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Surface Signaling Devices for Divers

Safety conscious scuba divers deploy a variety of gadgets and specialised gear to help them get noticed when they come up from a dive.

This collection of audible and visual attention-seeking surface devices spotlights the different types of SSDs used in scuba diving and why some are better than others.

List of Surface Signalling Devices for Diving

Waving your hands in the air, or shouting as loud as you can, might not get you noticed after ascending from a dive.

But, using some of the signaling devices examples listed below is going to help you get the required result. They include:

In fact, effective diver communication occurs through many forms. But, using the proper safety gear and signaling apparatus should be an integral part of every dive.

The primary purpose is to help divers be seen and heard, especially when they need assistance. In addition, each device has its own unique features that may or may not be useful for your type of diving.

As a result, the industry recommendation is for scuba divers to carry at least two different dive signalling devices (e.g. one that people can see and one that people can hear).

Pro Tip: Because most of them are small, you should be able to attach them to a modern scuba BCD, such as in the pocket, attached to the inflator hose, or clipped to one of the accessory D-rings.

Audible Signaling Devices

Emergency Whistles

There is no valid reason why a safety whistle should not be in your standard dive kit. They are small, easy to hook onto your buoyancy controller, and the loud ear-piercing shrill will get the attention of boat crew and people on the shore.

Hence, even a cheap whistle is one of the best audible emergency surface signaling devices that scuba divers can add to their list of scuba dive equipment. You can buy the PADI® emergency whistle online for less than three (3) dollars.

PADI Emergency Whistle: Examples of Surface Signaling Devices Used in Scuba DivingIn case you were wondering:

When you blow a standard signal whistle at sea level (e.g. above surf or whitewater), the sound should still carry up to one and a half kilometres away (one mile).

Dive Alert Air Horns

Most of the modern scuba air horn signaling devices will work below the water as well as at the surface - especially the duotone range.

The gadget uses a blast of air from the scuba tank to create a deafening honk. In most cases, people who are up to a mile away will hear it.

There are several different styles available. Nonetheless, the standard practice is to attach it to the inflator hose of your BCD. In general, the noise that scuba air horns make is a lot louder than two-toned whistles.

Pro Tip: You need to have a supply of air inside the tank to operate a dive air horn. So, it's always best to have a whistle as well so you can use it as a backup (e.g. in a diving emergency).

Visual Signaling Devices

Inflatable Signal Tubes

Common colours used for inflatable tubes are bright red, reddish orange, and banana yellow. Thus, after inflation, the subtle sheen of a one-metre pipe stands erect above the water.

In fact, 210D Nylon Oxford is lightweight, flexible, and strong. So, this fabric helps to make divers more visible to dangerous surface traffic (e.g. Boats, jet-skis).

Most signal tubes are going to attract attention even at one kilometre away (half a mile). Yet, some of the longer tubes are highly conspicuous from 1.6 km away (one mile) at sea level. It really depends on the surface chop and the time of day.

Here's the thing:

They are easy to store when you're not using them, such as during the dive. Most divers will roll up the nylon tube and store it inside a mesh bag or the BCD pocket.

Almost all of the best diving countries in the world have strict marine regulations that force scuba divers to carry - and use - at least one signal tube before they break the surface.

Delayed Surface Marker Buoys

A Delayed Surface Marker Buoy (DSMB) works in almost the same way as an inflatable signal tube. Except, a diver will attach the dSMB to a line and reel. As a result, a diver can launch it while underwater in preparation of making an ascent.

Where's Best to Clip a dSMB with Spool?

In general, most professionals recommend clipping the assembly to one of the D-rings (e.g. the right hand hip). It will be out of the way enough to keep you streamlined and it's still convenient to reach.

Or, you could put the dSMB inside one of the thigh pockets. What if you don't have thigh pockets? A D-ring is fine, but try to avoid attaching it to a weight belt - in case you need to ditch it.

But wait - there's more:

People who dive with a backplate and wing BCD usually have a crotch strap with a D-ring near the lower back area (also known as a butt D-ring).

This is a convenient place to clip a dSMB and spool because it's out of the way. It's also somewhere that divers will be able to reach quite easily with either hand.

Pro Tip: Another section explains how to take the PADI® Delayed Surface Marker Buoy (DSMB) Diver Course and the benefits of becoming a scuba SMB specialist.

Signal Mirrors

If you prefer to use an old and effective signaling device, then get yourself a small, credit-card size mirror. There's no batteries to replace and there are no moving parts. Yet, a simple mirror can get you noticed from several miles away.

So how does it work? The mirror will reflect sunlight (on a sunny day). In fact, some of the best mirrors for scuba divers also have a centre 'sight', meaning you will see the reflection as a red spot.

Pro Tip: Our scuba team wouldn't dream of taking students underwater unless they are carrying a compact disc (CD) in their BCD pocket. It works like a mirror but it's cheaper and causes less damage if it gets broken.

Electronic Signaling Devices

Today, some scuba divers have started carrying an electronic device. Good examples include simple GPS Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) and VHF radio.

Most of these feature a mechanism that allows the diver to communicate with the dive boat, rescuers, or the Coast Guard.

Another section explains more about the difference between PAN PAN vs. Mayday and the significance of repeating it three times.

Signaling Devices for Night Diving

If you want to become a PADI® Night Diver specialist, you'll start using several kinds of signal lights and flashes to gain optimum attention. Most divers will get extra elevation by mounting a light on top of a signal tube.

In addition, using a chemical light stick or battery-powered tank light will extend the target zone as a steady light contrasts with the strobe.

In Conclusion

We have a few universal recommendations to enhance the common examples of surface signaling devices used by scuba divers, such as:

Related Information and Help Guides

Pro Tip: The short video tutorial presented by Simply Scuba explains some of the best ways to launch a scuba SMB while underwater.

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