Good communication with your dive buddy is important, not just in an emergency, but also to monitor each other’s progress, share underwater experiences, and agree when to end the dive. The most effective method of communication is to use hand signals.

Using hand signals

Verbal communication is not an option underwater unless you are wearing a full-face mask, but most messages can be conveyed using a combination of hand signals and drawings on a slate. Using hand signals will allow you to exchange information with your dive buddy and even ask each other questions underwater. They can also be reassuring. Signal to your buddy regularly during a dive, as this will ensure that you remain in close contact and can easily notify each other of any problems that may develop. Repeat any sign that is not clear to your buddy, and acknowledge every signal that he or she makes with an “OK” to show you understand. If your buddy is slow to respond to a signal, check that they are OK. If you are diving at depth, sluggish responses may indicate the onset of nitrogen narcosis, which impairs reaction times and mental acuity. Signals are not just limited to showing each other how much air you have left or highlighting problems. They can also be used to inform your buddy of interesting things you have seen, or to alert them to something you are both looking for, such as a particular marine organism. There are numerous signals for marine animals, and you can develop your own within your buddy pair. A common example is the use of a straight, upright hand (representing a fin) on top of your head, meaning “I’ve seen a shark.” Signals for animals like turtles and rays can be readily improvised.

o make it clear that a signal refers specifically to yourself—for example, “watch me”—point to yourself first.

Common hand signals

There are a number of standard hand signals that are essential to all divers, and you can also improvise new signals with friends. Always review signals at the start
of a dive, especially if you are diving with a new buddy. Give signals to your buddy slowly and clearly, to ensure that they are understood. Use combinations of signals
to convey messages more precisely (for example, something is wrong/I can’t clear my ears). Below are some of the most important and common diving signals.

OK/Are you OK?
Form an O with thumb and index finger. Point the other fingers up.

Something is wrong
Tilt the flat of your hand from side to side, palm down.

Up/Let’s ascend
Point thumb straight upward with fingers clenched in a fist.

Down/Let’s go down
Point thumb downward with fingers clenched in a fist.

1,500 psi (100 bar) left
Form T-shape with hands to indicate 1,500 psi remaining.

750 psi (50 bar) left
Make a fist, with palm outward, to indicate 750 psi remaining.

I am out of air
Make a horizontal chopping motion across base of neck.

Present flat of hand, palm outward, to halt buddy or other divers.

Slow down
Move palms slowly downward together (pivoting at elbows).

Stay/Move together
Move index fingers together, until touching side by side.

Stay at this depth
Hold both hands horizontally and move one over the other.

Point at your eyes, then at subject of interest, or self, or another diver.

I am cold
Hug yourself with both arms crossed to indicate chill.

I can’t clear my ears
Point at ear to indicate you are having difficulty equalizing.



Feeling breathless
If you are feeling out of breath and need to rest for a moment, you should use the flat of your hand to mimic your chest rising and falling.

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