Being able to communicate underwater with your dive buddy is an integral part of your diving experience. There exist various means of underwater communication but one common question that new divers often ask is: can talking be part of underwater communication?
Well, the answer is both yes and no! Let’s dive in and explore why communication underwater can be tricky, but also learn some handy tips to communicate effectively while scuba diving.
Table of Contents
- 1 Is It Possible to Talk Underwater?
- 2 How Do Sound Waves Travel Underwater?
- 3 What Are the Possible Ways to Talk While Scuba Diving?
- 4 8 Ways to Communicate While Scuba Diving Without Talking
- 5 Conclusion
Is It Possible to Talk Underwater?
As long as you spell out syllables using vibrations you are talking. So, talking underwater, especially at recreational diving depths is technically possible, but to what extent your dive buddy can understand is a different question. When you are scuba diving, you are breathing through a regulator that is in your mouth. This regulator makes it challenging to talk as it blocks your mouth, making it difficult to form words.
The efforts required to talk can also exhaust breathable air in your dive tank quicker than normal. So, talking while underwater has more downsides and is better to avoid.
The main problem isn’t the talking part but rather the audibility of the sounds produced by you underwater. To better understand, we first need to realize the science behind traveling sound waves at underwater depths.
How Do Sound Waves Travel Underwater?
So what happens when you talk underwater? Sound waves travel faster and with more energy than they do in the air. But there’s a catch. Water is denser than air, which means it can absorb and scatter sound waves more easily. This can cause distortion and attenuation, so by the time your message reaches your dive buddy almost 90% of the sound has already been dissipated.
In fact, the sound of your voice underwater is about 4.3 times slower than on land, making it difficult for those around you to understand what you’re saying. It will sound distant and muffled to them even when you’re talking close to them.
As we dive deeper, we experience increased pressure on our bodies, and sound waves do too. This can affect the way we hear sounds, as the waves become distorted and lose energy as they travel through the water. At certain depths, sound waves can even become completely inaudible to you or your dive buddy.
What Are the Possible Ways to Talk While Scuba Diving?
There are several gadgets and modern inventions that allow you to talk while scuba diving. Here are five ways to communicate while scuba diving:
A full-face diving mask with an integrated intercom system is an alternative to the traditional diving mask and regulator. It allows you to communicate with your buddy using a microphone and earpiece. They allow divers to breathe through their noses and mouth while covering their entire faces. This makes it easier to talk while diving, as the mask’s design enables divers to communicate without removing their regulator.
Surface-To-Underwater Communication Systems
Surface-to-underwater communication systems use a buoy on the surface that is connected to a transducer underwater. The buoy has a speaker and microphone system that allows divers to communicate with support vessels on the surface.
These devices are overkill for recreational diving but are vital for technical divers or marine biologist dive teams where to-and-fro communication with the surface at regular intervals is essential.
In-water speakers are sound systems placed underwater that transmit sound waves through the water. They are commonly used in aquariums and marine parks, but they can also be used by scuba divers. In-water speakers are usually connected to a microphone on the surface, allowing divers to communicate with each other or hear pre-recorded messages or music. However, the use of in-water speakers is not very common among recreational scuba divers as it requires additional equipment and can be a pain to maintain.
Another drawback of in-water speakers is that they are disruptive to marine life. Therefore, if you are considering using in-water speakers, it is important to be mindful of the impact on the environment and use them in a responsible manner.
Making Use of The Latest Bone Conduction Technology
Casio has introduced a new communication device for scuba divers called the Logosease, which allows for easy communication with other divers while underwater. This pocket-sized two-way radio can be attached to the diver’s mask strap, and with simple operation, they can communicate with their diving partners from a distance of up to 45ft, even at depths of up to 130ft.
What sets the Logosease apart from other underwater communication devices is its use of bone conduction technology. This means that the device uses vibrations to transmit sound waves through the diver’s skull and into their inner ear, rather than relying on traditional air-to-water sound transmission. As a result, the device can transmit clear and audible sound even in noisy underwater environments, where sound waves can easily be muffled or distorted. If you’re a rabid music enthusiast this technology might just be for you to listen to your favorite music while underwater.
8 Ways to Communicate While Scuba Diving Without Talking
Using communication devices can be expensive and unnecessary for regular scuba divers. Communication in recreational diving is very basic in nature and communicating with non-verbal cues is enough to get the message across.
Most importantly, the silence of the underwater world is part of what makes it so magical and peaceful so might as well rely on these 8 traditional methods of communication for a more pleasant experience.
1. Hand Signals
Hand signals are the most common way for divers to communicate underwater. This involves using specific hand gestures to convey a message. There are numerous standard hand signals used by divers for smoother communication underwater. Some experienced divers have their own customized hand signals to convey specific technical messages among them. As a recreational scuba diver, it is essential that you pay attention to your hand signal lessons during dive certification classes.
Here’s a quick rundown of the 10 common but essential hand signals used by scuba divers:
- ‘Ok’ sign: Made by forming a circle with your thumb and index finger while extending the other fingers. This signal means “I am okay”.
- Thumbs-up: This signal involves raising your thumb while keeping the other fingers closed. It indicates “good to go” or “up to the surface”.
- Thumbs-down: The thumbs-down signal involves pointing your thumb downward while keeping the other fingers closed. It means “descend” or “go down”.
- Stop: This signal involves raising your hand, palm forward, and keeping your fingers together. It means “stop” or “wait”.
- Surface: The surface signal involves extending your arm upward with an open palm. It means “go to the surface”.
- Out of air: This signal involves tapping your head with an open palm. It means “I am out of air” or “low on air”.
- Watch me: This signal involves pointing to your eyes with your index and middle fingers and then pointing forward. It means “look at me” or “watch what I am doing”.
- Follow me: This signal involves pointing your index finger forward while moving your hand in a circular motion. It means “follow me”.
- Imminent Danger: The danger signal involves crossing your arms in front of your body. It means “danger” or “stop immediately”.
- Question: This signal involves raising your hand with your fingers open and together. It means “Do you have a question?” or “Do you understand?”
If you’re interested in learning more about hand signals this PADI hand signal resource may be useful for you.
2. Slate Board
Another popular and economical method of communication, scuba slates are small handheld boards of plastic or metal that divers can write on using a pencil. They are particularly useful for conveying more complex messages, such as dive plans or emergency instructions. The slate board can also be used to draw diagrams or illustrations, making it a versatile communication tool.
3. Dive Light Signals
Dive lights can be used to signal other divers underwater, especially during night dives. For example, a quick flash of the light may indicate “Look over here”, while a sustained beam may signal “Come here”. Dive lights can also be used to indicate the direction of the dive or to draw attention to specific objects or marine life.
I always prefer to carry my PFSN Professional Underwater Headlight IPX68 (1200 lumens), especially during my deeper dives where my surroundings are in a perpetual state of semi-darkness.
You can also carry less intense glowsticks during your night diving if you’re concerned about disrupting marine life.
4. Line Signals
A popular choice for spelunkers and cave divers, a line is often used to mark the way back to the exit. Divers can use the line to communicate by tugging on it in specific ways. A series of tugs may indicate “I need help”, while a single tug may mean “Everything is okay”.
While this means of communication is more prevalent among cave divers, you can easily accommodate this method for rec diving too.
Rattlers are small metal or plastic devices attached to your scuba gear (generally your scuba tanks) that you can shake to create a sound. This can be useful for getting the attention of other divers, especially in low visibility conditions. Rattlers can also be used to indicate the direction of the dive or to warn of potential hazards.
The sound or vibrations produced by rattlers are generally of low intensity and is suitable for calmer underwater environments. Otherwise, it’s quite possible for your dive buddy to completely miss the sound of your rattler.
If you will be diving in a quiet environment with good visibility, a basic mechanical rattler may be sufficient. However, if you will be diving in a noisy environment or an area with low visibility, an electronic rattler or shaker rattler may be more effective.
6. Surface Marker Buoy (SMB)
A surface marker buoy (SMB) is a bright-colored inflatable device with a dive flag perched on top that divers use to signal their underwater position corresponding to the surface. This is particularly useful when diving in areas with boat traffic. The SMB can also be used to indicate the end of the dive or to request assistance.
SMBs and dive flags serve as a great means of water-to-surface communication especially with your dive boat operators or liveaboard crew concerning your current diving position underwater. If you happen to lose sight of your dive buddy underwater you can simply ascend slowly to the surface, and spot the SMB of your dive buddy to determine their position underwater.
7. Touch Communication
Touch communication involves physically touching your dive buddy to convey a message. For example, a tap on the shoulder may indicate “Look at this”, while a pull on the arm may mean “Follow me”.
Unlike hand signals, there’s no universally established standard for touch communications so you must establish your custom set of touch signals with your dive buddy and familiarise yourselves with the signals before your dive.
8. Facial Expressions
Finally, facial expressions can be used to communicate non-verbally while diving. Found the coral reefs interesting? Simply raise your eyebrows to express your surprise, while a furrowed brow may mean confusion or concern. Facial expressions are particularly useful when communicating with a dive buddy who is familiar with your expressions.
One thing to note is that using facial expressions as a means of communication is mainly effective during high-visibility dive sites when you’re wearing a dive mask with a clear filter so that your dive buddy can easily deduce your facial features without a hitch.
So, while it’s not impossible to talk underwater, it’s not the most effective or practical way to communicate while scuba diving. Stick to the tried-and-true methods of hand signals, slates, and other non-verbal cues to ensure clear communication with your dive buddy for a safe and pleasant dive.