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  • Writer's pictureCuddlefish Divers

Importance of Scuba Diving Hand Signals

Deep blue seas, with amazing serenity that calms the soul. Nothing beats going for a refreshing dive to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. One of the joys of diving is the peace, where you are able to escape the noisy chatter for just a little while. However, the absence of speaking does not mean that one does not need to communicate! In fact, communication continues to be an important element to ensure the best experience out at sea, where one can navigate the deep blues safely and confidently.

Just like how best buddies have secret handshakes and codes, the diving community has its secret language – hand signals. Once you are underwater, hand signals become the universal language, and these are not hard to pick up! Here are some of the key and common hand signals.

“Everything okay?”, “Ascend” and “Descend”

As buddies, we will look out for one another and one of the best ways to check on one another is to ask if everything is alright. It is important to use the “OK” sign instead of the thumbs-up as a thumbs-up would indicate the need to ascend. The thumbs-up is often used to show that you are ready to ascend including heading up to the surface. However, in cases where you face a certain issue, do signal to indicate that you are facing a problem first. (Signals to indicate that one is faced with problems are elaborated further below.) Conversely, a thumbs-down would indicate that you are ready to dive deeper to explore further.

“Stop”, “Danger”, “Something is wrong!”

The signal for “stop” is straightforward (place your hand in front of you with your palm facing out) but important especially when you need to get your buddy's attention.

To indicate that there is danger nearby, place your hand like a hammer with your fist clenched.

If something is wrong, it is critical to inform your buddy by shaking your hand back and forth before pointing to the problem area. Buddies and other divers can then help one another out!

“I am out of air, and I need to share air!”

As safe divers, we need to ensure that we have sufficient air, amidst our fascination with the amazing underwater life. Remind one another in a timely manner to check their air levels by placing two fingers on your palm.

If you have about half a tank of air left, you can simply do a “T” to indicate so. Knowing the amount of air left is important as it helps one decide whether to return to the boat or continue the exploration.

If you are low on air and need to end the dive, you can let your buddy know by placing a clenched fist over your chest. At this junction, you should also indicate that you would need to share air by taking a flat hand and moving it back and forth in front of your mouth.

If you run out of air, quickly but calmly, make a slashing movement across your neck to indicate that you would need help (e.g. share air with a buddy or ascend). Remember to stay calm, and buddies can remind individuals to breathe by motioning your hand up and down in front of your abdomen.

“Safety Stop.”

Safety stops are important to help the body eliminate nitrogen bubbles. This is a precautionary measure that every diver should follow, especially for deeper and longer dives. Safety stops are typically about 3 minutes so that is why we will point three fingers towards the lowered palm of a flat hand.


Hand signals should be performed clearly, positively, and strongly. If signals are slow, inaccurate, or performed in a lethargic manner, it could be an indication that the individual is not okay, and something is wrong. Also, when night diving, you would need to use a shine your touch on your hand signals so that your buddy would be able to see them.

Hand signals are key means of communication when underwater and learning just a few simple ones goes a long way when enhancing and ensuring one’s diving experience.

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