Hand Signals

Divers use hand signals to communicate with each other underwater and on the surface. Most of these signals are universally understood around the world. Other signals vary by location, instructor, or certification agency.

A pre-dive review of hand signals is an important preparation before every dive. This prevents any confusion over what a specific signal means, and also provides an opportunity to share special signals you've learned from others or developed by yourself.

You'll begin using hand signals during the first pool session. The following pages illustrate the common signals used both at the surface and underwater.

Reviewing Hand Signals With Your Dive Buddy

Surface Hand Signals

Surface signals are used to communicate with divers, divemasters, or spectators who are too far away to speak to. These signals consist of arms placed high above the water to indicate your condition while at the surface.

OK hand signal, diver at surface, one hand occupied
"Are you OK?"
"I'm OK"
(one hand occupied)
OK hand signal, diver at surface
"Are you OK?"
"I'm OK"
pick me up hand signal
"Pick me up"
distress at surface hand signal

Underwater Hand Signals

You'll be using signals underwater to communicate common messages to your buddy. The signals to the left are the most common signals you'll be using. There are other signals used by many divers, and your instructor will introduce those signals during your pool sessions.

ok hand signal underwater
"Are you OK?"
"I'm OK"
something is wrong underwater hand signal
"Something's wrong"
danger underwater hand signal
descend hand signal
"Let's descend"
ascend hand signal
"Let's ascend"
i'll follow you hand signal
"I'll follow you"
low on air hand signal underwater
"I'm low on air"
out of air underwater hand signal
"I'm out of air"
share air hand signal underwater
"I need air"

Using Hand Signals Effectively

Signals must be displayed clearly and distinctly to be effective. Follow these guidelines to make sure your buddy understands the message you're communicating.

Display signals in a position that's easy for your buddy to see. For example, if you're wearing black gloves and a black wetsuit, display signals away from your chest so that your hand can be seen against the background.

Respond to all signals by repeating the signal back to your buddy to indicate you received and understand the signal. For example, if your buddy displays the signal to ascend, respond with the ascend signal before you both begin to ascend.

"OK" signals are used as both a question and answer. For example, your instructor will display the signal after you've demonstrated a skill to ask you if you're OK. Respond with the OK signal if you are in fact OK.

diver using hand signals underwater