Underwater Hand Signals

Many signals vary across the world and across diver training agencies. If diving with strangers it is a good practice to agree on the signals you will use prior to the dive.


Communicating underwater is an important skill to learn and can lead to a whole lot of confusion if it's not done well. With rebreathers and full face masks it is possible to have a reasonable verbal conversation, however for the rest of us, it's a wide assortment of hand signals or writing on a slate.

Hand signals are always responded to (usually with OK) so that both buddies know they have successfully communicated. Lack of response may mean the buddy has lost concentration, has something wrong, is cold on the way to hyperthermia, narcosed at depth or just plain rude!

When using hand signals underwater, they are usually done in front of the chest and generally require a response from whom you are communicating. They should be performed clearly, positively and strongly. Lethargic, slow or inappropriate signals could be an indication that something is wrong.

When night diving, be sure to shine your torch on your hand signals and of course never shine the torch in other divers eyes, else you will damage their night vision for some time. Attract attention by moving the light beam from side to side preferably within your buddies field of vision.

Basic Hand Signals

OK underwater OK surface
(Are you) OK? OK on the surface


Stop Slow Down
Stop, wait here Slow down, move hand slowly
down and up a few times


Stay at the depth Up Down
Stay at this depth.
Move hand left to right and back
Up Down


Stay together Move apart You lead, I'll follow
Stay together Move apart a little You lead, I'll follow


Where is your Buddy? Wher is your Buddy?
Where is your Buddy?


You Me Come here
You Me Come here, beckon

Distress Signals

Not OK Out of Air (BSAC) Out of Air (PADI)
Not OK, something is wrong. rotate wrist slightly a few times. Then point to whatever is the problem, e.g. mask or ear. Out of Air (BSAC)
Move hand forward and down at 45 degrees.
Out of Air (PADI)
Move hand across the neck left to right a few times.


Distress Cramp I'm Narked
Distress on the surface. wave aggessively Cramp - tight fist then point to where I'm Narked!
Move index finger in circles


I am Cold I am Out of Breath
I am cold, move hands up and down I am out of breath, move hands in and out at chest level

Air Related Hand Signals

How much Air? Response 1Response 1
How much air do you have? Response example 1
50 Bar followed by 20 Bar - 70 Bar
(Always round down to the nearest 10)


How much Air? Response 2Response 2
How much air do you have? Response example 2
Repeat the 50 Bar signal twice + 30 Bar = 130 Bar
(Always round down to the nearest 10)


On reserve 100 bar 100 bar
On Reserve or 50 Bar repeat signal twice = 100 Bar Occasional signal for 100 Bar

Depth and Time Related Hand Signals

Ascend to Depth # Ascend to Depth #
Ascend to a particular depth
Depth signalled afterwards, e.g. 6m


Descend to Depth # Descend to Depth #
Descend to a particular depth
Depth signalled afterwards, e.g. 10m


Time Stop for 3 minutes Time out
Time Stop for 3 Minutes Time out
(sometimes used to denote 100 Bar)


Directional Hand Signals

That way Home I don't know
That way, point hand in the direction Home I don't know, shrug shoulders


Training Hand Signals

Look at me I'm in charge
Look at me I'm in Charge
(Sergeant Stripes)


Underwater Creature Hand Signals

Turtle Large Ray Moray Eel
Turtle, wiggle thumbs Large Ray, flap fingers like a large ray Moray Eel


Lobster Hammerhead
Lobster Hammerhead


Shark Lionfish
Shark Lionfish


P Is For Plastic

P is for Plastic

A new hand signal is catching on in the diving community. P for plastic debris. The Plastic Soup Foundation created the new hand signal to help divers raise awareness about the massive problem with plastic.

Use this sign under water to let your buddies know that you see plastic and that you want to take it out of the water. Share the plastic hand signal with as many people as possible and show that you care about the ocean!

We encourage all divers to use this new hand signal and post pics and stories on social media using #PforPlastic.

Other Signals

Do not touch Boat
Do not touch, move top hand down to end a few times Boat

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Never hang your dive gear on the line of fire.
— Old diver's proverb