Common Scuba Diving Hand Signals : A Comprehensive Guide

Common Scuba Diving Hand Signals

Diving into the underwater world can be an exhilarating experience, offering a unique perspective of life beneath the waves. However, the underwater environment also presents challenges, particularly when it comes to communication. This is where scuba diving hand signals come into play, serving as a crucial tool for divers to express their intentions, feelings, and alert others about potential dangers.

Scuba diving is a group activity, often involving a dive buddy and a dive master. Maintaining open communication with your dive team is essential for safety and enjoyment. This article provides an in-depth guide to understanding and using common scuba diving hand signals.

Basic Direction Hand Signals Used for Scuba Dive

Basic Direction Hand Signals Used for Scuba Dive

Speaking of the obvious, you cannot talk underwater with your fellow divers. But there is an amazing way to communicate – this is through hand signals where directions can be delivered. You can also tell how you’re feeling during the dive. Most especially, hand signals can allow you convey emergency situations to your diving mates.

If you are in a hurry and just need a Scuba diving chart, here you go!

Hand SignalMeaning
Thumbs UpAscending/Going Up
Thumbs DownDescending/Going Down
Flat Palm Forward, Hand Bent UpSafety Stop (Standard)
Clenched Fist Raised to Ear HeightSafety Stop (Alternative)
Index Finger Making Small CirclesTurning Around
Flat, Open Palm PointingIndicating a Direction
Index and Middle Fingers Pointing to Own Eyes“Look at Me”
Index Finger Pointing at Self or Designated LeaderIndicating Who Will Lead
Circle Formed with Thumb and Index Finger, Other Three Fingers Extended Upward“I’m Okay”
Open Hand with Palm Faced Down, Tilted Side to Side“Something’s Wrong”
Crossed Arms Grasping the Opposite Upper Arm, Shivering and Rubbing Arms Up and Down“I’m Cold”
Waving Hands with Raised Fingers Together and Palms OpenCall for Help (Emergency)
Open Palms, Hand Lifted Flat Facing Upwards Along with Upper Arms, Shoulders Shrugged“I Don’t Know” (Emergency)
Pointing Closed Fists in a Certain DirectionDanger Nearby (Emergency)

Let’s talk about basic hand signals used to ask and tell directions. Take a look at the following below:

Ascending/Going up

You can signal that you are going up by giving your diving buddies a thumbs up. You can do this by raising your thumb and jerking it upwards so the divemaster can be sure which direction you wish to take.

If you want to go in an upward direction for a particular reason or you need one of the diving members to go up with you, you can send a thumbs up hand signal that can be combined with other relevant hand signals. Remember that a thumb-up on land indicating you are okay or you like something does not mean the same thing when you are underwater.

Descending/Going down

Signalling a thumbs down does not mean you are against something as it is on land. During a dive, giving your dive buddies this hand signal means that you want to descend or go down at a particular depth. You can do this by simply gesturing your thumb towards the ocean floor so they will know which way you want to take.

You can also do this diving hand signal paired with other significant signals if you want your dive party to follow or come with you. But of course you should stay within the planned maximum depth of the dive.

Hand gesture to signal a three minute safety stop

If you want to do a safety stop and want your crew to know this, you can signal a halt using two types of “stop” hand signal. The first signal, which is known to be the standard one, is similar to what we use on land. To tell your dive team you want to do a safety stop, extend your arm towards your front. Then, bend your hand up exposing your flat palm to halt your diving mate.

The second signal that you can use to indicate you want a safety stop is the traditional stop used by military or other enforcement officials. You can do this by clenching with closed fist and raising it at ear height. Just be sure that you and your dive mate decide ahead where to do a safety stop to avoid confusing other team members.

Making a turn around scuba hand signal

making a turn around scuba hand signal

The turn around signal we use on land is actually the same that is used underwater. Isn’t this a relief? Of course it is! It will be way easier to remember should you wish to signal for a turnaround. Simply raise your index finger leading a signal of small circles in circular motion.

Do this while you are continuously pointing upward. You can also combine this hand signal with other instructions such as to swim to another direction.

Signal used when pointing a direction

Directions underwater are usually indicated with full hand gestures. This is to avoid confusion with the “look” here gesture. For example, if you want a specific diver to look at something, you simply use an index finger. But if you want your team members to go to a particular direction, your gesture should make use of your flat, open palm. A palm side-ways facing can also mean another thing.

Now that we’ve finished “direction” signals underwater, let’s move forward to hand signals that indicate how you feel or if there is eminent danger lurking ahead.

“Look at me” scuba diving hand signals

There will always be an equivalent communication tool underwater you want your diving buddy to pay attention and look at you. Do this by pointing your index and middle fingers to your own eyes. Then point it where you want your diving buddy to look. This hand signal really works best for two divers.

Hand signs showing who will lead, who will follow

If you want to take the lead during your diving activity, you can use your index finger and pointed at yourself or to a teammate that you wish to lead. After that, point in the direction that you both will go.

A full flat hand is usually used to tell which direction you want to go. A two handed hand signal is an exception to the rule. So if you combine a full flat hand and the index finger pointing to a certain direction, your team will know that you are leading them and they ought to follow.

Scuba diving hand signals indicating feelings or danger

Scuba diving hand signals indicating feelings or danger

So you’re in a dive. You’re feeling great and ready to take depths. You’re also with a team ready to take the challenge. If you are wondering how to do this then read further on. Earlier we learned that a thumbs up does not indicate “I’m okay” underwater.

How to tell a dive buddy you’re okay with an OK sign

To tell your fellow divers you are alright, form a circle using your thumb and index finger. Then, let the remaining three raised fingers be in an extended upward position. But you don’t need to do this if you’re wearing diving gloves. Just use two fingers and make a circle using your thumb and index fingers would suffice.

However, the ok sign to communicate underwater telling people you’re doing just fine is only good when other divers are in close range. However, when you want to inform fellow divers that are from afar, this signal may not be seen clearly. So, you can simply join both hands along with the whole arm to form a big “O” indicating that you are conscious and moving.

Scuba diving hand signals telling something’s wrong

So what happens when you’re not that okay and there’s actually something wrong going on? Doing the scuba diving hand signals to communicate underwater may be different from that we use on land. But we have to memorize differences as this can help and save us from danger.

Telling your buddy something is not right can be tricky. The hand signals are similar when signalling “so-so” when on land. When you see this scuba hand signal being used by your diving mate, be alert as this is already an indication something is not going as it should. This can be done by opening your hand with palms faced down and tilting it to and fro. But when that “something” turns out to be a real emergent, then use the appropriate emergency hand signal.

Signaling other divers to get back with the rest

This scuba hand signal is especially useful for divers of all kinds including recreational divers and student divers. You will have to watch out when your diving buddy calls out with two index fingers extended and three fingers formed into a clenched fist and then join both hands together. This scuba hand signal tells that you have to get back as you are already going too far away from the rest of the members which can be risky and can pose threats and emergencies.

Did you know that you can actually hold on to each other underwater? This type of scuba diving hand signals are used when there’s an unpredictable weather or when the scuba master says there’s a strong current or more frequently in an emergency.

Doing emergency scuba diving hand signals

Doing emergency scuba diving hand signals

Emergencies are inevitable especially underwater. This makes it very important for you to understand and memorize different emergency scuba diving hand signals. If you are in an immediate emergency, you can call out for help by making a big arc as you wave your hands with raised fingers together and palms open.

You can indicate this especially when someone fell unconscious or sharks are spotted. If you don’t know what happened, you can simple do a scuba diving hand signal telling “I don’t know” by opening your palms, lifting your hand flat facing upwards along with your upper arms and shrugging your shoulders.

You can also tell your team that there’s danger nearby or in a particular direction you’ve spotted first. You can do this by having pointing closed fists to which direction that area is.

Telling a fellow diver you’re excessively cold

Hypothermia is one of the major causes of fatalities underwater. It can quickly set in thatbis why response should also be done in a very fast and adequate manner. The “I am cold” scuba hand signal is crucial to be used at this point. This will allow the dive master to know what is going on. Through that, your diving buddy will also know that the group needs to quickly ascend.

To signal you are feeling cold, grasp the opposite upper arm after crossing your arms. Shiver while continuously rubbing your arms arm and down. Remember that this scuba hand signals can be both an answer and a question to your fellow diver.

Frequently Asked Questions about common dive signals

Frequently Asked Questions about common dive signals

After learning a lot of scuba diving hand signals, let’s check the following answers to frequently asked questions. Continue reading to find more information especially when you are planning to take a scuba diving certification or simply just for a great and safe scuba diving experience.

What are the common dive signals?

Common dive signals are frequently used hand signals by divers when underwater. This includes basic direction signals, hand signals indicating how a diver is possibly feeling and emergency hand signals to tell the scuba master and the rest of the diving party there is danger nearby or an emergency is happening in a certain direction.

Do you know that you can even tell someone in your team to slow down using hand signals? The gesture is similar to “hold your horses” on land. Give the water in front of you a pet as you would do on the head of a dog. Make sure that your gesture a flat hand with your palm facing down.

An example of a common signal is the “level off at this depth” sign. You can do this by extending the hand away from your body well keeping it flat with your palm facing down. Swipe your hand from side to side well maintaining your palm in a downward position.

What does the slitting throat signal mean in scuba diving?

When you go scuba diving with other people, it is absolutely important to know variety of ways to communicate while underwater. With all the devices you need to carry on your back and the presence of a mask attached to your face and mouth, learning to perform non-verbal communicatjon underwater is is vital to enjoy and to be safe at the same time.

Hand signals for scuba diving should be learned before plunging in the water. These hand signals are taught by technical divers and will really come in handy during an emergency situation that can happen during the activity. It is also essential that proper pre-dive checks be done to determine who knows and do not know scuba hand signals.

A scuba hand signal is a fairly common gesture that you may be familiar with already. This makes learning nonverbal communication when diving easier.

When in a group and everything is going on well, extending the remaining three fingers of your hand and making a loop using your thumb and index finger will tell that you are OK. This is also the first signal that divers learn easily. Remember that this signal is a “demand-response”.

This means that it is also used to ask other divers at the same time it is also used as a positive response unless something wrong is going on among any of you. You can always respond appropriately by going back doing the “Not OK” hand signal used during scuba diving.

If you see your diving mate doing an open flat hand facing downwards and a slowly rotating it going side-by-side as if saying “so-so”, the diver might be telling you that a situation is “not OK”. If you’re the one sending the signal, you can point to the direction where the problem is using your index finger.

This signal calls for immediate attention because serious issues may arise. This is also a common signal for diverse who are experiencing ear equalization problems. You can use the same signal to tell your diving meet about your situation .

Meanwhile, if you see your dive mate moving a flat hand across the throat in a slitting motion, this can mean demand response signal. This is a situation that needs to be addressed right away as this is an “out of air” emergency.

You or anybody in your team who sees somebody signaling “I am out of air” should not take this for granted as this means that the diver’s air has actually been cut off. But don’t worry because this is a rare situation. That is why checking before diving and understanding what a sign means can be very helpful especially when it comes to safety.

I'm out signal scuba

What to do when you see “I’m out if air supply” signal

If your diving buddy suddenly does the “hand across the throat slicing motion”, this means they are telling that they’re “out of air” signal, or the air source has been cut or how much air has already been exhausted. It is an emergency situation that requires your immediate response. Your assistance is needed for your diving buddy to ascend and allow him to take a breath from your alternate regulator until you reach the surface. 

To have a safe and enjoyable diving experience, being prepared is imperative. Checking your equipment and signaling device before each dive is a good practice. Learning the different hand signal to effectively communicate while underwater is also a requirement so that you will know what they mean and how to respond to any situation that might arise. Who knows if at one point you’ll be using the signals? We never know when that situation will occur.

How do you communicate while scuba diving?

Communicating while scuba diving is considered an underwater skill. This is because you cannot talk during a dive and nonverbal communication is imperative. If you are studying to become technical divers, then you will have to practice and memorize different scuba diving hand signals.

It is very important that you communicate with the members of the diving team. This will let you know that everything is under control or if there is an emergency or even if there is an approaching boat that you need to be careful of.

You can tell your dive mates that you have spotted an approaching boat. Do a hand signal by cupping both of your hands. This is the same underwater and on land when you cup under faucet with running water.

Effective communication doesn’t always mean you have to talk. Conveying complex ideas using non-verbal communication through hand signals while scuba diving is actually possible. This can save not only you but also the people you dive with in case an unlikely event happens.

How do you signal air in scuba?

If a divemate started to do a hnd signal that they are running out of air, do not ask any questions. Act immediately as this is a highly emergent situation. A lowered palm and a signal between your mouth and any nearby divers’ mouth can tell the members of your team that you are running out of air.

If all pre-dive checks were carried out correctly then they situation is likely not to happen at all. However, if you are suddenly caught in a situation where you will be needing air as you have you exhausted your supply, you can also use the “slitting your throat” hand signal using a flat hand.

You can use another demand response signal aside from this one, including “give me air now “. This will let your dive party know that they will have to share their air with you while you safely ascend or until the end of the dive.

You can also correct the situation if you ascend a little and descend again. However it is important to let your diving party know what is going on especially when you’re having trouble equalizing. This will let everyone know that you want to ascend but you don’t intend to end the dive yet.

You can indicate that you have trouble equalizing through a hand signal. Raise an extended index finger and point it to your ear. Make sure that you are clearly pointing to your ear as your dive group might misunderstand what you are actually telling them .

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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