How to Communicate Underwater with Signs and Signals


You can’t talk underwater unless you and the person you want to talk to have expensive communications systems.

Sign language

Normally, you will have to use signs and signals to communicate. Unless you and your buddy are proficient in sign language, it’s best to keep these signals very simple.

Divers use an international code of simple hand signals. This has the advantage that if you are diving with someone who speaks a different language to you, you can still understand each other underwater.

Direction is indicated with the thumb. The up direction is indicated by a thumbs up, and down by a thumbs down. This can cause a little confusion at the beginning when newly trained divers use the thumbs up to say they are OK. The OK signal is made by placing the thumb and index finger tip to tip to create an ‘0’ with the other fingers straight. It can be used as both a question and an answer.

To show another diver that you are near to using your reserve of air, make a fist and hold it up palm side toward the viewer. The emergency signal that you are out of air is a chopping motion with the side of the flattened hand against the throat.

If you have a problem – with your ears, for example – point to the source of the problem with one hand using an outstretched index finger and flutter the other hand.

Go over your signals

It is important to go through the signals you intend to use with your buddy during your buddy check to avoid any misunderstandings. For example, making a T-shape with the tips of the outstretched fingers pointing to the centre of the horizontal palm of other hand seems to have lots of different meanings. These include a request for ‘time out’ or a signal that you are halfway through your air supply.

Dive guides use all sorts of signs to indicate different animals they are trying to draw your attention to. During the pre-dive briefing, ask for a demonstration of the signs the dive guide intends to use.

Complex messages can be relayed between divers by writing with a soft pencil on a plastic slate. Divers can often be seen with these large rectangles of white plastic attached to them by a lanyard. It is important to keep the message simple and to write legibly in large letters.

People have devised many ingenious signals using a lamp in the dark. The boat crews may use their lights to signal Morse code to each other. However, it’s best to stick with the signals you know, shining the light on your hand so that the signal is clearly lit.

A continuously revving engine or the noise of someone hammering on the hull or the boat’s ladder are commonly used to signal from a boat to the divers below that they should return immediately. This is a good method, as sound travels very well in the dense medium of water.

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  5. How to Transmit Smoke Signals

Filed Under: Sports & Fitness

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About the Author: By profession, Ralph Crutcher is a swimmer but enjoys playing football, Golf, and regularly goes to the gym to keep himself fit and healthy. This is one of the reasons; he likes to write about sports and fitness.

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