Communication is key for safe scuba diving. But with the second stage of a regulator in your mouth, it's hard to clearly convey a message to your buddy. That's where scuba diving hand signals come in. While divers around the world may have their own take on many signals, here are some of the most common ways to communicate underwater. Check out the video above or the GIFs below.
When you're on the surface, it's important to clearly let people on the boat know that you've made it in the water safely. Take a closed fist and bring it to your head to make an O shape.
One of the first signals you learn is also one of the most important. It's the best way to let your buddy know that everything is all right and to check if he or she is OK as well. While most landlubbers are used to giving the thumbs up to communicate this sort of thing, it's important to use the OK sign because a thumb pointed upward means that you need to ascend.
This signal is pretty much self explanatory. Use it to keep your buddy by your side in case you need to take care of something or you need a minute to adjust navigation or turn the dive (see the signal for this below).
It's important to make a clear dive plan and stick to it. This includes a target depth. If your buddy or someone in your group starts to sink deeper than planned, let them know not to descend any further by taking your flat hand and moving it back and forth at the same level.
Look at Me
To get your buddy's undivided attention, clearly point to your eyes and then to yourself. It helps to have some sort of signaling device like a tank banger to get them looking your way in the first place.
Once you're ready to end the dive for whatever reason, let your buddy know that you're ready to ascend safely by pointing up with your thumb. This does not mean thumbs up or OK. If you need to end the dive because of a certain issue or you're low on air, make sure you signal that first.
This signal often comes at the surface once you've safely entered the water and are ready to descend, but it can be used any time you need to let your buddy know that you are OK to safely go deeper.
Take a Three-Minute Safety Stop
It's important to clearly let your buddy know how long you would like to take a safety stop so you stay together at the safety stop and on the surface. Indicate this by pointing a finger toward the lowered palm of your hand for each minute of the safety stop.
Let your buddy know that you'll take the lead by pointing at yourself first with that finger leading the way. Point at your buddy first with that finger leading if you'd like him or her to take the lead.
If you have a problem at the surface, simply shaking your hand will not be clear enough for the people on board. If you're on the boat, be sure you know how to identify a panicked diver (they often have their masks on their foreheads).
It's critical to let your buddy know if you're having a problem of any kind, as they're usually able to help. Shake your hand back and forth to let other divers know something is wrong.
Make an X out of your arms with closed fists to indicate that there's danger nearby. If it's in a certain direction, you can point that way with a closed fist.
Turn the Dive
Once you're ready to turn around and head back toward shore or the boat, take your finger and swirl it around in a circular motion.
If you or your buddy is out of air or anyone is having trouble with their air source, indicate that you need to share air or use their alternate air supply by taking a flat hand and motioning back and forth between your mouths.
Low on Air
If you're low on air and need to end the dive, let your buddy know by taking a clenched fist and drawing it toward your chest.
Out of Air
But if things get even worse and you're out of air, immediately make a slashing motion across your neck and take action to share air or make an emergency ascent.
How Much Air Do You Have?
Keep tabs on divers in your group by taking two fingers and drawing them to a flat hand. This helps you know when to turn the dive or head to a different area before someone unexpectedly gets low on air. It also reminds members of the group to check their own air before they have an out-of-air emergency.
I Have 1,500 PSI Remaining (Option 1)
Different divers often have different ways of communicating this, and most divemasters or guides will clearly spell out how they prefer you let them know. One option is to take a digit for every 1,000 PSI remains and drawing it to your flat hand, then holding up a finger for every 100 PSI is left. See 1,500 above.
I Have 1,500 PSI Remaining (Option 2)
Another option is to hold a digit upward for each 1,000 remaining and then a digit for each 100 remaining. See 1,500 above.
Diving is no fun if you have the chills or are simply too cold, and a lack of proper exposure protection can increase your chances of DCS. Let your buddy know you're cold by signaling problem and rubbing your hands on your arms.
It's happened to almost every diver. For whatever reason, you can't clear your ears. This often means you need to ascend a little bit and try clearing again. Let your buddy know what's going on by signaling problem and clearly pointing to your ear.
Feeling symptoms of nitrogen narcosis is no reason to panic, but it helps to let your buddy know what's going on so they can keep an eye on you and help keep you safe.
You see so many more cool critters when everyone in the group keeps a sharp eye on the reef and communicates with the rest of the group. Here are a few common signs.