Communication is key for a safe and sound scuba diving experience. However, with your scuba regulator in your mouth and the mere fact that you are under the water, it is impossible to talk verbally. With this, you must learn some of the most common scuba hand signals.
Learning hand signals is important for communicating intention and giving directions. More importantly, it ensures safety, making it easy to ask for help from your diving buddy. It is a method of communication that can be universally understood by trained divers.
Ready to learn some of the most common diving signals? Keep on reading and we’ll share some of the basics that you have to know.
This is perhaps the first-hand signal that scuba divers will learn when they are training. It is also pretty much easy to do. You will simply have to form an “o” shape by joining your thumb and index finger. Your third, fourth, and fifth fingers, on the other hand, will extend outside of the loop you will create.
When you are wearing gloves, you might have difficulty extending the remaining fingers. There should be no problem as long as the other person can easily see that you are making the “o” sign.
The OK hand signal can be used both as a question to check if the other diver is alright or to show that you are alright.
For non-scuba divers, they might say OK with a thumb’s up sign. This is one of the mistakes that you should not commit as it has an entirely different meaning.
2. Not OK
You will be confronted with several problems when under the water, and you will need to communicate it immediately to a buddy for immediate help when needed. For instance, you might already be suffering from ear barotrauma or equalization problems. As soon as you feel the problem, do this hand signal.
It is similar to the way you move your hand when you want to say “so-so” during a normal conversation. Put your hand in a flat and open position facing the ocean floor. Then, move the axis of the arm to rock your hand from side to side. This is usually followed by using the index finger to point to the exact source of the problem.
This is simple. You just have to do the thumbs-up sign, which we earlier said should not be confused with the OK hand signal. This means that you are going to ascend, which will also signal the end of the dive.
One of the situations, when you will find yourself doing this hand signal, is when you are already feeling uncomfortable under the water.
Because this is a demand-response signal, when a diver shows the up signal, the other diver should to the same hand signal to show that the message has been clearly received.
It is simply the opposite of the up signal. You simply have to do a thumbs down. Those who are uninitiated will think that it means that there is a problem. In reality, there is nothing wrong as it only shows the intention to do down or descend. The direction of the thumb, which is pointing down, is an obvious reference to the direction of travel.
This is a hand signal that is also used as the first step in the five-point descent, which will show your buddy that you are ready to dive down.
Speaking of going down and deep, if you will be diving at a depth of at least 150 meters, it is important that you learn about trimix diving.
5. Come Here
It is one of the diving signals with the same meaning underwater as when you are above the ground. To do this, extend your hand in a flat position with the palm facing up. Next, bend your fingers, not including the thumb, toward yourself. Do this several times to have an assurance that it is understood by another diver.
This is a hand signal that is used to ask a diving buddy to come nearer you, such as when you have seen a beautiful marine creature and you would like to show it to others as well.
If you are having a problem under the water, use appropriate hand signals and not this one to be able to instill a sense of urgency.
6. Slow Down
Finding it hard to keep up with your diving buddy? This is not uncommon for those who are new to diving. So, if you think that the other person is too fast and you are having difficulty catching up, you have to do the slow down hand signal.
To do this, hold your hand out flat with the palm facing the floor. Then, slowly motion downward. Do not move or rock it from side to side as it can be mistaken as a sign that says you are not OK.
There are basically two ways to do this, both of which are correct and can be understood by trained divers. For recreational divers, they do this by holding a hand with the palm forward, similar to how a traffic cop would stop a car or pedestrian.
On the other hand, for the technical divers, what they do is that they close their fist. While the one mentioned above is usually used to say stop, this motion is common for saying hold or wait.
There are many instances when you will find yourself doing this sign. For instance, if you need to stop the dive mask from leaking, you have to move this signal to your buddy to wait for you while you fix your scuba mask.
This is one of the diving signals with a literal meaning, making it easy to understand. Point your index and third finger to the eyes while the other fingers are closed. After this, use the index finger to point to the object that you want your buddy to see.
During dive training, the instructor may use this hand signal to ask the student to pay attention or to watch the demonstration of the skill that is being taught, such as clearing a scuba mask of water.
In the same way, you can also do this signal when you see a marine creature and you want to say “hey, look over” to your buddy. When you see something incredible, make sure that you are ready to capture it with a diving camera.
9. Go in this Direction
This is the hand signal that you have to execute when you want to show the direction of travel. Often, this is commonly done by divemasters, letting the students know where exactly they should be headed to have an assurance that they won’t be in unsafe places.
To do this, hold your hand flat with the palm facing sideways. Then, point it to the specific direction using all your fingers while maintaining a straight position. This should not be confused with the watch or look hand signal. With the latter, only the index finger points to the direction where there is something that you want your buddy to see.
10. Come Here
It is the same hand signal that is used in everyday conversations when you want someone to come nearer to you, such as when there is something that you want to whisper or show. It is done by extending a flat hand with the palm open and facing up. Then, you have to bend the fingertips toward you. You will have to do this bending of the fingers several times.
You will have to do this signal when you want another person to come nearer you, such as when you want to show off an underwater creature that is visible from where you are. If there is a problem, such as when you are low on air or anything serious, go directly to the appropriate hand gesture instead of signaling your buddy to come closer to you first.
11. Level Off
This is one of the most useful hand signals for scuba diving safety. It is used to tell the diver to remain in the current position or depth. This will be an easy way to tell divers that the maximum planned depth of the dive has been reached. Going deeper will be a significant safety risk, so one needs to level off.
For this signal, all that you have to do is to extend a flat hand with the palm facing down and move it horizontally from one side to another. This is also used to indicate a decompression or safety stop.
12. I’m Cold
To show your diving buddy that you are feeling cold, you just have to cross your arms on your upper chest. Then, rub the upper arms with your hands. This is quite self-explanatory as the meaning is literal to the motion of the hands.
When it gets cold under the water, it will be difficult for you to move. Your presence of mind can be affected. So, do this signal to avoid having serious problems.
To prevent the need to do this hand signal, it is important to learn the basics of how to stay warm when scuba diving. Getting the right wetsuit and drysuit will also be critical, making sure that it has the right thickness so you won’t feel cold.
To do this, you will have to start with your fist closed, then extend your thumb out, similar to the up sign. After this, extend your pinky. There are some cases wherein the thumb is not extended.
This is a sign for a decompression stop, which is important for your safety when under the water. This will provide an assurance that you won’t go beyond the decompression limit. It is used to inform others that you need to halt temporarily for decompression.
14. Low on Air
To show your diving buddy that you are low on air, all that you have to do is to close your fist and place it close to the chest. This is a signal of distress, making it easy to ask for assistance when you need it in a critical situation. However, often, it is not used to signal an emergency. Rather, after this hand signal, it is time to put the dive to an end and start ascending.
When you show the low on-air sign, this means that you have already used the reserve air of the scuba tank.
It is recommended that divers learn the tips to save air when diving to prevent being low on air. This can be done by learning deep breathing, streamlining gears, and controlling buoyancy, among others.
When there are bubbles or leaks, it is important to signal immediately as it can be a serious issue that will impact the safety of the diver. Therefore, once you notice that someone has bubbles on his or her gear, or if it is experienced yourself, you have to open and close your fingertips. Do this in a rapid motion, which will mimic the movement of the bubbles.
As soon as this hand signal has been executed, this also signals the end of the dive. The next step is to ascend the water and fix the problem as soon as possible. This will make it less likely that you will experience some of the scuba diving dangers and risks.
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In sum, learning the scuba hand signals is important for anyone who is training to dive. It is one of the first things that you will be taught in your diving course. The signals have universal meanings, so you can be sure that you will be understood by anyone under the water, provided that you do it correctly.
Now that you know the diving signals, make sure to take the time as well to brush up on fundamental scuba knowledge, such as buoyancy basics and scuba diving etiquette.