Communicating on the river can be a challenging task. While sound travels a long distance across calm water, everything changes around white water. Even the lightest riffle can impair communication, and strong wind can also steal away even a warning shout. Because of this, when talking or yelling is not an option, it’s critical that you know how to communicate using another method. Understanding and using these simple hand signals will help you diffuse precarious river situations that could lead to dangerous outcomes.
First and foremost is the simple OK signal. This can mean "I’m OK," or the situation is OK. A good rule of thumb is just to throw the OK signal when you jump into the water or occasionally when someone looks at you from a boat, especially at a distance. OK is communicated simply by tapping the top of your head. This deliberate action can be difficult to perform when everything is Not OK. You should get used to using this signal, because if your adventure partners don't see you making it on a regular basis, they may presume something is amiss.
You can imagine a number of scenarios where the STOP signal might be necessary. You may signal it to the boats ahead to indicate you have an issue you need to deal with, or you may signal it back upriver, indicating that something needs investigating, or that there is a problem and you should not proceed. Always use this signal as a command to other boats; You are telling them to stop. Do not, for instance, use it try to communicate to other boats that you are stopping. This signal is sent by extending your arms out to either side like wings. If you're a boater that has received this signal, you should not proceed until you are signaled to do so.If you're the sender of this signal, it's important to send it periodically over time if continuing is not an option.
In contrast, a proceed signal says that you may now continue. You may find this useful if a member of your party in scouting a rapid, or you are waiting for unseen events to transpire downriver. A member of your party will signal you with the proceed signal once the coast is clear. If you have been sent a stop signal, do not proceed until given the proceed signal. The proceed signal is an arm or paddle erected straight up into the air.
It is useful to be able to direct boats both downstream and upstream of your position. To signal a boat to traverse the river to either side, hold up an arm or paddle at a 45-degree angle in the direction you would like them to go. This signal can be used in combination with other signals as well; For instance, if you want to signal a boat to pass on a particular side of a rock, or one rapid versus another. Get the other boat's attention, send the stop signal, then point at 45 degrees to the other side of the obstacle. Once the obstacle has been passed, send the go ahead signal.
Lastly, accidents will happen on the river. In case of emergency, should you need the other boats to pull off safely to attend to a medical matter, cross your arms across your chest. This signals that everything is not OK and you are dealing with a situation that is taking your attention away from the group. If you are the most qualified to deal with the situation, make your way to the person in need.
Besides simple hand and arm signals, it may be necessary to grab someone's attention quickly or communicate via sound. For this reason, it's absolutely critical that members of the party have a survival whistle and know how to use it. Here is a great whistle that can be found on amazon. Buy one for every member of your crew.
There are four basic whistle signals that you should know:
1) Single short blast - Used to grab the attention of those around you (instructions should follow).
2) Three long blasts - Signals an emergency. When hearing the signal, one should immediately try to ascertain the source and nature of the problem. If it's an unseen person, make your way to the source of the sound and offer assistance (where safe and possible).
3) Two short blasts - An Upstream signal. Depending on the situation, it could signal for you or someone in your party to move upstream or it could be signaling to a party upstream. To gain the attention of upstream party, make your way upstream with person, object or craft.
4) Three short blasts - A Downstream signal. Depending on the situation, it could signal for you or someone in your party to move downstream, or it could be signaling to a party downstream. To gain the attention of downstream party, make your way downstream with person, object or craft.