • Signal Attenuation: Water significantly attenuates GPS signals. Even a few centimeters of water can block GPS signals effectively.
  • Reflections and Multipath: Water surfaces can reflect GPS signals, leading to multipath interference, where signals take multiple paths to reach the receiver, causing inaccuracies.
  • GPS Antenna Placement: Placing a GPS antenna underwater can be challenging due to the need for a watertight enclosure and positioning it near the surface.

Possible Solutions

Despite the challenges, researchers are exploring ways to use GPS for underwater applications:

  • Surface GPS and Sonar: Some underwater vehicles use a combination of surface GPS and sonar to estimate their position. They periodically surface to obtain a GPS fix.
  • Augmented GPS: Augmented GPS systems that combine GPS with other technologies like inertial navigation can provide more accurate underwater positioning.
  • Underwater Beacons: Deploying underwater beacons with known positions can help underwater vehicles triangulate their location.

Applications of Underwater GPS

While GPS may have limitations underwater, it still finds use in various underwater applications, including:

  • Subsea Surveys: GPS-assisted underwater vehicles can be used for subsea surveys, mapping the ocean floor, and studying marine ecosystems.
  • Underwater Robotics: Autonomous underwater robots can benefit from GPS-assisted navigation for tasks such as pipeline inspection and underwater archaeology.
  • Submarine Research: Research submarines can use GPS when near the surface or during surfacing for navigation and communication.


While using GPS for precise underwater navigation remains a challenge, advancements in technology and hybrid navigation systems offer promising solutions. GPS-assisted underwater navigation has the potential to revolutionize underwater exploration and research in the future.


Using GPS for underwater navigation is challenging due to signal attenuation and reflections in water. Researchers are exploring solutions like surface GPS, augmented systems, and underwater beacons for underwater applications.