Up hand signal

How to communicate while snorkeling

Snorkeling communication

It’s hard to talk with a snorkel in your mouth and it’s hard to hear clearly when your ears are underwater.* So other methods of non verbal communication must be used to get your message through.

We thought this was such an important topic that we should make a fancy video to explain the signals. But we blew the production budget on Singha beer so you’ll have to make do with this:


How to get someone’s attention while snorkeling 

The best thing to do is to swim close and either tap them on the shoulder or wave your arm below their face. Try and avoid pulling fins and startling them. At close range shouting through the mouthpiece can also gain attention.


OK hand signal

In water hand signals

Once you have your buddy’s attention it’s easy to make yourself understood with hand signals below the surface.

SCUBA divers use these signals very successfully and most can be applied easily to snorkeling.

It’s worth familiarizing yourself with a few in advance and agreeing signals with your buddy to avoid communication.

The advantage that snorkelers have over divers is that if you don’t understand each other you can just pop your head up and clarify the situation.


Common misunderstandings in communication

A thumbs up means go up, not finger pointed upwards.  Ok is a circled thumb and forefinger, not a thumbs up.

A clenched fist is not a challenge to a fight but a warning of danger.


Make up your own signals

A fun thing to do is to create your own signals for particular marine creatures. Use your hands as if you were making shadow puppets.


Surface hand signals

Turtle hand signal

There are a few common signals used to communicate with land or a boat in the distance. The main ones are to signal that you are ok or that you are in distress. If a boat signals the “ok” sign to you, reply in same.

If you are not ok you can wave your arms to signal distress. (It’s important not to wave to your friend on the boat as waving is the international signal for distress).


*Actually sound travels 4 times faster underwater than on land because water denser than air. But the sound is muffled to us and the speed means that the sound hits both ears at almost the same time making it difficult for us to detect the direction that it’s coming from.

One thought on “Snorkeling Communication”

  1. Thanks for the tips on how a fist is a sign of danger and a thumbs-up means go up when snorkeling. My wife and I have been thinking about going snorkeling so that we can relax and have a fun time. Getting some help to go on a trip from a professional could be really useful.

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