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Common Canyoneering Communication Practices: Whistles, Hand Signals & Verbal Communication

Canyoneering is a unique sport that requires unique skills including rappelling, chimneying and downclimbing. Sometimes, depending on the canyon, you might have to swim or wade too. Technical canyon descents call for the use of equipment like harnesses, ropes and other specialized canyoneering gear.

Because most canyoneering takes place in deep or wet canyons with inherent dangers, it’s important to have a communication system in place to keep in touch with the rest of your crew. Hand and whistle signals are crucial especially in class C canyons where the noise of rushing water might hinder verbal communication. Verbal communication is preferred where there’s good visibility.

Whistle Signals

These are the whistle signals recommended by the American Canyoneering Academy:

  • 1 long blast = stop/attention
  • 2 long blasts = off rope
  • 3 long blasts = help/emergency
  • 2 short blasts = up rope
  • 3 short blasts = lower rope

Hand Signals

Since these are visual signals, they are only possible when canyoneers are in each other’s direct line of sight. It’s advisable that these be rehearsed before descending the canyons so that everyone can be on the same page:

  • Arm out to the side, bent up at the elbow and making circles = Up Rope!
  • Arm down making circles = Lower Rope!
  • Arms up and crossed in an X = Stop!
  • One arm swings in a wide circle in front of the body (not above) = Release! Rope too short! Or someone is stuck!
  • Arms above the head, hands touching then one arm swings down and points = Dangerous obstacle!

Canyoneering Verbal Commands

If you’re going to use these, ensure all members of the canyoneering party know what they mean. Additionally, make sure you can all hear each other clearly to communicate.

Some of the most common verbal commands are:

  • “Rope!” -This is a warning given to anyone below before a rope is thrown down.
  • “Rock! Rock! Rock!” – Uttered as a warning by anyone who sees a rock or any other object hurtling down.
  • “On belay?”- This is to ask the climber or belayer if they’re ready to proceed.
  • “Belay on!” –A response to the above question. This assures the rappeller that the belayer is ready.
  • “Rappelling” – Said by the rappeller to the belayer indicating that he is starting to rappel.
  • “Rappel on” – The belayer acknowledges his readiness and also indicates that the rappeller can begin rappelling.
  • “Off rope”- This is what the rappeller says once he/she is completely detached from the rope.
  • “Up rope/ Lower rope” - This is a command given to the team on top of the rappel to set the rope length.

Proper canyoneering communication practices ensure that everyone has a safe, fun adventure and that any accidents are dealt with in a timely manner.

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