Will we ever have a global sign language?

Sign language: Do you speak the T for a ton?
Sign language: Do you speak the T for a ton?

Last Updated on June 9, 2024 by Steve Weinman

I was reading an article by Audrey Cudel in Scuba Diver magazine about hand signals and communicating under water. If you don’t have a full-face mask with electronic communications, you must rely on more rudimentary, old-fashioned hand signals and other non-verbal communication methods.

Things like tank-bangers, quackers, rattles and even your torch-beam do have their use, but they’re limited to fairly rudimentary conversations – you can’t say a lot with a rattle. 

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Communication is crucial for the safety of divers and, of course, decision-making within the dive-team. When diving, if you’re not working off correct information someone might make the wrong decision.

To ensure safety, divers need to assess each other’s condition, check gauges, define things such as depth, exit direction, time and any decompression constraints in case of unexpected events or emergencies. 

Sign limitations

Decision-making and clear, effective communication are necessary to have the best outcome. However, communication options for open-circuit divers are quite limited. Writing down on a slate or wet notes is very effective but slow. Light signals only really work in the dark. Touch signals are even more limited, because you have to physically touch one another. 

Voice communication through full-face masks is expensive, sometimes unreliable and not particularly popular outside of scientific projects or commercial work. Most divers prefer to keep the underwater experience as quiet as possible anyway – they don’t want soemone continually talking in their ear. 

2 hands, 10 fingers

For the most part, we’re left with two hands and ten fingers to engage in some kind of conversation. Some techies will actually argue that one hand and five fingers must suffice, as the other hand might be busy with a light or a spool or some other tool. They don’t want to have to put something down or secure it to be able to say something. 

Sign language: Two hands, ten fingers
Sign language: Two hands, ten fingers

Divers also use gestures familiar from everyday life, such as nodding their heads, but they’re not always universal. Other signals might be endemic to one area or school. For example, pointing at a certain species of marine life can mean clownfish, but others have different hand signals. 

Special signals have been created for specific diving circumstances to give instructions, provide information, or indicate a condition or an emergency. The only problem is that there’s no single agency or international hand signal authority that determines what this universal hand signal library or language should be – it doesn’t exist. 

It would be great if we all shared a common universal language from hand signals derived from those with similar meanings on land to reduce learning effort and time and simplify communication. 

Training agencies

The reality is slightly different. Even land-based sign language for the deaf has regional languages around the world that vary depending on where you learned your sign language.

Sign language: Even signing for the deaf has its dialects
Sign language: Even signing for the deaf has its dialects

So there isn’t a lot of hope for recreational diving despite the effort of the Recreational Scuba Training Council, which has agency members such as PADI, SSI, NAUI, RAID and a whole bunch of other training agencies around the world. 

This council actually creates the minimum training standards for all of those training agencies but it has yet to create defined universal hand signals for recreational diving.

Each agency continues with what it has previously been teaching. There are some universal hand signals but they still branch off when you get to the more complicated stuff. 

Rec dialects

A decent range of foundational signals are mostly universal – you’re pretty safe with the OKs, ups, and downs – but the recreational diving community has developed a variety of confusing dialects. The number 100 is a common separator for many divers.

Sign language: Pretty safe with the OKs
Sign language: Pretty safe with the OKs

The T signal actually means a hundred, or sometimes, depending on who taught you, it means half a tank, which if you’re diving a 200 bar tank is about 100. 

But when it comes to actually signalling the number 100, what do they do? Do they do the T? Do they do 10 fingers? Does that mean 100, or does it mean 10, or does it mean just stop right there? 

Context is obviously very important when it comes to that, but overlapping signals can produce mixed signals. This diversity can make communication between divers imperfect at best and non-existent at worst. In recreational diving, frequent in-depth communication is quite rare. 

You kind of check that your buddy is OK every now and then; you ask them how much gas they have once or twice if you’re interested, and when to do your safety stop at the end.

But if you don’t know the signal for something, you resort to ordering food in a foreign country by pointing more and more aggressively until they get the message. 

But during a normal recreational dive, there isn’t a great deal of proper communication outside of just pointing at something interesting. 

Technical diving

In technical diving, the situation is quite different. Despite the variety of training agencies out there, the tech community can actually pride itself on speaking one common language, necessitated by the greater risk compared to recreational diving.

Tech-diving signals are one-handed using five fingers, with some special adaptations when the hand is covered by mitts or three-fingered gloves. 

Sign language: Technical divers stick to using one hand
Sign language: Technical divers stick to using one hand

Information is often provided using a signal to indicate the subject, such as pressure followed by a number. There are very clear, definitive signals so that you know your buddy is getting the message. Numbers are indicated by a sequence of digits rather than 150s and 10s. 

Digits from one up to five are given with the fingers pointing upwards and the palm facing outwards, while digits from six to nine are given with a hand held horizontally and the palm facing inwards. Ten, being a double-digit number, requires a one followed by a closed OK for a zero. So it’s one-zero. 

As a rule, instead of doing that for ten, the thumb is avoided wherever possible to avoid confusion, with the thumbs-up signal for end the dive or that signal. So we tend to stop at nine and then go straight to ten. 

Technical diving usually involves decompression and/or overhead environments. Specific one-handed signals have been developed for both and are shared among all technical divers, no matter their background, for the closest thing to a universal diving language. 

Avoiding everyday gestures

Another major difference between recreational and technical communication is the avoidance of everyday gestures. Techies don’t like room for interpretation or trusting the obvious. Instead, they crave clarity through the confirmation of any given hand signal. 

Communication is not just about delivering information but also making sure that it’s been properly received and understood. Confirmation plays a major role in avoiding loss of information and is critical for the team’s safety. Each diver returns back the signal that they have seen, and the other diver then checks that they did get the right message and that you’re both on the same page. 

With that in mind, it might be worth looking up some other scuba-diving languages and becoming a bit more bilingual yourself. If you’re diving with a new buddy, remember to go over your hand-signals before you even get dressed. 

You don’t want to be 30m down, and your buddy throws up some kind of hand signal that you have no clue about and be confused about why they’re now swimming away from you. 

It’s useful to go over your hand signals beforehand and maybe try to become a bit more bilingual. If you want to be a better diver, one great way to do this is to improve your communication skills. Don’t rush through your signals, and consider what your buddy can actually see as well. 

Sign visibility

If it’s dark and you’re wearing a black wetsuit and black gloves, your buddy doesn’t have much chance of seeing that signal. So consider what they can see; consider shining a torch on your hand, or holding it out to one side so they can better see your hand signal. 

Be prepared to learn a more universal language if you’re diving outside of your diving circle. If we can get more and more divers all speaking the same sign language, we can hopefully one day reach a universal diving language across all types of divers. 

What is your primary language when you’re scuba diving? Are you fluent in single-hand tech, or do you speak the T for a ton? I mean, I used to teach the big T because that’s what I was taught when I learnt to dive and I just passed that on. I didn’t know any different. 

It’s only when you start venturing out of your diving circle and learning more that you notice that some divers talk a little bit differently, and now you need to learn a new language on the fly.

But if you have time and you do want to improve yourself, then maybe look up some technical diving signals. Remember to head over to Scuba.com, today’s sponsor, and of course, Audrey Cudel’s article in Scuba Diver Magazine.

Also on Divernet: DIVE LIKE A PRO: COMMUNICATING UNDER WATER, DIVING BLIND: HOW JESS PITA EXPERIENCES THE UNDERWATER WORLD, AQUAAPP: COMMS BREAKTHROUGH FOR DIVERS?

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https://taucher.net/diveinside-insolvency_proceedings_at_scubajet-kaz9246
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The information in this video is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional SCUBA Training. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained in this video is for general information purposes only and does not replace training from a qualified Dive Instructor.

This week, it looks like DPV manufacturer ScubaJet has begun insolvency proceedings. PADI has distributed half a million dollars in their Project Aware campaign. Dorset coastguard have called off the search for a missing diver. And the Pearl Fleet has commented on a viral video of a shark-dive that didn’t go so well
https://taucher.net/diveinside-insolvency_proceedings_at_scubajet-kaz9246
https://divernet.com/scuba-news/conservation/padi-aware-distributes-500k-in-mission-hub-grants/
https://www.scubadivermag.com/raid-launches-ots-full-face-mask-programme/
https://www.scubadivermag.com/dorset-coastguard-call-off-search-for-diver/
https://divernet.com/scuba-news/health-safety/search-for-diver-off-dorset-stood-down/
https://divernet.com/scuba-news/health-safety/pearl-fleet-hits-back-as-maldives-shark-dive-slammed/
Diving Into The Darkness Link:
https://www.scubadivermag.com/affiliate/mzsd


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@preethasebastian8921
Sharks and Yum Yum Yellow. What are your thoughts? #askmark
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The information in this video is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional SCUBA Training. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained in this video is for general information purposes only and does not replace training from a qualified Dive Instructor.

Diving Into The Darkness Website:
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@emilyZA460
#AskMark hi! I was hoping you could help me understand the interchangeability of a DSMB and a simple SMB if I only plan to use it when I deploy it during my safety stop at 5 meters. I used the simple version for this purpose during my last liveaboard and despite occasionally having to reinflate at the surface due to some air escaping while being deployed underwater, it didn’t seem to be too problematic and so I was wondering if it’s necessary to have a DSMB for this purpose? The issue for me is that somehow I tend to end up misplacing my SMB quite often and so the price difference between the two makes it a more acceptable loss when it’s replacing the SMB regularly rather than the DSMB at double the cost
#scuba #scubadiving #scubadiver
LINKS

Become a fan: https://www.scubadivermag.com/join
Gear Purchases: https://www.scubadivermag.com/affiliate/dive-gear
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Website: https://www.scubadivermag.com ➡️ Scuba Diving, Underwater Photography, Hints & Advice, Scuba Gear Reviews
Website: https://www.divernet.com ➡️ Scuba News, Underwater Photography, Hints & Advice, Travel Reports
Website: https://www.godivingshow.com ➡️ The Only Dive Show in the United Kingdom
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We partner with https://www.scuba.com and https://www.mikesdivestore.com for all your gear essentials. Consider using the affiliate link above to support the channel.

The information in this video is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional SCUBA Training. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained in this video is for general information purposes only and does not replace training from a qualified Dive Instructor.

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What's the Point of Fancy dSMBs? #askmark #scuba

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