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Rope Pull Signals


WARNING - What you are about to read DOES NOT take the place of qualified training!!

Rope pull signals are used whenever a diver is on a search pattern that requires communication with a tender, such as during the arc or circle search.  The tender holds one end of the rope while the searcher, who holds the other end, moves along following a particular search pattern.  But more on these two patterns later.


Understand there are a number of so-called developed rope pull signals used throughout the country.  However, I have found the best signals are the easiest signals to remember.  You're familiar with KISS - "keep it simple, stupid."  Whatever signals your team finds easiest to remember are the ones to use.


A good habit to get into is to give a thorough briefing of what each signal means prior to anyone entering the water.  This will include making sure all your divers and surface support personnel understand the signals.  You'll find the more you practice this procedure, the easier the signals will be to commit to memory.


The following are the signals I have come to use over the years.  They are easy to remember and are based on realistic underwater search communication needs while on line.  You'll notice I've tried to use signals that go with the number of syllables in the word for which they stand, an easy way for me to relate the signal to the meaning.



OK is a two-syllable word - which requires two squeezes or two pulls on the rope.  Stop is a one-syllable word, requiring one squeeze or one pull.  You'll find that these two messages are the ones most frequently sent, so keeping the signals to convey them simply will keep you in communication.



  • One pull - Stop

  • Two pulls - OK

  • Three pulls - Keep the line tight

  • Four pulls - Special

  • Five or more pulls - Come to the surface (recall)


Notice that I have reserved four pulls from the tender to the diver for special signals.  It's not uncommon to start a dive when you and your team are the only ones on site.  While the divers are underwater, you become bombarded with family members of the victim, the media and/or your department's supervisors.  Because of this, it's important to have special signals designed to let your divers know what's happening on the surface so they don't surface and say something you don't want others to hear or something that might embarrass your team.  Special signals are also appropriate for special needs, like when you want your partner to go get the body bag or PVC pipe evidence container.  Special signals are needed not only in rope pull signals but in hand squeeze communication as well, which is coming up shortly. 



  • One pull - Stop

  • Two pulls - OK

  • Three pulls - Give me more line

  • Four pulls - I have found it

  • Five or more pulls - Emergency


Special note: Not returning a signal is considered and emergency.

Remember that in using rope pull signals the pull must be firm but not strong enough to jerk the rope out of your partner's hand.  The pulls must also be slow enough to allow the person that you are communicating with to count them. It takes a little practice to know how much pull is needed as well as the time between pulls for effective, clear communication.


Both the tender and the diver need to develop a "feel" for the other.  This enables each to tell by the feel of the rope whether or not they have a direct link with the other or if the rope has become snagged or entangled on a stump, rock or other obstruction.


If you are the tender and you find the rope has gone slack, remain still.  It probably means the diver lost the rope or is off his pattern.  So let him find it.  If you are the searcher and the rope has been pulled out of your hand, stop immediately and search for the rope in the direction you last "felt" the tender.  Hopefully the tender has not pulled it away from you.


Just like with any diving situation, anytime an OK is signaled to the other, it should be returned immediately.  This is especially important in public safety diving, where the water conditions and environment are usually not perfect.

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