National Association of Rescue Divers


All divers on the team must know and understand all signals. Understanding signals insures safe operations. Some teams make their own signals, others use standard signals, and some use sign (language of the deaf) most use a combination of all three. When giving a signal it should be done in an exaggerated manner. Line signals need to be forceful so they wont be mistaken for natural line movement.

When it comes to communication, like all aspects of rescue work, use the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid). With that in mind slates offer the best understanding between divers. When using slates grease pencils work best because they come in bright colors, have a thick line, and most use a peel away end making sharpening underwater effortless. At night or in limited visibility two things can be done, light signals may be used (the diver uses the light to illuminate his hands or slate) or line signals may be used. For distance signals between divers in the water and the Divemaster on shore or boat, flags work best. The Divemaster can hold a bright colored flag in each hand to signal divers. Divers can respond with whistle blast. There is a diver recall flag that is international code flag ''P''. This flag is blue with a white square in the middle. Divers should be trained to look to the shore or the boat anytime they break water. This lets the Divemaster know if the divers need help, and keeps the divers aware of any new developments.

Communication between divers, diver and tender, or other surface personnel is one of the most important skills that need to be mastered. Without good communication nothing will get done.

At night basic light signals are important to know. Never point lights in anyone eyes. The ''OK'' signal is a movement of the light in a circle, pointing the light down. To attract attention, flip the light back and forth where the person is looking. Use Chem lights to monitor positions, these can be attached to tanks or small ones to snorkels. Hand signals need to be illuminated. When using buddy line signals they are the same as surface tended signals. A whistle should be used for surface communication.

When divers are using a tender to search, meaning a man on the surface directs the diver as to when to turn, and where to search, they communicate by a line. For zero visibility diving a tender line is mandatory. It serves not only as a way to communicate but a guide back to shore or boat and a means of recovering an injured diver. The line should be neutrally buoyant not too large of a diameter, with one end affixed too the diver not his equipment. Signals have been developed for this purpose and are kept simple for ease of operation. A line signal entails giving one or a series of SHARP, distinct tugs on a line strong enough to be felt by the diver, but not strong enough to pull the diver aside from what he is doing. For good line communication all slack must be out of the line before signaling. This is something both the tender and the diver must do together. In blackwater the diver may become disorientated very easy if tension is not maintained on the line.

Standard line pull signals are applicable to all dive operations and the code has been established after many years of experience. These signals apply to divers using buddy lines, or for on line searches, as well as diver to tender. All most all signals require an immediate reply by the person receiving the signal. This acknowledgment insures that the person received and understood the signal. It consist of essentially of replying with the same signal. If the signal is not returned it should be resent. If no answer is returned, then the person sending the signal can assume one of three things. First the line is fouled in some way. This is normally the number one cause of loss of line communication. Second there is too much slack in the line. Check your tension. Third, if the signal was from diver to surface, he should set a marker buoy where he is, and surface to reestablish communication. The diver must treat this as a loss of buddy contact and surface immediately. When the signal was from surface to diver, the tender must assume the diver is in trouble. He should immediately place an overhand knot in the line, notify the Divemaster and send the stand-by diver down to investigate. Treat this situation as an emergency.

There are a few signals that do not need immediate answering. Two are from diver to tender which are ''Bring me up'' and ''Haul me up immediately''. Acknowledging these signals are a waste of time because the action speaks for itself. The only signal from tender to diver that does not require a quick reply is ''Come up''. The reason for this is the diver has to set a marker buoy where he is and then surface.

Search Signals are used as stated during search operations and direct the diver. These signals are the same as some of the standard communication signals, so the diver must know what he is responding to, communication or search signals. To do this the searcher may tell the tender at the surface to use search signals. But when the need arises and the tender must switch to communication signals he does this by seven line pulls. This tells the diver to discern all succeeding signals as the other mode. Only tenders use search signals, all signals sent by the diver are communication signals!

Many response teams have their own signals but for standard signals in diving the U.S. Navy Line Pull Signals are used. They are based on years of diving experience. The following are based upon the U.S.N. signals. They have been modified to meet the needs of the rapid response teams.


  • 1 Pull ''Are You All Right?'' While moving one pull means ''Stop''

  • 2 Pulls ''Going Down'' or ''Going Out'' While ascending or coming in toward shore 2 pulls mean ''You Have Moved Too Far, Go back Until I Stop You.''

  • 3 Pulls ''Stop and Stand by, Instructions To Follow''

  • 4 Pulls ''Come Up''

  • 2 Pulls pause 1 Pull ''I Understand''

  • 1 Pull ''I Am All Right'' While moving means ''I'm Stopping'' or ''I'm On The Bottom''

  • 2 Pulls ''Give Me Slack''

  • 3 Pulls ''Take Up The Slack''

  • 4 Pulls ''Coming Up''

  • 2 Pulls pause 1 Pull ''I Understand''

  • 1 Pull pause 2 Pulls ''I've Found The Object''

  • 7 Pulls ''Go On (or Off) Search Signals"

  • 1 Pull ''Stop'' or ''Stop and Search Where You Are''

  • 2 Pulls ''Go''

  • 3 Pulls ''Go Right''

  • 4 Pulls ''Go Left''

  • 2 Pulls pause 2 Pulls pause 2 Pulls ''I Need Assistance''

  • 3 Pulls pause 3 Pulls pause 3 Pulls ''I Am Fouled But Can Get Out"

  • 4 Pulls pause 4 Pulls pause 4 Pulls ''Haul Me Up Immediately'

After certain signals are received by the tender, he must mark the line at the point he received that signal. This is done by the tender placing an overhand loop in the line at that point. The signals that this must be done on are as follows: Whenever a diver stops or when he begins a search. The purpose of this is twofold. First is the diver is lost it gives a rapid response to a last known location. Second it gives a reference as to the distance or area that has been search. When the diver signals he has found the object, mark the line. Sometimes the diver forgets to place a marker on the found object, if this occurs a simple sweep search with the marked line will quickly relocate the object. Secondly, it allows for a more accurate way to measure the distance from a pier or shore as to how far away the object was found. Finally anytime an emergency signal is received mark the line. If the diver is in trouble, it can help in rapidly relocating him. Never untie any of these loops until two conditions are met: First the diver on that line has been recovered and two you are given the OK to do so by the Divemaster.

National Association of Rescue Divers



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