One of the most frustrating things that happen while diving is when you are trying to tell another diver something but, well, you can’t because you have a regulator in your mouth (at least I hope you do).
If you don’t know what you’re doing you’ll end up staring at each other with wide eyes and a flurry of strange hand gestures.
I never really thought about this much until I actually started diving. I quickly realized just how hard it is to not be able to verbally communicate underwater. That is why what you learn when getting certified is so important, and why I am providing you with a scuba diving hand signals chart to give you an idea of what communicating on a dive looks like.
So How Do You Communicate Underwater?
As I mentioned before you won’t be able to communicate verbally once you begin your dive. Instead, divers rely on hand signals to communicate. There are some universal hand signals that 99.9 % of divers know and understand, and there are also some hand signals that are unique to certain dive shops or geographic regions.
One dive guide might have his/her own way of communicating something as opposed to the “standard” way you were taught.
Knowing the hand signals is one thing, but getting the attention of your buddy needs to be step one. If you can’t get the other person’s attention, the best way to do so is banging something against your tank. It shouldn’t be a violent motion, but gently using a clip or ring will create a noise loud enough for others around you to hear it.
Underwater Hand Signals
I will now go over a chart of basic diving hand signals to use underwater. These are directly from my PADI open water diver manual, and I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with each of these before diving.
It is very important for safety reasons to learn the basic hand signals to be able to communicate effectively underwater, especially in times of emergency. If something were to go wrong underwater, you need to be able to stay calm and know how to communicate what you are experiencing so your buddy will know how to help you.
*Pro Tip: The most common mistake I see new divers make is when their guide gives them the “Are you okay” sign, they respond by giving him/her a thumbs up. Save yourself from looking like a rookie and don’t do this!
In the diving world, this means a totally different thing than on dry land. So do yourself a favor and learn the proper signal… you will thank me later.
Communicating with the Dive Boat via Hand Signals
There are also a few hand signals you need to know in order to communicate with the dive boat. As you can see in the chart below, you really only need to know how to let the boat know if you are okay or if something is wrong.
You will use these signals right after you jump in the water from the boat. You jump in, turn around, and let them know if you are okay or if something is wrong and you need their help.
The charts that I have provided so far only go over how to communicate feelings or situations to other divers. But how do you communicate about what you are seeing? Like different types of fish or other sea creatures?
The answer is… more hand signals! Yay!
Divers use various hand signals to communicate what they are seeing underwater. Sharks, different types of fish, stingrays, sea horses, jellyfish, turtles, etc. The list could go on and on, but there is no need to memorize all of them. This is where the signals can change slightly depending on your guides preferences.
Before you dive your guide will tell you each of the hand signals that he/she might be using during the dive. As a guide, they know all the different types of wildlife that you could encounter.
There is no point in memorizing a hundred of them before you go because more than likely you will only need to know a few unique signals that your guide will teach you beforehand.
You Now Know The Language of Scuba Diving!
Congrats, you can now say you know another language (although I don’t recommend adding it to your resume)! All jokes aside, you should be proud knowing that you have a basic understanding of how divers communicate underwater.
If you’ve never been diving before these charts are a very useful resource to help you prepare for your first dive or certification class.
If you’re already certified and been on a few dives already, these charts should be a great review for you. It never hurts to go over some basics, especially if it has been a while since your last dive.
I hope this article helped answer some questions you had and hopefully you’re leaving here feeling a lot more comfortable with how to communicate underwater.
As always, feel free to drop a comment below if you have any questions. Happy Diving!