Cave Diving Communication
As a technical diving intern with Blue Label Diving and a TDI full cave diver, I can appreciate the importance of clear, concise communication.
I have yet to encounter a situation that I could not communicate with the following signals, which were taught during my full cave course with instructor Ben Reymenants.
These signals can be classified into hand signals, light signals, and touch communication.
Cave Diving Communication via Hand Signals:
Skilled divers will have encountered many of these before and most are unchanged for cave diving. A few, however, have been tweaked to require a single hand. This allows the diver…..
to maintain contact with the guideline while signalling. These are a few of the most important and specific to cave diving:
- Hand Signal for : Okay communication: The most familiar signal. Remember that it is a question and requires a response
Hand Signal for : Hold communication: A closed fist held upright tells a team member to stop
Hand signal for : Question communication: A curved pointer finger is held up. Further communication indicates the specific question
Hand signal for : Problem communication: A flat, palm-down hand is rotated at the wrist. The problem is then indicated
Hand signal for : Deco communication: A pinky finger is pointed up. Often follows the question signal to ask a diver’s no decompression limit (NDL), stop time at a given depth, or Total Time to Surface (TTS)
Hand signal for : Switch Positions communication: Two fingers are held out and the hand is rotated at the wrist. Indicates that divers should switch positions on the line
Hand signal for : Cylinder Pressure communication: With palm facing up, curl your fingers inward and back repeatedly as if squeezing the inflator of a blood-pressure cuff
Hand signal for : Turn Around communication: With pointer finger up, make tight circles to indicate that the cave diving team will turn and begin a normal exit. This is used in a non-emergency
Hand signal for : Out & Up communication: A pointer finger and thumb are held out in a ‘gun’ shape, signaling that the team must turn and exit now. Used when a dive must be aborted due to an emergency or equipment failure
Hand signal for : Line communication: Wrap your middle finger around an outstretched pointer finger to indicate a line
Hand signal for : Entanglement communication: With two fingers in the ‘line’ signal, move the fingers in a figure-eight pattern
Hand signal for : Spool/Reel communication: With two fingers in the ‘line’ signal, make a circular motion directed to the side
Hand signal for : Tie Off communication: With two fingers in the ‘line’ signal, make a circular motion directed down. Often used to indicate a good point for a tie off
Hand signal for : This Direction communication: Point thumb in the intended direction
Hand signal for : Light communication: Repeatedly outstretch all fingers, as if imitating a beam of light
Hand signal for : Silt communication: Point an open hand downward and rub the tips of your fingers with your thumb
Hand signal for : Cut communication: Move two fingers together and apart in a scissor motion. Usually signaled to cut a line but may be used by an instructors to end a skill
Hand signal for : Bubbles communication: Make a pinching motion with thumb and pointer finger. Often used during a bubble check at the beginning of a dive
Hand signal for : S Drill communication: Move a pointer finger in an ‘S’ shape. This drill should be done at the beginning of every dive to ensure that the long hose is deployable
Hand signal for : Valve Drill communication: Wrap fingers into a ring and twist hand back and forth as if opening a tank valve. This drill should be performed at the beginning of every dive to ensure proper valve function
Hand signal for: Communication for Clean up: Open a flat hand and ‘sweep’ the fingers of the other hand back and forth across it. This indicates a diver should take time to adjust their equipment, tuck hoses, and secure loose items
LIGHT SIGNALS Cave Diving Communication
The preferred method of communication for cave divers travelling along a line. These signals are quick and should be unambiguous. It is important that a diver carefully control the position of their light to avoid confusion, so that random light motion is not interpreted as a signal. If detailed signaling is needed, light can be shined on normal hand signals
- Okay: Make a tight circle with your light beam against a surface that can be seen by your teammate. This is a question and demands either a responding ‘okay’ or further communication
- Validation: Same as ‘okay,’ but done on an object such as a cookie, arrow, or junction. Also demands a response
- Attention: Move light beam slowly back and forth within view of your teammate. Used to notify a teammate of a nonemergency
- Immediate Attention (Out of Air): Move light beam rapidly back and forth within view of your teammate to indicate an emergency. The teammate will fin to the signaling diver as fast as possible and ready to donate their long hose
Hand and Light Signals: Cave Diving Hand and Light Signals
TOUCH Cave Diving Communication
When visibility is lost, each member of the team should immediately grab the line with a full-fingered closed loop and an outstretched arm. Care must be taken not to allow the line to slip through loose fingers.
The lead diver places the other hand against his/her head for protection. Other divers grab the outstretched arm of the diver in front of them. Signals are communication through the point of contact
- Stop: A diver gives one forceful squeeze to the arm of the diver in front of him/her. The lead diver may squeeze the hand of the next diver on the team
- Back Up: A diver pulls the arm of the diver in front of them backwards to indicate that the team must back up
- Swim Forward: A diver pushes the arm of the diver in front of them forward
- Switch Sides: The lead diver uses his/her free hand to twist the hand of the next diver, indicating the need to switch to the opposite side of the line. The second diver backs up, temporarily breaking touch contact, and waits a few moments for the lead diver to switch sides while switching themselves. When both divers have switched, the second diver moves forward to restore touch contact
- Entanglement: A diver makes the ‘line’ signal and slides these fingers into the looped fingers of the diver ahead of him/her, who then turns to assist the entangled diver. The assisting diver may need to let go of the line, but must never lose contact with the entangled diver
- Out of Air: A diver rapidly squeezes the arm of the diver in front of them, who immediately places their long hose on the hand of the out-of-air diver. The out-of-air diver is moved to the front of the team, which immediately heads for the exit
This list does not include nearly all signals and many instructors will teach alternative methods of communication. The most important thing is that all members of the team are able to understand the meaning of every signal, when to use them, and what must be done in response.
Discussing cave diving communication prior to every dive, as well as reviewing it during the debrief, will maximize the efficiency of a team and will help ensure that dives are conducted in a safe and enjoyable manner.