Communication underwater could be a thin line between life and death.
It is therefore vital for every diver to learn how to communicate with other divers through hand signals. There are standard hand signals that are almost universally known.
However, as you dive with other skilled divers from other parts of the world, you will continue to learn new signs.
Here are some common hand signals to aid in your communication underwater. We provide this list in alphabetical order, to maximize ease of use of such a list.
These include signs for safety, and also for a variety of marine animals.
Table of Contents
- 1500 PSI
- 2500 PSI
- Breathe In & Out / Relax
- Come Here
- Come Together
- Danger / Abort Dive
- Don’t Swim Up
- Go In This Direction
- Have More Distance Between The Two Of You
- Have More Space Between The Two Of You
- How Much Air Do You Have?
- Let’s Ascend
- Let’s Descend
- Low On Air
- Marine Life
Including: Angelfish, Barracuda, Boxfish, Clown Anemonefish, Crab, Dolphin, Grouper, Hammerhead, Jellyfish, Lionfish, Lobster, Manta Ray, Moray Eel, Nudibranch, Octopus, Shark, Triggerfish, Turtle, Whale
- No / Don’t
- Not OK (On The Surface)
- OK (On the Surface)
- Out of Air
- Pick me up / come get me (but it’s not an emergency)
- Problem (On the surface)
- Problem with my stomach
- Remain At Same Level
- Share Air
- Sit On Your Knees
- Slow Down
- Stand On Your Legs
- Stay Together
- Three Minutes of Safety Stop
- Trouble Equalizing
- Write It Down
Let’s take a look at these scuba hand signals!
1500 PSI is a measure of air pressure used to indicate the amount of air a diver has left.
To communicate that you only have 1500 PSI left, use your index finger and draw it on the palm of your other hand for the 1000 PSI and use a digit for every 100PSI left.
So, in this case, you will draw the index finger on the palm and show five digits to indicate the 500 PSI.
Alternatively, you can show a single digit for the 1000PSI and next show five fingers (an open palm) to indicate the 500 PSI.
Going with the hand signal for the 1500 PSI, you draw an index finger to the palm twice, each for 1000 PSI and then hold up 5 digits for the 500 PSI.
Alternatively, you can show two digits, each for 1000PSI and next show five digits each for 100PSI.
Note, other people, use A ‘T’ hand signal, similar to the timeout signal to indicate half tank and a fist to indicate ‘low on air.’
It is, therefore, imperative to agree on which hand signals you will use for air pressure signalling before the dive.
Breathe in and out / Relax
Sometimes your partner might be panicking, and you need to help them to relax and breathe normally.
To do this, use the palm of your hands and bring it close to your mouth in a wave motion and slightly close your palm. Do this as if you are swiftly pushing the water towards your regulator.
In the same motion, gently move the palm away from your mouth in a wave motion as if pushing the water away from your regulator.
Sometimes if you wear gear which isn’t thick enough, it might get cold when you’re diving. If the cold becomes unbearable, you need to signal this to your supervisor or your diving buddy.
To make this hand signal, show the ‘problem’ hand signal followed by rubbing your hands on your arms.
Come Closer / Come Here
What if you want your fellow diver to come closer?
Use one hand with your palm facing upwards. Roll your fingers upwards and inwards repeatedly. This hand signal is similar to what most people use in real life to request another person to come or approach.
When an instructor wants to tell two divers to come together, they will first of all point at them to get their attention.
Next, they will use two palms facing each other but making two parallel lines and move the hands closer.
Sometimes you’d like to urge your partner or diving buddy to continue with whatever they’re doing.
To do this, fold fists with both hands, bring the two fists together and draw the index fingers such that both hands are pointing at each other.
Next, move both index fingers in a circular motion such that you’re drawing circles with both hands.
If you’d like to instruct your partner to cut something, make the scissors sign with your index finger and your middle finger and move them slowly towards each other as if you’re cutting something.
In other words, mimic the movement of the scissors with your fingers.
Danger/ Abort Dive
If you need to abort the dive for whatever reason, communicate this by making an X with your hands clenched in a fist.
To show which direction the danger is coming from, point towards it using a closed fist.
Decompression is one of the most important techniques that should be learned not only by the technical divers but also by beginners.
When decompression isn’t done, it can lead to a potentially life-threatening disease called the bends or decompression sickness.
As you ascend and the pressure of the water on the body decreases, it’s critical to give the body a chance to re-adapt by decompressing and releasing the absorbed nitrogen gas.
To communicate that you need to decompress, you have two options:
- Make a fist and extend the pinky finger.
- Alternatively, you can make a fist and extend the pinky finger together with the thumb.
Don’t Swim Up
There are times the instructor wants to warn the student divers not to swim up. To do this, just like in ‘swim,’ place one hand in front of the chest with the palm facing downwards.
Use the other hand and instead of putting it horizontally over the other one, place it vertically. Use the index finger and the middle finger to indicate vertical swimming. Next, use the ‘Don’t’ sign.
Have More Distance Between You Two
Sometimes instructors might feel like two beginner divers are very close to each other. To tell them to increase the distance between the two, they will first point at the two divers.
Next, they’ll use the palm of one hand and the back of the other hand to make two parallel lines when one hand is in front of the other and them move the two hands away from each other.
Have More Space Between The Two Of You
If an instructor feels like two divers are swimming very close to one another, he might want to instruct them to move away from each other.
To do this, he will point at the two divers and then make two parallel lines using the back of the palms. Next, he will move the two hands apart.
How Much Air do You Have?
If you’re leading a team of divers, it’s imperative to remind them to check their gauge to see how much air they have.
It will inform you of how many more minutes you have for the dive and avoid anyone running out of air accidentally.
To ask them, point them with your index finger, then draw two fingers and place them on the palm of the other hand.
Go in This Direction
To show direction, use all your fingers of a flattened palm to point towards the direction you want.
Note, new divers might confuse this with using the index finger to point in a specific direction. On the contrary, using the index finger communicates, look towards a particular direction.
When diving, sometimes accidents happen. For example, you might notice your partner’s gear start to leak. This is a sign of impending danger. You need to inform this to your partner and start making the ascend.
To communicate this, hold your fingertips together and open them repeatedly and rapidly.
Let’s Ascend / Go Up
When you need to indicate that you want to ascend or go to the surface of the water, use the thumbs up hand signal.
As you can see, if you use the thumbs up hand signal to indicate that you’re OK, you will be sending a contrary message which could lead to miscommunication with your fellow divers.
Let’s Descend / Go Down
To indicate that you need to descend, you give a thumbs down sign as you move it downwards.
The sign can either be a request or an indication that you’re about to descend.
If you want your fellow diver to look at you, use the ‘peace’ sign with your two fingers and point your two eyes followed by pointing at yourself with the index finger.
Alternatively, if you want them to look towards a particular direction, use the same hand signal followed by pointing the direction you want them to look at using your index finger.
Low on Air
If after checking your air gauge you notice that you’re now using your reserve pressure tank, you should communicate this to your diving buddy so that you can start making the ascent.
To communicate this, draw a closed fist and place it on your chest.
There are, of course, scuba diving hand signals specifically for marine life. Here is a video that shows you how to make signs for a variety of marine life that we find very useful.
Here is additional explanation for making hand signals for marine life of the various underwater creatures you’ll encounter.
To show your partner this beautiful little fish, use your index finger, and make circular motions over your head.
This type of fish has an elongated body with very sharp teeth. Despite it being carnivorous, it only feeds on smaller fish and is never a cause for alarm for the divers.
Their hand signal is done by :
- Extend one arm from the elbow
- Use your other hand to mark ‘stripes’ on the other arm to indicate the stripes on the body of the barracuda
Boxfish comes in different beautiful colors. It’s one of the fish that will make your trip down to the reef memorable.
If you see it, use your index finger and the thumb of both hands to make a box sign.
If you’re diving in the Indian or Pacific ocean, you are most likely going to encounter the beautiful clownfish. If you do, to alert your diving partner of its presence:
- Use your two palms and extend them such that both palms are facing forward
- Using the thumbs, touch the sides of your forehead just above your ears
- Move the rest of your fingers rapidly as you shake your head
Crabs can be hard to see since they hide in the cracks of the reef. So, when you see one show your diving buddy using both hands: hold your fingers together as you pinch them just like a crab moves its pincers.
When you spot a dolphin, it’s advisable to act fast since they move so fast. If you delay, your diving buddy might not get a chance to see it.
Use your index finger, or your hand and undulate it up and down as you imitate the movement of the tail of a dolphin.
The grouper fish might not be the most beautiful to encounter. However, seeing one is still a special moment.
To tell your partner of the grouper fish, place your palms vertically on both sides of the head facing backward. Then, flip them back and forth as you cover and uncover your ears.
The hammerhead is a species of the sharks family named so because of its distinct feature over its mouth.
To communicate it’s citing, place two fists on the side of your forehead with the knuckles facing forward and spread the elbows outwards to imitate the distinct broad blade of the hammerhead fish.
Use your palm and float it facing downwards and use the fingers to mimic the movements of the jellyfish tentacles.
Which is the most venomous fish in the world?
Which is one of the most invasive fish species in the world?
Which fish species has very few natural predators?
Well, you guessed it right: the lionfish.
The ornamental fish species is one of the most beautiful fish in the ocean. It is mostly kept in aquariums due to its physical attributes.
Wouldn’t you want to show your diving buddy when you spot one?
To do so, spread the fingers on both your hands and interlock the fingers. Once you’ve interlocked them, start to move the fingers as you mimic the movement of the fins of the lionfish.
Alternatively, spread your fingers apart, lock your thumbs and move your fingers mimicking the movement of the lionfish fins.
If you see a lobster, make two fists, place them on both sides of your head and extend two index fingers.
Manta rays are some of the most spectacular marine animals you will ever encounter when diving.
If you notice one when diving, spread your arms wide open and start waving them swiftly and point to the direction of the Manta ray.
The site of moray eels can be intimidating since they move like snakes, and when hiding in the reef cracks, they open and close their mouth frequently to aid in pushing water to their gills. To signal a moray eel is nearby:
- Place the elbow of one hand over the palm of the other hand
- Use your fingers to make a similar signal to the one people makes to show a person who is talking too much
Alternatively, use one hand to imitate a person who is talking too much as you open and close your hand (the four fingers against the thumb).
This marine animal is also a beautiful citing when diving. Use the index finger and the middle finger as you move them up and down alternatively.
When you see an octopus, you can communicate using two alternatives:
- Place your hand under the chin as you move your fingers like the tentacles of an octopus
- Alternatively, place your hand under the fist of the other hand and move the fingers mimicking the movement of an octopus
How would you love to spot a shark when you’re diving? It’s an out of this world experience.
When you do, to show your partner, place your palm facing sideways. The palm should resemble the first dorsal fin of a shark.
The triggerfish is another sight to behold. It’s beautiful colors make it a favorite for many people who keep fish as pets.
To show your diving partner when you spot the fish, simply mimic a gun using your hand.
Turtles are very common when diving. To signal one, simply place one hand on top of the other and move the thumbs in circular motions.
To spot a whale when diving is one of the biggest scores for most divers. Therefore, it’s imperative that once you spot one, you alert your partner as soon as possible.
To do this, point at the direction of the whale and make a breaching motion with your hand.
No / Don’t
Sometimes when your colleague asks you a question or gives you a direction underwater, you might need to answer- No, or Don’t.
So, how do you communicate that?
Make a fist, with your palm side facing your buddy, draw your index finger, and move the fingertip from side to side.
What if your diver buddy asks you whether you’re OK and you’d want to respond that you’re not. Or there is a problem?
Open your hand, bring it to the front of your chest, have the palm face downwards and rotate it side by side.
The hand signal indicates that there is a problem. To show the direction of the problem, point using your other hand the direction of the problem using the index finger.
The OK hand signal is used to ask your fellow diver if they’re OK. To respond, they use the same sign to show that they’re OK.
To make this hand signal, you join your thumb with your index finger and then extend the rest of the fingers.
Note, typically people use the thumbs-up signal to show that they’re OK. In scuba diving, thumbs-up means something completely different.
OK (On the surface)
When you’re above the water, and you need to communicate to the captain and other people on the boat that you’re fine, you use a different sign from the one used underwater.
To show you’re OK, make a fist and bring it to the top of your head making an ‘O’.
Out of Air
If you notice that you’re out of air, you should communicate this emergency so that the other diver can share their air with you as you make the emergency ascent.
This hand signal is made by making quick slashing motions across your neck.
Pick Me Up / Come Get Me (but it’s not an emergency)
After ascending, you need to communicate with the people on the boat to come to pick you up. To do this lift your hand at an angle and be patient for them to see you.
Note, if you wave the hand you will be communicating that there is a danger or you’re experiencing a problem.
Problem (On the surface)
When you’re on the surface of the water, floating and you need to communicate to the people on the boat, there is a problem, the signal you show is different from the one used underwater.
On the surface, to communicate, there is a problem you have three options:
- Joining both hands above your head in a ring. Your fingers should slightly touch just above your head to form a complete ring.
- Alternatively, if one of your hand is holding something, someone or you can’t use if for some reason, form the letter C such that your fingertips are just above your head.
You can also ask for help by waving to the boat with your hand straight. As you bring the hand down, make sure it slightly touches the water.
Problem With The Stomach
When diving, you might experience stomach discomfort. The discomfort is usually referred to as gastric squeeze.
When this happens, you might need to communicate with the supervisor or your diving buddy so that you can make a stop.
To show there is a problem with your stomach, show the ‘problem’ sign, which is to bring your hand to the front of your chest, have the palm face downwards and rotate it side by side.
Next, point towards the stomach and draw a circle around your stomach using the index finger.
It’s normal to puke when you’re on the boat as you head for your dive. But, what most people don’t realize is that it’s also normal to puke when you’re diving.
However, there are some precautionary measures that you should consider to prevent you from taking in water. The most important thing is you should NEVER remove your regulator when puking.
The no-return valve will ensure that nothing comes back to your mouth.
To communicate this, you show the ‘problem’ sign, then hold a fist close to your mouth and open it repeatedly just close to your mouth.
Sometimes, when you’re diving with your buddy, you need not only to communicate but to also ask them a question.
For example, if you need to ask them whether you can start to make the ascend if you show them the ascending sign, they might assume that you’re telling them to make the ascend.
Unknown to your diving buddy, you were asking them if they’re ready to make the ascend.
So, to ask a question, you make a fist and use the index finger to make a hook. This is followed immediately by the sign of what you want to ask them. For example, the ascend hand signal.
Remain at the Same Level
To indicate to the divers, they’ve reached the maximum depth or to hold a certain level for safety or decompression, use the ‘remain at this level’ hand signal.
The hand signal is done using an extended hand with the palm facing downwards while moving the palm sideways in a horizontal manner.
What if you want to tell your diving buddy to remember something?
Use the index finger while folding the rest of the fingers in a fist and tap the side of your forehead with the side of the index finger gently and repeatedly.
What if you want to tell your diving buddy to repeat whatever they were doing?
To do this, place the palm of one of your hands such that it’s facing upwards. With the other hand, fold your fingers in a way that your fingertips are all touching each other.
Move the fingertips to touch the palm of the other hand. Do this a few times until your partner gets your message.
Since the early ’70s, there have been options to share air when a buddy runs out of air.
However, with recent technology, it’s now easier to share air with the second air regulator. So, before grabbing the second air regulator, communicate to your buddy that you need them to share with you their air.
To do this, you use your flat hand and move it back and forth between your mouth and your buddy’s mouth.
They should easily understand this sign, especially of you had already updated them that you’re low on air or you’re out on air.
Sit On Your Knees
To communicate with your buddy, you use two fingers. The index finger and the middle finger and fold them at the knuckles.
Place the palm of the other hand such that the palm is facing upwards. Next, rest the knuckles on the palm of the other hand repeatedly.
To communicate ‘slow down’ hold out your hand flat out with your palm facing downward and motion it downwards.
This signal is mostly used by instructors to let the students know that they should reduce their speed.
Stand On Your Legs
To communicate this, you use the index finger and the middle finger.
Also, you will need to place the palm of the other hand in such a way that it is facing upwards.
Hold the fingers straight and apart as you place them in the palm of the other hand repeatedly.
This hand signal is mostly used by instructors and supervisors to tell the students or the amateur divers to buddy up/stay together.
It’s done by forming fists with both hands, bring the hands together such that only the thumbs and the index fingers are touching and then extend the two index fingers.
The stop hand signal is very critical, especially when you want to warn the other diver of something.
There are two stop hand signals popular in the divers’ world. This first one is holding up the palm facing forward. Recreational divers mostly use this hand signal.
The technical and more experienced divers use the fist up with the palm facing outwards to indicate ‘stop’.
To indicate swimming, you use the whole arm and bring it to the front of your chest with the palm facing downwards. Make a fist with the other hand and place it horizontally on top of other the extended hand.
As the fist is facing downwards, draw the index finger and the middle finger. Move these two fingers up and down while moving the fist slowly away from the other hand.
The two fingers should move in a way similar to how the legs move when one is swimming.
Three Minutes of Safety Stop
After descending up to a certain point, it is crucial to make a safety stop for at least three minutes.
To communicate this to other divers, place a flat palm facing downwards (similar to the level hand signal) over three raised fingers.
When descending, it’s critical to equalize the air pressure. However, almost every diver at one time has had difficulty equalizing.
To signal this to your diving partner show the ‘problem’ sign and use your index finger to point your ears.
This will let them know that you’re having trouble equalizing and you need to descend a little bit more to try equalizing again.
If you’re heading to a certain direction and you want to instruct your diving buddy that you should turn and head backwards, use your index finger to make circular swirling motions with the finger.
Write it down
There is specialized equipment to help you write when you’re underwater. These are useful when you need to note something down, or you need to communicate something complex.
To instruct your buddy to write something down, hold your fingers as if you’re writing on the palm of the other hand.
The underworld world can be quite unpredictable; it is, therefore, essential to learn all the hand signals to help you communicate when you’re underwater.
These hand signals could help save your life or somebody else’s. They could also help you enjoy the magical underworld as you see the different sites and animals the marine life has to offer.