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Scuba Diving Hand Signals

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Good communication with your dive buddy is important, not just in an emergency, but also to monitor each other’s progress, share underwater experiences, and agree when to end the dive. The most effective method of communication is to use hand signals.

Using hand signals

Verbal communication is not an option underwater unless you are wearing a full-face mask, but most messages can be conveyed using a combination of hand signals and drawings on a slate. Using hand signals will allow you to exchange information with your dive buddy and even ask each other questions underwater. They can also be reassuring. Signal to your buddy regularly during a dive, as this will ensure that you remain in close contact and can easily notify each other of any problems that may develop. Repeat any sign that is not clear to your buddy, and acknowledge every signal that he or she makes with an “OK” to show you understand. If your buddy is slow to respond to a signal, check that they are OK. If you are diving at depth, sluggish responses may indicate the onset of nitrogen narcosis, which impairs reaction times and mental acuity. Signals are not just limited to showing each other how much air you have left or highlighting problems. They can also be used to inform your buddy of interesting things you have seen, or to alert them to something you are both looking for, such as a particular marine organism. There are numerous signals for marine animals, and you can develop your own within your buddy pair. A common example is the use of a straight, upright hand (representing a fin) on top of your head, meaning “I’ve seen a shark.” Signals for animals like turtles and rays can be readily improvised.

watchme

To make it clear that a signal refers specifically to yourself—for example, “watch me”—point to yourself first.

Common hand signals

There are a number of standard hand signals that are essential to all divers, and you can also improvise new signals with friends. Always review signals at the start
of a dive, especially if you are diving with a new buddy. Give signals to your buddy slowly and clearly, to ensure that they are understood. Use combinations of signals
to convey messages more precisely (for example, something is wrong/I can’t clear my ears). Below are some of the most important and common diving signals.

ok

OK/Are you OK?
Form an O with thumb and index finger. Point the other fingers up.

somthing is wrong

Something is wrong
Tilt the flat of your hand from side to side, palm down.

ascend

Up/Let’s ascend
Point thumb straight upward with fingers clenched in a fist.

descend

Down/Let’s go down
Point thumb downward with fingers clenched in a fist.

1500psi

1,500 psi (100 bar) left
Form T-shape with hands to indicate 1,500 psi remaining.

750psi

750 psi (50 bar) left
Make a fist, with palm outward, to indicate 750 psi remaining.

outofair

I am out of air
Make a horizontal chopping motion across base of neck.

stop

Stop
Present flat of hand, palm outward, to halt buddy or other divers.

slow down

Slow down
Move palms slowly downward together (pivoting at elbows).

stay together

Stay/Move together
Move index fingers together, until touching side by side.

same depth

Stay at this depth
Hold both hands horizontally and move one over the other.

watch

Watch/Look
Point at your eyes, then at subject of interest, or self, or another diver.

I am cold

I am cold
Hug yourself with both arms crossed to indicate chill.

cant clear ears

I can’t clear my ears
Point at ear to indicate you are having difficulty equalizing.

breathless breathless2

Feeling breathless
If you are feeling out of breath and need to rest for a moment, you should use the flat of your hand to mimic your chest rising and falling.


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Comments

  • Scuba Diving Place said:

    Scuba Diving Hand Signals are very important because we can not talk during underwater, we can see and listen while we are diving. The communication medium underwater is water, sound also is not accurate and sometimes we do not the direction from the sound come. The best is hand signals way of communication, but you must remember alert and always know where is your buddy, do not too far from your buddy and keep your eye alert. From the first level, the hand signal will be thought until refresh and refresh every time to dive. So, keep in your mind the important hand signals while scuba diving.

  • ScubaSource said:

    This is an awesome guide for hand signals! Having pictures really helps. There are some on here that I didn’t know

  • Karin said:

    Its good that there’s a blog that informs you about information like these since not most of all those leisure divers tend not to be informed well about important stuff like the one’s elaborated in this blog. Kudos also for the extra effort for the pictures :)

  • marion said:

    for a novice you should be able to understand the different diving signals its for your own safety :) and always follow the command of you dive master :) try diving here in the Philippines its one of the best in the world have a nice diving 😀

  • Alex said:

    Thanks a lot. Very simple and useful. I’m sure you could add simple motion movement. Always good to remember those signs. Specially for me who is not diving often.

  • Josh Lunzaga said:

    Wow, I’m really loving your posts. It is indeed helpful to me.. Now I know what hand signals to use when I start diving. :)

  • Vanessa De Vore said:

    Where is the “let’s buddy breathe” hand signal?

  • Serter said:

    “how much pressure you have” could be also useful if shown

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