Free Shipping US and International -- Learn More

Common Hand-Signals for Safer Scuba Diving

In normal circumstances, studies have shown that at least 70 percent of our communication is non-verbal. It is an important aspect of how we interact, and it becomes even more critical when it involves divers communicating with one another. If you’re getting ready to descend into the depths, we recommend getting familiar with these common hand signals:

Infographic showing hand signals for scuba diving


The most common hand gesture in diving is also one of the most popular hand signals in general. The “ok” sign is used to designate if a diver is doing well during the dive. When asked by someone if they are okay, a diver should immediately respond by showing the “ok” gesture or indicating that something is wrong.

Not OK

In contrast to the “ok” signal, the “not ok” sign indicates there is a problem with a diver. The gesture is most commonly made by extending a flattened hand and slowly rotating it back and forth. A diver may follow-up this gesture by pointing to the issue they are notifying you about. For example, if you’re experiencing an ear equalization program, use the “not ok” signal and point to your ears.


As the name suggests, the “up” signal is given when it is time to return to the surface and end the dive. The “up” gesture is identical to the thumbs-up we are all familiar with. If a diver gives a fellow diver the “up” signal, the other diver should signal “up” as well to ensure that the message was received.


Contrastingly, the “down” gesture signals a diver’s willingness to continue descending to a dive location. The hand signal is identical to the thumbs-down commonly used in non-verbal communication.


There are two ways to signal “stop” to a fellow diver. The first is extending a flat hand with the palm facing forward. The second way is to raise a closed fist out and up, similar to how soldiers communicate a holding position in situations that require silence. If a diver uses a “stop” signal, accompanying divers should gesture back, signaling the message was received.


Unlike how you may point to something to look at, the “look” gesture in diving utilizes the full hand for pointing. All the fingers are used in a flat hand signal that points to something of interest. This is to avoid confusion with other gestures that may use the index finger and could be confusing underwater.

Low on Air

If you are low on air during a dive, you should place a closed fist over your chest. This will alert other divers that you are running out of breathable air. The closed fist gesture is not an emergency gesture; instead, it tells other divers that your scuba tank is near the end of its air capacity and you need to return to the surface.

Out of Air

In the event where you have run entirely out of air, you should move a flattened hand across your neck in a slicing motion. This will let other divers know your air has been cut-off. Thankfully, with the many advances in scuba diving technology, the occurrence of running out of air on a dive has become extremely low.

Safety Stop

This gesture is used by divers to alert others that a predetermined safety stop depth has been reached, and divers should stay at that depth for 3 minutes. The signal is made by holding three fingers up with one hand and placing the other hand in a flat position above them. Safety stops should be used on every dive to ensure divers are communicating with one another properly.

These are just some of the hand gestures used by divers to safely and effectively communicate underwater. Additional signals are used throughout scuba diving to address the many situations divers may encounter when descending into their adventures.

Scubadelphia Diveseekers is a premier source for instruction and certification, as well as the best place to buy scuba gear online. Whether you are an experienced diver or just getting into the hobby, Scubadelphia Diveseekers has something for you. For more information about our products and services, contact us today!