Scuba Diving Hand Signals – PADI Symbols & Signs

Scuba diving hand signals are one of the most crucial things to learn before taking your first dive. Underwater, these signals are used to communicate with other divers. You “talk” to other divers by using your hands to signal that you’re OK or if an emergency is occurring.

Scuba divers can also use them to signal other things like low air or if you’re cold and to instruct other divers in your group.

Extreme watersports such as scuba diving can be dangerous if done incorrectly. Thus you will need to know precisely how to get started in watersports. For scuba diving, learning the signals is a significant first step. This post will teach you some of the most important scuba diver hand signals and why they’re vital.


Scuba diver underwater showing peace sign

In scuba diving, the most important hand signals are:

  • Emergency signal
  • OK signal
  • Ascending/Descending signals
  • Out of Air signal
  • Safety Stop signal

There are two important ways to signal an emergency. If on the surface, wave one or both arms in a broad arc over your head. Underwater, with an open, flat hand facing downwards, rotate it slowly side by side as if to say so-so.

To make the OK hand signal, make a loop with your thumb and index fingers and extend your third, fourth, and fifth fingers.

To indicate that you’re ascending, ball your fist and lift your thumb as though giving a thumbs up. If you want to descend, ball your fist and rotate your wrist to extend the thumb downwards, as if giving your diving buddies a thumbs down.

If you run out of air, slice your throat with a flat hand to signal that the air supply has cut off.

To signify a safety stop, hold your hand flat over three raised fingers. The raised fingers indicate the number of minutes.

Scuba divers employ a variety of hand signals to communicate underwater. Nevertheless, these are the most significant, as some are used to indicate a direction, and others are primarily intended to keep you and other divers safe.

What Are Scuba Diving Hand Signals?

Scuba diver underwater clasping hands together

Scuba diving hand signals are an essential part of underwater communication. Because humans can’t speak underwater, scuba divers developed a system of hand signals to communicate with one another.

Communication is crucial in an emergency, but it’s also necessary to let each other know when you’re descending or ascending, indicate which way to go in, whether you’re OK or cold, and if a boat is passing by.

Different Scuba Dive Hand Signals

Here are some of the most important and commonly used scuba diving signals divided into three categories.


Scuba diver underwater showing ok sign

●     OK

The OK hand gesture is the first hand signal that most scuba divers learn. Form a loop with the thumb and index fingers, then extend the third, fourth, and fifth fingers. This signal is also utilized to ask and answer questions.

The scuba OK sign is a demand-response signal. This means that if one diver asks another if he is OK, the other diver must either react with an OK signal or communicate that something is wrong.

●     How Much Air Do You Have

Every few minutes, divers should check their air supply. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your diving buddy’s oxygen levels. To inquire about their air supply, lightly touch two fingers on your opposite hand’s palm, facing upward or outward. Your buddy will respond by indicating how much air they have.

Divers often communicate this in various ways, and most divemasters or guides will clearly state how they like you to do so. One way is to draw a digit for every 1,000 PSI left on your flat hand, then hold up a finger for every 100 PSI remaining.

Another approach is to keep a digit up for each 1,000 remaining, then a digit down for each 100.

Making a “T” gesture with your hands indicates a half-tank.

●     Going up/Ascending

Ball your fist and raise your thumb as if giving your diving partners a thumbs up to indicate you’re going up/ascending. Raise your thumb to the topside (i.e., jerk it upwards) so that the divemaster can determine which way you want to go.

You can pair the going up hand signal with any subsequent scuba hand signals if you need to ascend for a specific purpose or need a member of the diving group to follow you. And remember to follow the ascent rates protocol set up by your team.

●     Going Down/Descending

To indicate you’re going down or descending, ball your fist and rotate your wrist downwards as if giving your diving partners a thumbs down. With your extended thumb, yank it downwards toward the ocean floor so that your divemaster can determine which way you want to go.

You can use the going down hand signal with any subsequent scuba signals if you need to descend for a specific purpose or need a member of the diving group to follow you.

●     Question

Raise a crooked index finger to resemble a question mark for the question signal. The question signal can be combined with any other scuba diving hand signs. “Should we go up?” can be communicated using the question signal followed by the “up” signal. “Are you chilly?” can be conveyed using the question sign followed by the “cold” signal.

●     Safety Stop

Holding a flat hand over three raised fingers creates the safety stop signal. The minimum suggested time for a safety stop is three minutes (the three fingers show the minutes).

The safety stop signal should be used to notify the dive team that they’ve reached the predetermined safety stop depth.

●     Come Here

Extend your flattened hand, palm up, and bend the fingertips upward toward yourself for the come here hand signal. The come here indication is almost identical to the sign used in everyday conversation.


Scuba diver underwater with a school of fish

●     Slow Down

Another essential signal that all student divers learn before their first scuba dive is slow down. The hand is flattened and moved downward. Instructors use this signal to advise eager trainees to swim slowly and enjoy the fantastic underwater world.

Swimming slowly makes diving more enjoyable and helps prevent hyperventilation and other potentially harmful underwater behaviors.

●     Stop

Divers usually use one of two methods to communicate to stop. The first way (famous in recreational diving) is to raise a flat hand with the palm facing forward as if you were a traffic cop.

On the other hand, technical divers prefer the hold sign, which is created by extending a fist with the palm-side facing outward. The hold sign is a demand-response signal. If a diver signals hold, his fellow divers should respond with a hold sign, showing that they understand the signal and agree to halt and retain their position.

●     Turn Around

It is effortless to remember because the turn around hand gesture is identical underwater and on land. Lift your index finger and draw little circles with it while pointing upward.

This scuba diving hand signal can be used in conjunction with an instruction to swim in a particular direction, aimed at a specific person, or to indicate that the group is in danger if they do not turn around now.

●     Buddy Up

The buddy system is an essential practice in scuba diving for safety purposes. Place two index fingers side by side to signal to buddy up or remain together. Scuba diving instructors use this hand gesture to urge trainee divers to stay close to their diving buddies.

Divers also use this signal to reassign buddy teams underwater on occasion. When divers are low on air and ready to go up, they can use the buddy up hand gesture to signify that they will stay together and ascend.

●     Level Off

The level off hand gesture instructs a diver to stay at or maintain their current depth. The level off signal is typically used to indicate that divers have achieved their dive’s planned maximum depth or instruct divers to remain at a previously set depth for a safety or decompression stop. Extend your flattened hand, palm down, and slowly move it side to side horizontally for the level off gesture.

●     Who Leads, Who Follows

A diver can point one index finger at themself or a dive partner if they want that buddy to lead. They then point the other index finger in the direction they wish to go to signal who should lead and who should follow during a dive.

For example, if a diver wants to lead, he can use his left index finger to point at himself, then point in a specific direction with the other index finger or the complete flat hand.

●     Which Direction

Directions are usually expressed with the complete hand while underwater to avoid confusion with the “look” hand gesture.

So, if you want a fellow diver to look at something, you use your index finger. But, if you’re going to signal a direction you think the group should go, you use your entire hand by indicating in that direction with a flat, open palm.

Remember, as previously stated, that “ascend” and “descend” are indicated with the extended thumb.


Scuba diver on water surface holding up arms

●     Something’s Wrong

The something is wrong hand signal is identical to the “so-so” hand gesture on land. Extend your flattened hand out in front of you, palm down, and tilt it side to side to signal to your diving companions that something is awry.

This hand signal can be coupled with various additional hand signals to communicate what is wrong to your fellow divers. If the “something” that’s gone wrong is urgent, it’s better to start with the “emergency” hand sign.

●     Low Air

Place a closed hand against your chest for the low on air signal. This hand gesture is meant to communicate that a diver has reached the predetermined tank pressure reserve for the dive, not to signify an emergency.

Once a diver has shared that they are low on air, they and their diving companion should safely end the dive. Use the “up” signal to agree to conduct a slow and controlled ascent to the surface.

●     Out of Air

To signal that your air supply has been cut off, slice a flat hand across your throat in a slicing motion. The diver’s companion must respond quickly to this signal by allowing the out-of-air diver to breathe from his alternate air-source regulator. The two divers will then end the dive and ascend together.

When good pre-dive tests and diving protocols are followed, the chances of an out-of-air emergency when scuba diving are incredibly minimal.

●     Share Air

If you are out of air or experiencing difficulties with your air supply, make a flat hand motion between your mouths to signal that you need to share air or utilize your buddy’s alternate air supply.

●     Emergency! I Need Help!

The emergency hand signal is used on the surface by waving one or both arms in a wide arc(s) over the head. Because waving a hand is ineffective, especially in bad weather, make sure you wave from the shoulder and move the entire arm.

●     Trouble Equalizing

The problem will usually resolve itself if you merely ascend a little and then descend again. Nevertheless, you must inform your diving mates that you are having equalizing issues so that they are aware of your intention to ascend but not finish the dive. Here are some easy ways to equalize your ears.

Raise an extended index finger and point to your ear to signify that you have problems equalizing. Make sure you’re pointing to your ear, not your temple, or your group might misunderstand your intentions.

●     I’m Cold

If you become very cold, you must utilize the “I’m cold” hand signal for your health and safety. This will inform your divemaster/buddy that you are cold and that the group should ascend immediately.

Cross your arms and grab the opposite upper arm, rubbing them up and down to show you’re cold. This can be combined with the “something’s wrong” signal to illustrate that it’s a problem.

If you want to ask someone if they’re cold, use the “question” signal combined with the “I’m cold” signal. Like the “ok” hand signal, the I’m cold hand gesture can be used as a query or an answer as well.

●     Hold on to Each Other

Should dive partners need to retain contact or hold onto each other, the divemaster may indicate “hold onto each other” by clasping their own two hands together. This can be used in an emergency or because of changing weather or current circumstances.

The fingers are not interlaced in this hand gesture; instead, a mitten grasp is employed, and all four fingers remain together. It’s simply the thumbs that are entangled.

Summary on Diving Symbols and Gestures

Two scuba divers ascending to the surface

We hope that you’ve learned a lot of useful information regarding scuba diving hand signals, as well as how to use them to keep yourself and your diving buddies safe.

Learning how to use these hand signals correctly will be the fine line between life and death in an emergency situation. And the number one priority when you engage in any sort of extreme sport or activity is safety.

If by now you have decided that underwater activities are not for you, perhaps try some watersports that take place on the surface of the water, such as windsurfing.