Scuba Diving Hand Signals

Underwater communication for recreational scuba divers

Hand signals are a form of sign system used by scuba divers to communicate when underwater.

The Recreational Scuba Training Council agencies have defined a set of hand signals intended for universal use, which are taught to diving students early in their entry level diving courses. The more commonly used hand signals provide the following information:

In most situations simple hand signals are used. The RSTC signals include:


Ascend, or I am going up:
A fist is made with one hand, thumb extended upward, and hand is moved upward to emphasize direction of travel.
  Descend, or I am going down:
A fist is made with one hand, thumb extended downward, and hand is moved downward to emphasize direction of travel.
Something is wrong:
An open hand with palm down and fingers apart is rocked back and forth on the axis of the forearm.
  Are you OK? or I am OK!
A circle is made with thumb and forefinger, extending the remaining fingers if possible
The OK sign may be also be made without extending the fingers if wearing gloves   I'm OK:
Forming a large circle with both hands above the head: Used at the surface as the OK hand sign can be difficult to see from a distance.
I'm OK:
Touching or tapping the top of the head with elbow extended sideways: Used at a distance when the hand sign may be difficult to see. Alternative surface "OK" signal.
Hand raised vertically with fingers together and palm facing the receiver.
Turn around:
A forefinger extended vertically and rotated in a circular motion.
  Which direction?
A fist is make with one hand with extended thumb and the hand rotated on the axis of the forearm through 180° a few times to ask which way to go.
Hands cupped together.
  Buddy reference. Used alone: Get with your buddy:
Fists made with both hands, forefingers extended, and hands placed together with forefingers parallel and in contact.
Hold on to each other - Maintain physical contact:
Both hands clasped together.
  Who will lead, who will follow:
One hand pointed at the diver who will lead then positioned in front of the body, pointing forward, then other hand pointed to the diver who will follow and positioned behind the first, direction indicated with forefingers.
Level off at this depth:
Flat hand with palm down and fingers spread moved slowly side to side horizontally a few times.
  Take it easy, Relax or Slow down:
Flat hand with palm down moved slowly up and down a few times.
Give me air now (emergency implied):
pointing to the mouth with thumb and fingers together, moving hand back and forth a short distance.
  I'm out of air:
"Cutting" or "chopping" throat with a flat hand.
Emergency! Help me now:
Waving one or both arms in a wide arc. Used on the surface.
  I don't know:
Shrugging shoulders, arms bent, hands to each side, palms up.
Danger in that direction:
Clenched fist pushed/pointed in the direction of the perceived hazard.

  I am cold:
Hugging chest and crossed arms in front of chest, upper arms grabbed by opposite hands.
Point with two fingers to the eyes.
  Think. or remember:
Forefinger extended from fist, touching the side of the head at the temple.
I can't clear this ear:
Pointing at the ear with forefinger.
  How much air do you have left?:
One hand held flat, palm up, while index and middle finger of the other hand are placed on the palm.
There is air leaking from your equipment:
Index finger is brought down to thumb in repetitive motion. Size of movement indicates severity of leak.
  Cut the line:
A request to another diver to cut a line or net. Often used in case of entanglement where the diver making the signal can not reach the point where the line should be cut.
Safety stop:
Signal is used to indicate that the diver intends to do a safety stop at that point.
  Line, Line tangle or Cutting the line:
The index finger is crossed with the middle finger to indicate line. If the hand is moved in a figure 8 it means a line tangle. Pointed down and rotated means a line tie off. In combination with the cutting signal it means cut the line.
Silt, or Silting:
Palm and fingers down, thumb rubbed against the tips of the fingers.
  I have a cramp:
Repeatedly clenching and unclenching fist, and point at cramped area.
I am on reserve or I am on bailout gas or I am low on gas:
Clenched fist held steady, about level with head or chest, palm side usually forward.
  Time up - time to turn the dive and start heading back:
Flat hand held roughly horizontal with tips of other flat hand's fingers touching the palm at right angles. Can also signify half of starting air remaining (in response to the "Pressure" signal).
Come and get me as soon as you can, but not an emergency:
Signal to boat. Arm held straight up at the surface.
  Turn or terminate the dive.
The thumb points upwards to indicate ascent, and the forefinger points towards the exit from a penetration dive.
I am stuck:
Thumb clenched between forefinger and middle finger of fist.
  Ascend to stop:
Thumb-up ascent signal below a flat hand, palm down.


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