Last Updated: February 22, 2023
Snorkeling is, no doubt, a fantastic way to spend time in the water. However, without good underwater communication skills, you’re bound to find it difficult to keep up with your buddies or even get acquainted with what they might be up to.
To avoid confusion, it is important for snorkelers to be conversant with common hand signals. Luckily, mastering the art of communicating while snorkeling isn’t rocket science. Here’s what you need to know about it.
Do Snorkelers Use Hand Signals?
Yes, snorkelers use hand signals to communicate when underwater. Though sound travels four times faster in water than in air, the voice is usually unclear. It is, therefore, essential to have a style of messaging that is succinct and easy to understand.
To message your buddy when underwater, you have to first get their attention. A tap on the shoulder, a wave in front of their face, or swimming close to them will do just fine. Once you draw their attention you can use the appropriate hand signal to pass your message.
Useful Hand Signals for Snorkeling
There are numerous scuba diving hand signals that can be applied for snorkeling as well, though most of them are no longer in use. Some of the hand signals are common in everyday life but have specific interpretations when used in underwater environment.
Below are some useful safety and directional hand signals.
1. OK Signal – For people close to each other
To signal you are OK, use your forefinger and thumb to form a circle. Then extend the rest of the fingers upright. If you are not able to move your fingers as much, put the tips of all the fingers together then have the hand face you.
Sometimes the sign is used to ask a question or to get a response. The other person should reciprocate the same signal to mean they are OK. If they don’t signal back, it implies something is not right.
2. OK – On surface or when the recipient is far away
The OK signal using the forefinger and the thumb is suitable when you are in close proximity to your partner. However, it might not be clear when you are distant from each other.
When on the water surface, you touch your head to signal your buddies you are OK. If underwater, place both hands on your head to make a loop.
In both cases, you’ll want to make these signs when facing the intended recipient.
3. Something is wrong (SOS)
Though you may never have to use this gesture, it is good you know it regardless. To signal you are in trouble, open your hand and face the palm downwards. Extend your fingers, then shake your hand back and forth.
In normal life, the gesture is used to imply ‘maybe’, ‘so-so’, ‘sort of,’ or ‘kind-of.’
4. I need help
If you need immediate help, use the distress signal. Stretch your entire arm over your head and by your side. Then wave repeatedly until someone notices.
1. Come here signal
The gesture is easy to understand since it is almost like the everyday signal of one finger “come here”. In the water, however, the action is carried out with all the fingers.
Face your palm upwards while pointing towards your friend, curl up the fingers, and then straighten them. Repeat the gesture several times until the person understands it.
2. Ascending or descending (going up or down)
The everyday thumbs-up and thumbs-down sign has a different meaning in the aquatic language. When you signal your buddy thumbs-up, it means you are going up (ascending). You use a thumbs-down to indicate you are going down (descending).
3. Hold/stop signal
The marine communication has replicated the normal traffic sign for stop. To ask your buddy to stop, extend your palm to them just like a cop does to stop a car that is in motion.
Another common signal for “stop” is to hold up one hand as you would do at any other time.
4. Slow down signal
The “slow down” signal is usually used by instructors. Regardless, it does not hurt to learn it. Extend your hand, palm facing down, then move it downward. Maintain an eye-contact with your partner as you signal.
The gesture means to slow down (reduce speed), not go down. You signal this if the person is too fast, exerting themselves or you need their attention.
What is the Hand Signal for Shark?
Most of the underwater sign language mimics the movement, appearance, or the name of the animal. It is not surprising then that the hand signal for angelfish is a halo, moray is a mouth while stripes are for barracuda.
To signal a shark, you hold the side of the hand against your forehead.
How Important are the Hand Signals in Underwater Communication?
The hand signals are an essential and the basic form of communication when underwater. The gestures are useful in the safety and directional communication which would not be possible by voice.
My unbounded love for the oceans and everything it has to offer motivated me to pursue my passion and become a professional scuba diving instructor.
I keep reading, exploring, and learning more about scuba diving and the underwater world all the time, so I’m excited to share my knowledge with fellow scuba enthusiasts and hopefully contribute a little to your development as a diver. I want people to fall in love with the oceans with as much passion as I have. Read more about me here.