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Most of us are (or at least should be) familiar with the basic BSAC rope signals for divers.
These are available for conditions in which the normal range of diving signals cannot be used
(for example: dives in extreme low visibility conditions), for communication between divers
using a buddy line or between a surface tender and a diver (either in roped diver operation, or
simply by using the SMB to communicate with a pair of divers from the boat). For signals
between the diver and the surface, these are:-


1 pull "Are you OK?" "I am OK"

2 pulls "Stay Put" "I am stationary"
3 pulls "Go down" "Going down"
4 pulls "Come up" "Coming up"
Continuous "Emergency - "Emergency -
pulls bringing you to bring me to
the surface" the surface"

When used for communication between a buddy pair by means of the buddy line, there is a
slight variation in the meaning of 3-pulls or 4-pulls:

3 pulls Move away from me (to line limit)

4 pulls Come to me

It is normal practice for all signals from the tender to the diver, or from the diver to the tender,
to be preceded by one pull to attract attention. The signal is then made after the answering single

As with any signals, all signals received must be acknowledged, normally by repeating the
signal, but only if the signal is clearly understood. A signal which is not acknowledged (or one
which is acknowledged incorrectly) the person making the signal should repeat it until a correct
acknowledgement is received. The exception to this rule is the emergency signal which is not
acknowledged, but must be acted on immediately.

If the diver is at work to accomplish some task, it should be noted that they may not be able to
acknowledge immediately, and so the person making the signal should wait a few moments
before repeating the signal. As with much else in diving, common sense should prevail.
Although limited in scope, a great deal can actually be accomplished using only these signals.
However, even the least experienced Novice can surely see how restricting the lack of
communication provided by these signals can be.

Fortunately for us, an extended set of signals is available to us comprising a system of long
steady and distant "pulls" and short,sharp "bells" which are made with the same timing as
striking a ship's bell. It is important to note that pulls and bells must never be made
violently because of the obvious possibility of injury.

The signals which I find particularly useful are those used by the Royal Engineers Diving
Establishment (REDE). These are divided into groups, and so the meaning of a signal will
depend on when it is used. Although the full set of signals can be used, it would be more usual
for sport divers to agree the subset which apply to the particular dive and which are to be used.
Another alternative would be for the group of divers to use these signals as the basis for
developing their own set of rope signals.

As on any dive - agree your signals before entering the water (remember SEEDS!).

The full set of signals is reproduced below for information and guidance:-


Attendant to Diver

General signals:

1 pull To call attention; "Are you well?"

2 pulls Am sending down a rope (or as pre-arranged)
3 pulls You have come up too far
Go down slowly until we stop you
4 pulls Come up
4 pulls, 2 bells Come up; hurry up; surface decompression
4 pulls, 5 bells Come up your safety float

Direction signals:

1 pull Search where you are

2 bells Go to the end of distance line/ Jackstay
3 bells Face shot then go right
4 bells Face shot then go left
5 bells Come to shot/ turn back if on a jackstay
Diver to Attendant

General Signals:

1 pull To call attention; "I am well";

"Made bottom";"Left bottom";
"Reached end of Jackstay"
2 pulls Send down a rope (or as pre-arranged)
3 pulls I am going down
4 pulls May I come up?
4 pulls, 2 bells I want to come up. Assist me up

4 pulls, 4 bells Attend telephone/ DUCS

4 pulls, 5 bells May I come up my safety float?
Continuous pulls EMERGENCY SIGNAL. Pull me up IMMEDIATELY
2 bells repeated Am fouled and need assistance.
3 bells repeated Am fouled but can clear myself

Working Signals:

1 pull Hold on or stop

2 bells Pull up
3 bells Lower
4 bells Take up slack lifeline, or You are holding me too tight
5 bells Have found, started, or completed work

As with everything else about diving, rope signals are a skill which requires practice. In the
first instance, a swimming pool (perhaps using a blacked out mask) is an excellent environment
in which to learn to use the signals. Later, once you have become proficient in the use of the
signals, put them to the test on one of the low viz dives which are organised from time to time
by the branch (such as at St Catherine's Dock or Millwall Dock for example). Finally, when you
need to call upon this skill for real, perhaps on a wreck penetration dive to recover some "non-
ferrous", it will be there to serve you - and maybe even save your life some day!