One of the best things about scuba diving is that once you are underwater then no one can speak to you so you are left with lovely peace and quiet as you plod around trying to find fish. But we still need to be able to communicate with our dive buddies to let them know what is going on during a dive, without the use of speech we use hand signals to communicate.
There are lots and lots of different signals varying from “I am OK” up to “massive shark” and everything in between, if you have a familiar dive buddy then I am sure you’ll even come up with some unique signals that only you 2 will understand.
But I am going to give people looking at taking their PADI open water course a quick head start by informing you of the basics and most important underwater hand signals which you will learn as you become a scuba diver.
A couple of quick tips:
- All signals should be performed slowly as to ensure people don’t become confused or miss it all together.
- Hands should be held out clearly in front of the body so that any signal can easily be seen.
- If you have a tank banger it is worth giving it a little tap so that you have your buddy’s attention before performing the signal.
The OK sign is usually the first signal you will learn and probably (hopefully) the one you will use the most over your scuba diving life. The signal can be a question and an answer, you will find your instructor constantly flashing you the sign to make sure you are fine and comfortable, if you are fine then give them the same signal back.
Simple! Quick Note – Watch out not to give the thumbs up sign as in scuba this doesn’t mean you are OK it means go up and end the dive!
This sign is performed by holding your hand out flat and tilting it side to side in rapid succession to signal that you are not OK or have a problem. Once you have signaled that you have an issue then you should point to your buddy or instructor were the problem is so they can help solve it.
Very common signal on a descent with divers sometimes having equalizing problems leading to an ear squeeze.
A simple thumbs up with you slowly moving your hand up and down, once given the signal from your dive buddies you should replicate it to show that you understand that it is time to end your dive.
Again for you novice divers not to be confused with the “all good” signal you may use on land.
The reverse of the “up” signal with your thumb pointing downwards, will be used at the beginning of a dive and at any time if you or a dive buddy is a little to high in the water and you want them to come back down to your level.
A wide open hand held firmly out in front of you signals that you should stop. When given this signal you should immediately stop swimming and go into a hover in case of any danger or potentially bumping into other scuba divers.
Buddy Up / Stick Together
One of the most important features of any dive is staying with your dive buddy, if you are to lose them it will make a dive more dangerous and will end up with you having to end a dive early.
The signal is performed by holding your 2 index fingers out with the rest of your fingers closed in a fist, you then bring your 2 fingers together in a joining motion. A very useful signal to get buddy teams to stay closer or even reassign teams underwater.
How Much Air?
As a PADI professional this is a very important signal that I use at regular intervals during a dive, but as you learn to dive you should be asking your dive buddy at intervals as well. It is extremely important that everyone is aware of how much air they have left so they can complete a dive safely.
To complete the signal you hold both hands out clearly in front of you using one hand with 2 fingers pointed out to tap the palm of the other hand slowly.
This signal should be used at the end of nearly every dive you complete, it basically means that you are going to rise up to 5 meters and stay there for 3 mins to off gas and reduce the risk of getting DCS. There are a few different variants of this signal and be sure to confirm you’re your dive guide before beginning your dive.
But the most common safety stop signal used is to hold one hand out with fingers facing up against your other hand which will be held out wide and flat.
And a few more for fun….
Holding your hand up and straight against your forehead indicates that you can see a shark, don’t worry this signal should not be a sign before you start to panic, as you learn to dive everyone will want to see a shark underwater.
If learning here on Koh Tao then we modify the shark signal with a “W” placed on the forehead to indicate a whaleshark is present on the dive site.
First you place one hand on top of the other and interlock your fingers then you wiggle your thumbs in a circular motion to indicate a turtle. A bit tricky at first but a sign that is guaranteed to have everyone smiling.
A sign to show that something really cool just happened, whether it be swimming through a shipwreck or spotting a huge school of barracudas. You hold one hand out with your little pinky finger and thumb sticking out and wiggle it about, if it was really amazing go full beans and use both hands.
Author: Neil Davidson (PADI MSDT #294100)