Scuba diving hand signals are the secret language of divers. While many relish the tranquility and silence of the underwater world, the ability to communicate with our dive buddy isn’t just part of the fun—it’s essential for safety. By making shapes and gestures with your hands, you can (among other things):

  • Give directions
  • Signal different marine species
  • Point out hazards
  • Ask for help

Once you get good at using scuba diving signals, you can have entire conversations underwater. Some divers even find themselves using scuba signals on land. Most common scuba diving hand signals are also fairly universal, and two divers who don’t speak the same language topside can often communicate fluently underwater.

Can You Translate These Scuba Diving Hand Signals?

  • Wait. Look under that rock. There’s an eel. Do you want to take a photo of it?
  • How much air do you have? I’m good on air.
  • I’m having ear problems. Can we end this dive?
  • Follow me to the boat. We’ll do a 3-minute safety stop, then ascend. Okay?

If you’ve forgotten the basic diver hand signals, check out the video above from our friends at Sport Diver. You can also buy or download a scuba diving hand signals Pocket Guide.

A scuba diving instructor demonstrates the descent skill to two students in the pool with one of the most common hand signs

What Are the Hand Signals for Scuba Diving Instructors?

PADI Professionals (Divemasters and Instructors) learn additional hand signals to communicate with students underwater. Here are a few you might have seen your scuba instructor use during your Open Water Diver course:

  • Everyone watch me
  • Fill your mask with water halfway
  • Try that skill again
  • Well done!
  • Remember, always blow bubbles when your regulator is out of your mouth

A scuba diver tells their buddy they want to ascend by showing a thumbs up, which is one of the basic hand signals in diving

Can You Signal These Common Words and Phrases?

Ascend • Awesome • Boat • Breathe • Buddy Up • Come Here • Danger • Descend • Distressed Diver • Follow Me • Go This Way • Help • Hold Hands • How Much Air Do You Have? • I Am Cold • I Have a Problem Equalizing • Level Off • Look • Low On Air • Narcosis • Okay • Out Of Air • Share Air • Slow Down • Something Is Wrong • Stop • Three-Minute Safety Stop • Turn Around • Watch Me • Where Is The Boat? • Write It Down • You Lead, I Follow

Marine Life Hand Signals

The scuba diving hand signals for marine life are undoubtedly some of the most fun to learn—and use! Did you know there are widely used signals for:

  • Sharks and rays
  • Turtles
  • Dolphins and whales
  • Nudibranchs
  • Octopuses and jellyfish
  • Crabs and lobsters
  • All sorts of fishes, from scorpionfish to barracuda
  • …and many more!

Learn more about scuba diving hand signals for fish and other marine life in the video above. You can also read our dedicated blog on marine life hand signals.

Deaf Divers Use Sign Language Underwater

While hearing divers lose their communication method when diving, deaf divers continue to carry on entire underwater conversations. Indeed, many hand signals for scuba diving have their roots in traditional sign languages.

AmbassaDiver Thomas Koch is PADI’s first deaf Course Director. He shares, “The main thing is—we do not use signals underwater—we have a conversation underwater. One good example… the hearing divers have had to hold all those amazing things they saw until after the dive and say, ‘Did you see that beautiful fish, did you see this, did you see that….’ As for the deaf divers, we’ve already talked about it while diving.”

P for Plastic Debris

In 2019, a group of Dutch divers and The Plastic Soup Foundation wanted to raise awareness about the massive problem with plastic. So, they created a new diving hand signal that can be used by divers to tell their buddies they’ve seen plastic and want to pick it up. PADI and the PADI AWARE Foundation encourage all divers to use the P for Plastic hand signal and then share the word by posting pictures and stories on social media using #PforPlastic.

Why Does Plastic Need Its Own Scuba Diving Hand Signal?

Sadly, our oceans and waterways are full of plastics. If nothing changes, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.

Encourage friends and family members to say “no” to single-use plastics such as straws, cutlery, and plastic bottles. Consider sharing a few striking facts about ocean plastic, such as:

  • The plastic in the ocean could cover Earth 400 times.
  • 100,000 animals die every year after getting tangled in plastic, such as bags and nets.
  • Fishing isn’t the biggest culprit. Instead, 80% of ocean plastic comes from our land activities.

Planet Earth needs its human citizens to go on a plastic diet. On average, each person in the European Union creates around 122 kilos of plastic waste yearly, while the United States uses around 25 billion styrofoam cups every year. Worldwide, 1 million plastic bottles are sold every minute.

A graphic showing the PADI AWARE Foundation's Dive Against Debris map which shows the amount of trash collected worldwide

A staggering amount of plastic waste ends up in our oceans. PADI AWARE has an interactive Dive Against Debris map that allows you to see the amount of plastic trash collected in your local area, as well as totals from around the world. Experts say less than 10% of all plastic ever made has been recycled.

Underwater, we may have to use our hands to communicate, but topside we can be the voice for the ocean. Read more about how you can make a difference as an Ocean Torchbearer.

A silhouette of the "OK" sign against a sunset background, one of the most common and recognizable scuba diving hand signals

Scuba Diving Hand Signals: Do’s and Don’ts

Here are five tips for giving the best scuba hand signals to your buddy:

  1. Do recap basic scuba diving hand signals during buddy checks. While most are universal, there can be regional differences.
  2. Don’t forget to answer. When your buddy gives you the “OK” signal, reply with “OK” (or tell them if something’s wrong).
  3. Do make them as clear as possible. Hold your hands away from your body, signal slowly, and use exaggerated gestures.
  4. Do illuminate your underwater hand signals with a dive light during night dives so your buddy can see them.
  5. Don’t be afraid to make up your own, especially for marine life (just make sure your buddy knows about them, too!)

A collage of a female diver demonstrating the signs for four different types of marine life including shark and turtle

Put Your Scuba Diving Hand Signals to the Test

Whether you’ve just refreshed your memory on basic scuba hand signals or learned some advanced words and phrases, why not book your next PADI course and put your new skills to good use?

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