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Underwater Communication

Contrary to popular belief, there are a lot more hand signals than only those involving the thumb; or the middle finger. When you are underwater, talking is not an option and your dive buddy may not understand what your frantic flailing and waving means. That’s why it helps to have a set method of communication that everyone is familiar with and understands.

Because safety is a major concern while diving, lines of communication must be clear so that everyone can help ensure that everyone else has a safe and fun dive.

While there are a number of different hand signals, there are a few basics that you should be sure you have down before your first dive; here is a look at what you will need for basic communication while diving.


Female scuba diver show hand signal - down


It’s important to be able to communicate where you want to go while underwater as well as other things such as needing the group to slow down. These basic signals should get you through most any dive.

  • Stop

Signal your buddy or fellow divers to stop by holding up one hand; the same as you would in any other instance.

  • Going Up or Down

To let others know that you are moving, use a thumbs-up signal to indicate that you are going up, or a thumbs down to indicate the opposite.

  • Changing Direction

Just like with up and down, point your thumb to indicate which direction you’re heading.

  • Turn Around

To let everyone know it’s time to turn around, put your index finger up and rotate in a circle.

  • Slow Down

Place your hand in front of you with your palm facing down. Wave your hand up and down to indicate that you need everyone to slow down a bit.

  • Level Off

To indicate that you want to level off once you’ve reached a certain depth, put your hand out in front of you, palm down, and wave it back and forth.


When you’re underwater, behind a mask, and loaded with equipment, nobody diving with you will be able to tell how you are feeling or what you need. You need to be able to express to your fellow-divers that you are in need; whether you are just cold or there is something seriously wrong. There are a number of important hand signals that you should be familiar with, but here are a few of the basics.

  • I’m Okay!

    Scuba Diver Giving Okay Signal

    Jon Milnes

Sometimes all you need to be able to communicate underwater is the fact that you are okay; especially if you are a new diver. You can let everyone know that you are alright by giving the well-known “OK” signal.

Place your thumb and forefinger together forming a circle and leave the other three fingers extended upright. However, if you are wearing gloves and can’t move your hand quite that much, place the tips of all of your fingers together and keep your hand facing you.

  • Something’s Wrong

No matter what’s wrong. Whether you’re just uncomfortable, you don’t feel right, or you just want to get your feet back on dry land, this is a signal you need to know. Place your hand out in front of you, fingers spread and palm down. Wave your hand back and forth in a rocking motion; this can be followed by a signal for whatever it is that’s wrong.

  • Help!

If you need help right away, the signal needs to be drastic. Wave your entire arm from outstretched by your side to over your head. Repeat the motion until you are noticed.

  • I’m Low on Air

Your first few dives, it is perfectly normal for you to run out of air more quickly than others. It takes practice to be able to make your air last. The initial excitement and thrill can cause you to breathe heavily and use up your air. To let others know that you’re running low, clench your hand into a fist and pull it in toward your chest. Repeat as much as you need to indicate how urgently you need to resurface.

  • I’m Out of Air

If you’ve waited too long or something has gone wrong with your equipment, signal quickly and repeatedly. Remember this signal! It’s easy to panic and start flailing about but remain calm and signal to get help. Place your hand, palm down in front of your throat and move back and forth in a sort of cutting motion.

Remember that knowing the signals is only step one. You’ve got to remember them while diving and then remain calm enough to use them. Those diving with you will not know what you need unless you show them the proper signal.

Have you ever experienced communication problems on a dive? Tell us about it and what you did to solve it!