Scuba Diving Hand Signals and Other Safety Tips

Scuba Diving Hand Signals

Today’s guide will go over how you can stay safe while scuba diving. While scuba gear can help you explore the underground world and appreciate sights that few people have ever seen, it can also be a hazardous activity if you don’t take the proper precautions or if you don’t know what you’re doing.

The main focus of today’s article will be scuba diving hand signals, but we’ll also include a section of general safety tips so that you can stay safe while you’re beneath the waves. Before we start taking a detailed look at scuba hand signals, we’re going to go over why divers communicate with them in the first place.

Why Do Scuba Divers Communicate with Hand Signals?

Scuba divers use hand signals so that they can relay important info between each other while they’re underwater. While this may be a little less clear than using your voice, that’s made impossible by the combination of your oxygen tank and the fact that our words don’t travel through water.

If you’re going to communicate with people underwater, you’ll have to restrict yourself to the following signals. Keep in mind that you should always be close enough to your diving buddies for them to see your hand signals, otherwise there may be a break in communication at a critical moment.

Scuba Diving Hand Signals

OK or Affirmative

Keep in mind that not all scuba gestures mean the same thing that they do on land, but the gestures for “okay” is identical to the one you may already know. To let a fellow diver know that you’re okay while you’re underwater, create a circle with your thumb and forefinger and extend the rest of your fingers out.

Some gloves may not allow you to do this, so you may only have to create a circle with your thumb and index finger to convey the same message. If you’re on the surface of the water and the gesture would be too small for your buddies to notice, you can instead extend your arms to create an “O” above your head.

Something’s Wrong

This is one of the most crucial gestures you’ll need to learn so that you can have a safe dive. Being able to let your dive buddies or instructor know that something’s wrong could save you from serious injury or even death, even if you don’t know the signals to elaborate on exactly what the issue is.

To let your companions know that you’re having an issue, flatten your hand and rotate it from side to side, mimicking the universal “so-so” gesture. If you don’t know how to express exactly what’s wrong with other signals, you can always perform this signal and point at the source of your trouble.

Descend

The signal for descent is one of the key differences between hand signals on land and when scuba diving. To let people know that you’re going down, ball your fist and extend your thumb, pointing it downwards. Remember that this gesture doesn’t mean “no” or “something’s wrong.”

To let your diving group know that you’re ready to dive, move your arm down while making the gesture, as it can sometimes be difficult to see your finger in the murk of the water.

Ascend

The gesture for ascending is similar to the gesture for a descent. Ball your fist and extend your thumb upwards this time. This is another gesture that doesn’t mean the same thing as it does above water, so make sure that you don’t conflate this gesture with the one for “OK” or “affirmative.”

Much like when you’re descending, you’ll always want to move your arm and hand in the direction that you intend to go so that there’s no confusion over whether you’re going up or down.

Hold or Wait

There are a couple of gestures that you can use to instruct your dive group to wait on you. One of the more common ones for recreational drivers is holding the arm up with your fingers extended and your palm up, similar to the gesture for “stop” when you’re above the water.

Professional divers tend to use a different gesture to let their group know to wait, commonly known as the “hold” gesture. This is similar to the gesture used by soldiers when they want the rest of their squad to stop: ball your fist with your thumb on the outside and hold your arm up.

These gestures can be used to let your group know that you’re stopping, but they can also be used as a demand-response gesture, where other divers will have to mirror you to let you know that they agree.

Slow Down

There are a few reasons why you may want to let your team know that they should slow down or stop. You may have an issue that requires further investigation, and you may not be able to do so while swimming. On the other hand, you may just be getting tired and want to take a break for a bit.

Instructors will typically use this gesture when in a mixed group of trained and novice divers. This gesture can be made with one hand or with both hands. Hold your hands flat, fingers out and palms down, and push your hands down to let the group know that you want them to slow down.

Come Here

This is another gesture that’s similar to the one that you would use above water to get someone to come to you. Extend your fingers and hold your hand with the palm facing up before moving it towards and away from you, as if you’re fanning yourself. Most people should understand this gesture intuitively.

The “come here” gesture can be used to get another diver near you so that you can communicate more easily. You can also use it to get another diver to inspect your gear to ensure that you’re not dealing with a leak or another potentially dangerous equipment malfunction that could cut the dive short.

Leak

Speaking of which, how do you let someone know that you have a critical issue like an oxygen leak? This is one of the most crucial hand signals, as it will allow you to specify exactly what’s wrong instead of letting your dive instructor know that you have a problem and expecting them to puzzle it out.

Extend your hand with the palm facing up and cup your hand. Press your fingertips together, and then hold them apart repeatedly to let other divers know that you think you have an air leak. This gesture is not to be taken lightly, so get another diver to ensure that the issue is an actual leak.

Out of Air

This is another key emergency signal that all divers should know so that they can get out of the water as soon as possible when they’re experiencing issues. If you haven’t checked your air gauge in a while and you suddenly notice that you’re out of air, perform this gesture immediately so that you can ascend as quickly as safely possible.

The “out of air” signal is similar to the one that you may already know from above water. Extend your fingers and hold your hand palm down, holding it near your neck. Run your hand across your neck in a slicing motion to let the other divers know that you have no more air.

Decompression

While most amateur divers won’t reach depths where they have to worry about decompression sickness, you may accidentally go deeper on your dive, and this signal is crucial to know. The decompression signal is used to let your fellow divers know that they need to perform a decompression stop.

To inform your group that a decompression stop is required, perform the “telephone” gesture, where you ball your fist and extend your thumb and pinky in opposite directions.

Go This Way

This is typically a gesture that is used by dive leaders and instructors so that their team can have a better idea of the direction they’re moving in. However, group members can also use this gesture if they’re exploring an area, and the instructor allows them to take the reins for a minute.

To let your fellow divers know which way you want to go, flatten your hand with your palm facing out horizontally. Keep your fingers together and extend your arm in the direction that you want to move, using your hand like an arrow to point the way.

Safety Stop

The safety stop hand signal is used similarly to the decompression hand signal so that you can let other divers know that they need to stop for a few minutes to avoid decompression sickness. This is typically observed when your group has dived below 100 feet, where decompression can cause some nasty effects on the final ascent.

When you see someone (typically the instructor or diver leader) perform the safety stop gesture, you can expect to stop at your current depth for a few minutes. To perform this gesture, hold your thumb and pinky together while extending the fingers on one hand pointing up and hold your other hand above them, flat and palm-down.

Stick Together

If the scuba instructor notices that the members of the group are drifting apart from each other, you may see this gesture, so it’s smart to know it. Ensuring that a group remains together increases the likelihood of a safe dive, especially if you’re in a group of inexperienced scuba divers.

This gesture can either let a diver know to stick with the rest of the group or that they should remain close to their designated diving buddy. To perform this gesture, ball your two hands into fists in front of you, extending your forefingers and holding said fingers next to each other.

Level Off

You’ll often see this gesture when you’ve reached your planned depth, and it will typically be used by the dive leader or instructor to let you know that. This is why you should always keep an eye on the dive leader on your initial descent, as you risk going too far down if you don’t.

To let the divers around you know that they have to level off, angle your forearm upwards while keeping your hand flat and palm-down with your fingers extended, almost like a “ceiling” gesture.

Scuba Diving Safety Tips

Never Hold Your Breath Underwater

The main thing that will be drilled into you when you’re training for your first dive is that you should never hold your breath while you’re diving. Even though you have a scuba tank to provide you with oxygen, your first instinct when you’re underwater may be to hold your breath, but this can put you in serious danger.

If you hold your breath while you dive deeper, the air in your lungs will expand, and this can cause serious damage to them. Some of the symptoms to watch out for include difficulty breathing and pain in the lungs, with an eventual fall into unconsciousness.

Don’t Ascend From Dives too Fast

For the same reason that you never hold your breath while you’re scuba diving, you’ll also want to ensure that you don’t ascend too fast when your dive is over. Even if you don’t reach decompression sickness depths, this is a good habit to form when you’re just getting started.

If you don’t make a safety stop every 15-20 feet when you’re coming out of the water, you make yourself vulnerable to decompression sickness, also known as the bends.

Don’t Dive Alone

If you’re a beginner scuba diver, you may not even have the opportunity to dive alone, but even experienced scuba divers should never go underwater alone. Having a dive buddy ensures that any emergencies can be dealt with safely when you’re below the waves.

Conclusion

Scuba diving can be a fun and safe activity if you follow all of the necessary precautions and know how to communicate underwater. We hope that this guide has made diving safer and more comfortable for you. Good luck beneath the waves!