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Underwater Signals

Many signals vary across the world and across diving Agencies. If diving with strangers it's a good practice to agree on signals prior to the dive.


Communicating underwater is an important skill to learn and can lead to a whole lot of confusion is it is not done well. With rebreathers and full face masks it is possible to have a reasonable verbal conversation, however for the rest of us, it's a wide assortment of hand signals or writing on a slate.

When using hand signals underwater, they are usually done in front of the chest and generally require a response from whom you are communicating. They should be performed clearly, positively and strongly. Lethargic, slow or inappropriate signals could be an indication that something is wrong.

When night diving, be sure to shine your torch on your hand signals and of course never shine the torch in other divers eyes, else you will damage their night vision for some time. Attract attention by moving the light beam from side to side preferably within your buddies field of vision.

Basic Signals

(Are you) OK?

OK on the surface


Stop, wait here
Slow down, move hand slowly down and up a few times


Stay at this depth.
Move hand left to right and back


Stay together
Move apart a little
You lead, I'll follow


Where is your Buddy?


Come here, beckon

Distress Signals

Not OK, something is wrong. rotate wrist slightly a few times Then point to whatever is the problem e.g., mask or ear.
Out of Air (BSAC)
Move hand forward and down at 45 degrees.

Out of Air (PADI)
Move hand across the neck left to right a few times.


Distress on the surface. wave aggessively
Cramp - tight fist then point to where
I'm Narked!
Move index finger in circles.


I am cold, move hands up and down
I am out of breath, move hands in and out at chest level.

Air Related

How much air do you have?
Response example 1
50 Bar followed by 20 Bar - 70 Bar
(Always round down to the nearest 10)


How much air do you have?

Response example 2
Repeat the 50 Bar signal twice + 30 Bar = 130 Bar
(Always round down to the nearest 10)


On Reserve or 50 Bar
repeat signal twice = 100 Bar
Occasional signal for 100 Bar

Depth and Time related Signals

Ascend to a particular depth
Depth signalled afterwards e.g., 6m


Descend to a particular depth
Depth signalled afterwards e.g., 10m


Stop for 3 Minutes
Time out (sometimes used to denote 100 Bar)


Directional Signals

That way, point hand in the direction
I don't know, shrug shoulders


Training Signals

at me
I'm in Charge
(Sergeant Stripes)


Underwater Creatures

Turtle, wiggle thumbs
Large Ray , flap fingers like a large ray
Moray Eel






Other Signals

Do not touch, move top hand down to end a few times





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Page last updated on October 16, 2007
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