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Mastering Underwater Communication: Hand Signals and Torch Signals for Scuba Divers

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Torch signals
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An essential part of a scuba diver’s equipment today is a dive torch, which I carry on every dive, whether it’s a night dive or in the middle of the day in the tropics. Here’s why:

  1. Visibility in Dark Corners: You can sometimes find a dark corner underwater where you need some light to see.
  2. Safety at Sea: If I’m ever lost at sea and day turns to night, that light increases my chances of being seen.
  3. Communication Tool: Your torch beam can help you communicate with other divers.

WATCH THE VIDEO

Mark discusses torch signals

Understanding Light Signals for Night Diving

One handy thing about night diving is that you can usually tell which direction your buddy is looking by where their torch beam is pointing. If you cross that beam with your own, you can draw their attention. Be very aware of what your torch beam may be telling other divers around you. It’s a method of passive communication in a diving team. If I can always see your torch beam in my peripheral vision, I know roughly where you are. If it disappears, I know you’ve either turned around or stopped, and I may need to check on you.

If your torch beam is moving around smoothly, everything is alright. If it gets jerky, then something may be wrong. Keep your movements smooth and calm unless there’s an issue.

Tips for Using Your Torch Underwater

  • Avoid Shining Directly at Eyes: Never shine your torch directly at another diver’s or marine life’s eyes. Marine life will scatter, and other divers will be blinded.
  • Gauge Reading: When shining your torch on your gauges, remember to look away and guard the gauge to avoid blinding yourself.
  • Spotlight vs. Floodlight: Invest in a spotlight rather than a floodlight. Floodlights blind everyone in front of them, while spotlights are more targeted.
torch signals
Mark explains how to illuminate your pressure gauge

Basic Underwater Light Signals

  1. Attention: To get your buddy’s attention, use a smooth up-and-down movement with your torch beam. This is like a head tilt to indicate you want to communicate.
  2. OK Signal: A circular movement of the torch beam. It’s a question and an answer. If someone lassos you, they’re asking if you’re OK, and you respond with a good circle.
  3. Problem Signal: Wave your light side to side to indicate there’s something wrong. A smooth side-to-side movement asks for help, while a frantic movement indicates panic.
  4. Lost Buddy: Use the “lighthouse” technique. Rotate on the spot, shining your torch outward to look for signs of your buddy. In a perfect world, you’ll see your buddy doing the same thing.

For other signals, shine your light on the relevant hand signal or on yourself if it requires both hands. This way, your buddy can see what you’re communicating.

torch signals
Mark demonstrates the ‘problem’ signal

Light Signals on the Surface

When ascending at night, shine your torch up towards your dSMB to illuminate it. Once on the surface, make sure you’re seen by running a slow lighthouse signal. Once you’ve found your boat, give a head tilt to indicate you want to be picked up. Shine the torch on yourself or into your SMB to make it glow so boats can see you.

If you need help, waving the torch is the universal signal for assistance.

Conclusion

The three main light signals are:

  • Circle for OK
  • Up-Down for Attention
  • Side-to-Side for a Problem

Everything else involves using your torch beam to illuminate yourself or your signals. Always try to point the beam off to one side to avoid blinding yourself or other divers.

If you’re in the market for a torch, check out today’s sponsor, scuba.com. Thanks for watching, and safe diving!

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Picture of Mark Evans
Mark Evans
Scuba Diver's Editorial Director Mark Evans has been in the diving industry for nearly 25 years, and has been diving since he was just 12 years old. nearly 40-odd years later and he is still addicted to the underwater world.
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