10 Essential Scuba Hand Signals for Divers

Scuba diving is an exhilarating way to explore the diverse ecosystems of the underwater world. However, to stay safe, you’re going to learn a few hand signals for you to communicate with your buddy, your dive guide, and other members of the team you’re diving with.

This is where scuba hand signals come into play, ensuring divers can relay important information to one another without relying on verbal communication. Mastering these hand signals will not only enhance your diving experience but also contribute to the safety and well-being of all divers involved.

From the basic “OK” signal to other more complex ones, this blog post will tell you all you need to know about scuba hand signals. 

Key Takeaways

  • Scuba hand signals are essential for successful communication and safety among divers.
  • Key components include the “OK” Demand-Response Signal, “Not OK” Problem signal, Surface Communication Signals, Ascending/Descending Hand Signals & Air Management Signals.
  • Other important signals include Sharing Air Signal, Buddy System Signs, Navigational Hand Signals, Environmental Awareness & Health/Comfort. 

The Importance of Scuba Hand Signals

Scuba diving hand signals are pivotal in facilitating successful communication and safety among divers worldwide. Since verbal communication is impossible underwater, you’ll have to rely on these hand signals to convey important information to your fellow divers and ensure everyone’s well-being.

Regardless of certification level or number of dives completed, it’s indispensable for all divers to be properly trained in scuba diving hand signals. To ensure that all divers are employing the same hand signals, a pre-dive briefing or plan should be conducted with each dive buddy prior to every dive. 

This not only guarantees effective communication but also helps in preventing confusion and potential accidents in the underwater world teeming with marine life.

The “OK” Hand Signal

The “OK” hand signal is the most important and frequently used signal in scuba diving, employed to ascertain the well-being of other divers or to respond affirmatively. 

It is performed by connecting the thumb and index finger to form a circle, while the remaining three fingers, including the middle finger, are extended. This demand-response signal plays a significant role in maintaining clear communication and ensuring the divers’ safety.

All divers must use the same signal, the “OK” hand signal, to avoid any confusion that could potentially jeopardize the dive team’s safety. 

Therefore, discussing and practicing this signal with your dive buddies before the dive is highly recommended, ensuring everyone is on the same page and can confidently convey the “OK” hand signal when required.

Ok scuba hand signal

Demand-Response Signal

Demand-Response Signals, like the “OK” hand signal, are key in establishing affirmative responses and demonstrating comprehension to your buddy team. Scuba diving instructors often emphasize the importance of understanding and using these signals effectively, as they provide crucial information and ensure a safe and enjoyable dive experience.

One important example of a Demand-Response Signal is the “How Much Air” signal, which helps divers communicate their remaining air supply. By mastering these signals and using them appropriately, divers can maintain effective communication and prevent potential accidents due to misunderstandings or misinterpretations.

problem scuba hand signal

Problem or “Not OK” Hand Signal

In the event of an issue or problem during a dive, scuba divers need a clear and concise way to communicate this to their fellow divers. The “Not OK” hand signal serves this purpose, effectively indicating a problem and ensuring a quick response from dive buddies. 

To perform this signal, divers should place their palm facing downwards with fingers spread and make a shaking or wiggling motion. Subsequently, the diver must indicate the nature of the issue.

Both professional and recreational divers must use the “Not OK” hand signal as clear underwater communication can be the difference between a successful dive and a potential hazard. 

By quickly signaling a problem and receiving the necessary assistance, divers can address the issue and continue to enjoy their underwater exploration.

Not okay scuba hand signal

Surface Communication Signals

Effective communication doesn’t stop once divers reach the surface. Surface communication signals are vital for conveying important information to dive boat captains and support staff above water. As always, you should be using a SMB, or Surface Marker Buoy

The two most significant surface communication signals in scuba diving are “OK” and “Problem/Help”.

Underwater, divers must join both hands together in a ring shape above their head to signal “OK”. If only one hand can be used, the diver should touch the top of their head with their fingertips to signify “OK”. The “Problem/Help” signal above water is performed by waving one arm in an overhead motion in a continuous manner, indicating the need for assistance.

The comprehension and use of these surface communication signals are pivotal for maintaining safety during and post-dive. When divers can effectively communicate underwater, they ensure their well-being and needs are understood by those above water, leading to a smooth and enjoyable dive experience for all involved.

Scuba market buoy graphic

Ascending and Descending Hand Signals

Hand signals for ascending and descending are fundamental to maintain the correct depth and orientation during a dive. The “Stop” hand signal, communicated by extending a flat hand with the palm facing forward, signifies to cease movement. The “Down/Descend” hand signal, indicated by a thumbs-down sign, signifies that the diver is prepared to commence the dive or proceed further into the depths.

The “Up/End the Dive” hand signal is indicated by a thumbs-up signal, informing fellow divers that it’s time to ascend and conclude the dive. This signal can also be employed as a demand-response signal, ensuring clear communication of the diver’s intentions.

Mastering ascending and descending hand signals not only helps divers maintain proper depth during a dive but also contributes to the overall safety and enjoyment of the underwater experience. By effectively communicating their intentions, divers can better coordinate their movements and ensure a successful dive.

scuba hand signal of up and down

Air Management Signals

Air management signals like “Low on Air” and “Out of Air” are crucial to ensure divers’ safety and proper air supply management during a dive. The “How Much Air Do You Have?” hand signal helps divers inquire about their buddies’ remaining air supply, ensuring proper air consumption management.

In the unlikely event of an out-of-air situation, the “Out of Air” hand signal is crucial for informing fellow divers of the emergency. To indicate that the air supply is cut off, one should move a flat hand across their throat in a slicing motion.

Understanding and using these air management signals can prevent potential accidents due to a lack of air and ensure a safe and enjoyable dive experience for all divers involved, including the proper execution of a safety stop.

fist to chest scuba signal

Sharing Air Signal

The sharing air signal is used in emergency situations when a diver runs out of air and needs to share an alternate air source with their buddy. In such scenarios, it is imperative that the out-of-air diver be allowed to breathe from the alternate air-source regulator while the two divers ascend together.

To avoid misinterpretation of the sharing air signal, both divers must be familiar with and understand the hand signal before the dive. Clear communication and rehearsal before the dive can help clarify any misunderstandings and guarantee that both divers are in agreement regarding the sharing air hand signal, ensuring a safe and successful ascent in the event of an emergency.

out of air scuba hand signal

Buddy System Signals

The buddy system is a fundamental aspect of scuba diving, promoting safety and camaraderie among divers. Buddy system signals, such as “Buddy Up” and “Stay Together,” facilitate the ability of divers to remain close to their partners and ensure effective communication underwater.

The “Buddy Up/Stay Together” hand signal is employed to remind divers to remain close to their diving partners, reassign teams, or join with another diver for particular activities. By understanding and utilizing these buddy system signals, divers can maintain a strong connection with their dive buddies, enhancing the overall safety and enjoyment of the dive experience.

buddy up hand signal

Navigational Hand Signals

Navigational hand signals are instrumental in guiding divers on their underwater journey. Signals like “Level Off” and “Go in This Direction” assist divers in maintaining proper depth and direction during a dive.

The “Level Off” hand signal is used to convey to others the necessity to remain or maintain at a specified depth. The “Go in This Direction” hand signal, on the other hand, is used to suggest or indicate a dive direction. By mastering these navigational hand signals, divers can effectively coordinate their movements and explore the underwater world safely and efficiently.

Environmental Awareness Signals

Environmental awareness is a key aspect of scuba diving, underlining divers’ responsibility to protect the underwater world they explore with such passion. The “P for Plastic” hand signal is an initiative designed to promote awareness of marine debris and the potential risks associated with single-use plastics.

This hand signal, which originated as an initiative of Dutch diving companies, is utilized to indicate that plastic has been observed underwater and will be collected. 

By implementing environmental awareness signals like the “P for Plastic,” divers can take an active role in preserving the fragile marine ecosystem and ensuring its beauty and diversity for future generations to enjoy.

hands in P shape for plastic

Health and Comfort Signals

During a dive, it’s critical for divers to convey their physical well-being and address any potential issues promptly. Health and comfort signals, like “I’m Cold” and “Cramp,” help divers express their current physical state and ensure that any concerns are promptly addressed.

To indicate feeling cold, divers should cross their arms and rub their upper arms with their hands. The “Cramp” hand signal, on the other hand, is communicated by repeatedly opening and closing one’s closed fist. By utilizing these health and comfort signals, divers can maintain their well-being during a dive and ensure that any physical discomforts are promptly addressed, leading to a safer and more enjoyable dive experience.

im cold hand signal


Mastering scuba hand signals is essential for every diver seeking to explore the underwater world safely and effectively. 

These simple gestures ensure clear communication with fellow divers, enabling them to share important information in an environment where verbal communication is not possible. From the basic “OK” signal to more advanced navigational and environmental awareness signals, mastering these hand signals can greatly enhance your diving experience.

As you embark on your next underwater adventure, take the time to practice and perfect your scuba hand signals. Not only will this commitment to clear communication contribute to your own safety and enjoyment, but it will also help protect the delicate marine ecosystem and ensure that the captivating world beneath the waves remains a source of wonder for generations to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean when a diver taps his head?

Tapping one’s head with an elbow extended sideways is a way for a diver to indicate that they are ‘OK’ at a distance, when a hand sign may be difficult to see.

What is the scuba cramp signal?

The scuba cramp signal is performed by opening and closing your fingers to indicate to your diving buddy that you have had a muscle cramp. This is done so that your buddy can provide help with stretching the muscle and relieving cramping, or so that you can take the time to do it yourself.

What is the hand signal for water?

To indicate water, extend and separate the three middle fingers of your dominant hand while holding the thumb and pinkie finger together, then tap your index finger on your chin a couple of times. This sign is based on the ASL sign for ‘W’, going near your mouth.

What is the hand signal for sharks when scuba diving?

The universal hand signal for sharks when scuba diving is to make a vertical fist with the thumb against the forehead or chest. To indicate a hammerhead shark, both fists should be placed against the sides of the head.

What is the most important scuba diving hand signal to know?

The most important scuba diving hand signal to know is the “OK” signal, which is used to check on the well-being of other divers or to respond affirmatively.

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