How can I communicate effectively underwater?

There are 5 main ways that divers communicate underwater.

What are they and how can we use them most effectively?


  1. Light

A handheld torch which you can signal and get attention with.


  1. Hand signals

Divers all know basic hand signals from when we learned open water.

Sign language for divers.


  1. Touch

Touch contact is also a way that we can communicate.

Holding on to another person’s arm or hand, or tapping them on the shoulder are both effective ways of touch communication.


  1. Sound

Tapping on your tank, or making a sound with your hands is another common way of getting attention.


  1. Writing

Writing on a slate or wet notes, provided you have these kinds of equipment with you, is also a very effective and unambiguous way of communicating.


Breaking it down

Now, each of these methods has it’s pros and cons. Let’s explore them all.

  • 3 of the above methods are visual in nature (light, hand signals, and writing)
  • 3 of them require close proximity (hand signals, touch, and writing)
  • 2 of them allow communication over a distance (light and sound)
  • And only 1 is unambiguous (writing)


Attention seeking divers

One of the most common communication types required is getting another diver’s attention.

After which you can continue to elaborate with other forms of more unambiguous types of communication.

Over a distance, only light and sound work for this purpose.

However, sound is non-directional, whereas light is highly directional.

For me, I think a torch should always be available as a communication tool, for this exact reason.

Sound travels well, but unless you are already in visual range, it’s not going to work so well.

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of being in the water when someone is banging their tank, and you have no idea where it’s coming from.

In bad visibility, sound communication is definitely not as effective as a light.


Awareness, always awareness

However, if a team is diving well, with good diving etiquette, maintaining good relative positions and line of sight, then a good dose of awareness is all you need to get someone’s attention.

A good habit I always teach my students regardless of certification is to constantly look around at the other divers in the group.

When driving a car, you should be checking your mirrors every 20 secs.

Similarly, you should be doing the same thing while diving.

If we can all adopt this habit, then I won’t need to worry about getting someone else’s attention.

I’d only need to keep staring at that person, and I know that in 20 secs or so, she will look right over at me!

Now, how much more comfortable would that dive be?

Knowing that you can count on your teammates looking out for you every minute!

Leon Boey is a GUE, HSA and PADI instructor based in Singapore and Bali. He runs the dive education centre Livingseas in Singapore, Bali and Jakarta. Diving since 2005, he first fell in love with wrecks. He enjoys all sorts of diving, and loves being surrounded by fish.

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