Divers learn in training to avoid diving when ill, but sometimes people become ill during a dive. Buddies who have not discussed how to communicate that they feel unwell may not be able to convey their predicament when underwater. Instead, they may signal to end the dive because of the intensity of physical pain or the anxiety that accompanies a sudden onset of symptoms.
The proper course of action is for the buddy to return the signal, terminate the dive, and head to the surface together. Without a prearranged communication plan, however, buddies who don’t know what is wrong may spend precious time trying to figure it out. Even worse, they might respond inappropriately, such as letting the ill diver return to the surface alone.
To help avoid these situations and better communicate health problems while diving, PADI has developed a new standard hand signal for “I don’t feel well” that the organization now teaches in its courses. The signal is simple: With their fingers pointing toward them, the ill diver draws a large oval in front of their head and torso to indicate that they are physically unwell.
Having a specific signal for illness increases divers’ awareness of the importance of communicating if they feel unwell, and having a distinct method may prompt them to inform their buddy sooner. If a diver receives this signal from their buddy, it immediately alerts them to the issue and may encourage a quicker and more appropriate response.
Watch a diver demonstrate the hand signal in this video.
© Alert Diver — Q1 2023