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

(Are you) OK? OK on the surface


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


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


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


Where is your Buddy?


You Me Come here, beckon

Distress Signals

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


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

Air Related

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 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 or 50 Bar repeat signal twice = 100 Bar Occasional signal for 100 Bar

Depth and Time Related Signals

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


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


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


Directional Signals

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


Training Signals

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


Underwater Creatures

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


Lobster Hammerhead


Shark Lionfish


Other Signals

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

The Scuba Doctor Air, Nitrox and Trimix Fills

People who live in glass houses get very hot in summer.
— Australian bushie proverb