If you are anything like me, you’ve had at least one time in your life when you were diving and you felt the frustration of not being able to tell your buddy something important. Maybe it was a once in a lifetime encounter with a shark, or perhaps it was something more important like letting your buddy know that her regulator's first stage was leaking air.
Whatever the reason, not knowing the correct hand signal can be frustrating and possibly even dangerous.
As divers, we are in a unique position in that we often need to communicate without our voice. Diving with a buddy requires us to be able to communicate underwater using diving hand signals.
We all learned a series of hand signals when we took our dive courses. The reality is that we tend to forget them as time goes on. Just like anything else, the less we use them the more we tend to forget what they are.
In this article, we will be going over 70 scuba SCUBA hand signals that we feel every diver should add to their skill set to be able to be the best diver and buddy that they can be. The good news is many of these are commmon sense and easy to remember. Keep reading so you can see for yourself.
A couple of things to remember before we get started. First, make sure you complete your hand signals deliberately and slowly. When you are underwater being deliberate will make it easier for your buddy to figure out what you are trying to tell them. Second, before a hand signal is done, your buddy needs to be looking at you. I know this sounds like common sense, but it can be easy to forget that you cannot just turn around and yell “hey” to get your buddy’s attention underwater.
Getting your buddy’s attention
There are several ways to get your buddy’s attention underwater. One of the most common is to use a tank banger, a tool that is attached to your tank that allows you to bang against your tank to create noise.
If you do not have a tank banger, you can the clips on your flashlight or any other metal object to bang against your tank to make noise.
Another way to get your buddy’s attention is to yell through your regulator or clap your hands underwater. In both cases, the buddy needs to be close enough to you to hear it.
The SCUBA hand signals in this article have been broken down into three different sections. Essential SCUBA Hand Signals, Emergency SCUBA Hand signals and SCUBA hand signals for common marine life.
(Note: If you'd like to learn more about how to choose a dive buddy, ready out article here: How to find the perfect dive buddy and use the buddy system so that your next dive will be amazing
Agreeing on Hand Signals
Most hand signals are universal just about anywhere you go diving. There might be slight differences however, depending on your instructor, region, or even the dive agency that certified you. For this reason it's a good idea to always review hand signals with your buddy. This is especially important if you are diving with a new buddy!
Also, because hand signals are just a way for two buddies to communicate underwater you can also make signals up if you need to. As long as the made up signal is clearly communicated between you and your buddy it really doesn't matter what hand signal you decide on. The important thing is that both you and your buddy understand what you are trying to say and are able to communicate underwater.
We created a video with the most common hand signals below. In this video we explain the hand signals as well as when you would use it. This page however, contains more hand signals than the video. Our suggestion if you are interested in learning hand signals is to watch the video first and then review the rest of the page to learn the hand signals that weren't covered in the video.
Essential SCUBA Hand Signals
This is the universal signal for letting your buddy know you are okay or to answer your buddy should he or she as you a question.
Go up or Ascend
This lets your buddy know that you want to ascend.
Go Down or Descend
This lets your buddy know you want to descend.
This is similar to the ascend signal but tells the diver it is time to ascend and end the dive. There are times when you may need to call a dive before you originally planned. In 9 reasons to call a dive we explore the various reasons.
Come here or come closer
Lets your buddy know that you want him r her to come towards you. This can be done with one or two hands.
This alerts your buddy that you want to slow down. It can be done with one or two hands
Tells your buddy to stop where they are.
Tells your buddy to look at something or in a particular direction.
Go in a Specific Direction
You will point in the direction you want your buddy to look at. Please note that is done with an open hand. Doing this with a close hand has a different meaning which we will go over later.
This SCUBA hand signal alerts your buddy to dive with you.
Tells your buddy to adjust his or her buoyancy at a specific depth.
3 Minute Safety Stop
This signal alerts your buddy to complete a safety stop for three minutes at 15-20 feet. Please note that this can be done in two difference ways. The second method allows you to adjust the time depending on your specific practice.
This diving hand signal alerts your buddy that you must complete a required decompression stop.
Even though you should NEVER enter into decompression without the proper training and equipment this signal is useful to let your buddy know how much time you have on your computer before you reach your no decompression limit.
Lets your buddy know you are cold.
Alerts that you have a question for your buddy
This is used to let your buddy know that there is a leak coming from somewhere on their gear. You can point to the area on your rig to let them know where their leak is.
Write it Down
Alerts your buddy that you want him or her to write something down on their slate.
How to Communicate Numbers 1 – 5
How to Communicate Numbers 6 – 9
How to Communicate 100s
The first number indicates how many hundreds. In this case we are communicating 100.
How to Communicate 1000s
The first number indicates how many Thousands. In this case we are communicating 1000.
Inflate the BCD (a little bit)
This tells your buddy he or she needs to inflate or deflate their BCD a little bit at a time.
Just a reminder, you always want to make sure you have done a proper buoyancy check before the dive. By doing so you minimize the amount of air you'll need to add to your BCD.
Deflate the BCD (a little bit)
This tells your buddy he or she needs to inflate or deflate their BCD a little bit at a time. There is more than method to do this, as seen above.
Inhale and Exhale Slowly
This SCUBA diving hand signal tells your buddy to remember to breath in and out slowly. Can be used to calm your buddy down.
Where is the boat
Asks where the boat is relative to your location. If you are unsure, it may be time to get your compass out and do a boat check.
You Lead I follow
Tells your buddy he or she will be leading the dive. If you point at yourself first, you are telling your buddy that YOU will lead the dive.
This tells your buddy you want to hold hands. It can be used under several different situations including low vis, issues with gear, general anxiety, etc..
Essential SCUBA Hand Signals on the Surface
Okay (On The Surface)
This is the universal signal for letting your buddy know you are okay or to answer your buddy should he or she as you a question. This can we done with one or two hands.
Pick Me Up
Let the boat know you want them to pick you up
Emergency SCUBA Diving Hand Signals
Out of air
Alerts your buddy that you are out of air and need to begin air sharing procedures
Something is wrong
This alerts your buddy that there is something wrong. It is usually followed by a signal alerting what the problem is.
Start with the something is wrong SCUBA signal and point to your stomach.
Start with the something is wrong SCUBA signal and point to your ear. If you'd like to learn more about how to avoid ear equalization issues make sure to read our complete guide on how to equalize your ears.
Alert to your buddy that you are feeling narked so he or she can assist you accordingly.
Let your buddy know that you are in need of air sharing. There are two ways to do this as seen above.
Lost Buddy (Underwater)
Let someone know that you cannot find your buddy.
Let your buddy know that there is danger. Please note that in this case you will be keeping your fist closed.
Emergency SCUBA Diving Hand Signals on the Surface
Lost Buddy (On The Surface)
Start by telling them you are okay and let them know you do not know where your buddy is.
Use to let someone on the surface know that you are in need of rescue as soon as possible. This can be done with one or two hands.
SCUBA Diving Hand Signals for Common Marine Life
There are several distinct shark species around the world. This diving hand signal is the universal signal for them all.
This SCUBA hand signal is used to let people know when a Hammerhead shark is nearby. Due to their uniqueness, they are known to have their own hand signal
There are several different species of triggerfish. They are found in costal waters all around the world.
Formerly known as the Jewfish, Goliath Groupers are known to roam the Caribbean coasts and off the coast of Brazil.
There are several species of sea turtles and they are seen all around the world. This is a SCUBA hand signal you will use often.
Stingrays are known to roam coastal waters and are seen in tropical and subtropical waters all over the world. They are known to sit under the sand and wait for prey.
Also known as Blowfish, these fish are known to be seen in tropical waters. The majority of them are poisonous.
The octopus is an eight-limbed mollusk. They are found in waters all over the world. They can change their color to mimic their surroundings and spray ink into the water when spooked. This SCUBA hand signal is used for all of the species.
Lobsters are found of the coasts of several countries in warm and cold water.
Lionfish are native to Indo-pacific waters but have invaded waters all over the East coast of the US and the coasts of South and Central America.
There are many species of eels found in waters all over the world. They tend to live in crevices inside of reefs but have been known to be spotted free swimming as well.
Dolphins are mammals that are found all over the world. they can be seen in fresh and salt water.
Barracuda are found in tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide.
Crabs are indigenous to waters all over the world. They can be seen both underwater and on beaches They reside in holes and hide in shells as well as trash. There are many species of crab.
Boxfish are native to the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans in tropical and subtropical zones.
Manta Rays are found in most waters around the world. They are filter feeders so they tend to move around constantly
Clown Fish are found in the warmer waters of the Indian Ocean, including the Red Sea and Pacific Oceans, including the Great Barrier Reef, Southeast Asia, Japan, and the Indo-Malaysian region.