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In a military or survival situation where silence must be maintained in order to mask your presence from an enemy, foe, or target, several types of non-verbal communication (visual signals) are available including flags, pyrotechnic, chemical lights, ground-to-air signals, and hand and arm signals. The United States Army Field Manual 21-60 lays out the standard for hand and arm signals (see below) but other hand signals have been adopted and are commonly used in situations requiring visual communication.

The limits of visual communication

Visual signals are of course, limited to range and reliability. As such, weather elements and possibly terrain, can disrupt use of hand and arm signals when line of sight is disrupted.

Hand and arm signals are easy to misunderstand which is especially problematic when non-standard hand signals are used by the participants.

Lastly, hand signals may be vulnerable to enemy interception and allow the possibility that the visual communications is received and properly interpreted by the foe, possibly even without your knowledge that the communication was intercepted.

Uses for hand signals

Despite their limitations, hand and arm signals are useful in military and survival situations and are especially useful when participants remain relatively close together. Hand and arm signals may be used by participants to coordinate movement and actions in a silent manner and may be used by leaders to control movement of their team during patrol or combat movement. Hand and arm signals are also useful for hunting or tracking parties who must maintain silence to avoid alerting their target to their presence.

Common hand signals

Below are the various hand and arm signals that can be used when visual communication is required.  When receiving hand signals, be sure to pay attention to the signalers facial expressions too.  Eyes and head movement may be used to add emphasis or additional communications (e.g. nod of head for “yes” or “no”, tilt of head to indicate direction).  Recognize too that multiple hand signals can be combined in sequence in order to more accurately communicate the thought or action.

Counting and numbers hand signals

Hand signal for number one

One

Hand signal for number two

Two

Hand signal for number three

Three

Hand signal for number four

Four

Hand signal for number five

Five

Hand signal for number six

Six

Hand signal for number seven

Seven

Hand signal for number eight

Eight

Hand signal for number nine

Nine

Hand signal for number ten

Ten

 

People hand signals

Hand signal for you

You

Hand signal for me

Me

 

Movement hand signals

Hand signal for come

Come

Hand signal for hurry up

Hurry up

Hand signal for stop

Stop

Hand signal for freeze

Freeze

Hand signal for go here or move up

Go here or Move up

Hand signal for rally point

Rally point

 

Actions hand signals

Hand signal for listen or I hear

Listen or I hear

Hand signal for watch or I see

Watch or I see

Hand signal for cover this area

Cover this area

Hand signal for I understand

I understand

Hand signal for I don't understand

I do not understand

Hand signal for crouch, go prone, or lie down

Crouch or lie down

Hand signal for breach or breacher

Breach (or breacher)

 

Animals, people, and circumstances hand signals

Hand signal for enemy

Enemy

Hand signal for hostage

Hostage

Hand signal for sniper

Sniper

Hand signal for dog

Dog

Hand signal for a leader

A leader

 

Articles and items hand signals

Hand signal for pistol weapon

Pistol (arm bent)

Hand signal for rifle weapon

Rifle (arm straight)

Hand signal for shotgun weapon

Shotgun (pumping action)

Hand signal for ammunition

Ammunition

Hand signal for vehicle

Vehicle

Hand signal for gas

Gas

Hand signal for door

Door

Hand signal for window

Window

Hand signal for point of entry

Point of entry

 

Formation and position hand signals

Hand signal for column formation

Column formation

Hand signal for file formation

File formation

Hand signal for line abreast formation

Line abreast formation

Hand signal for wedge formation

Wedge formation

 

United States Army FM 21-60 Hand Signals

The U.S. Army’s FM 21-60 manual, albeit dated, provides many useful hand signals too, most of which are more sophisticated and complex than the examples above.  Some Army signals even have variants that can be used during nighttime activities.

May I have your attention

Attention

 

I am ready, Ready to move, or are you ready?

I am ready, Ready to move, or are you ready?

 

Mount

Mount

 

Disregard previous command, As you were

Disregard previous command, As you were

 

 

I do not understand

I do not understand

 

Prepare to move

Prepare to move

 

Halt or stop

Halt or stop

 

Increase speed

Increase speed

 

Advance, Move out

Advance, Move out

 

Open up or spread out

Open up

 

Close up

Close up

 

Right/Left turn

Right/Left turn

 

Slow down

Slow down

 

Move forward (vehicle traffic signal)

Move forward

 

Move in reverse(vehicle traffic signal)

Move in reverse

 

Close distance between vehicles and stop (vehicle traffic signal)

Close distance between vehicles and stop

 

Stop engines (vehicle traffic signal)

Stop engines

 

Dismount (vehicle traffic signal)

Dismount

 

Neutral steer (used for track vehicles)

Neutral steer (track vehicles)

 

Stop (an alternate signal used to stop a vehicle)

Stop (an alternate signal used to stop a vehicle)

 

Message acknowledged (I understand)

Message acknowledged (I understand)

 

Move over or shift fire (gunnery signal)

Move over or shift fire

 

Fire weapon (gunnery signal)

Fire

 

Commence firing weapon (gunnery signal)

Commence firing

 

Cease firing (gunnery signal)

Cease firing

 

Out of action

Out of action

 

Disperse

Disperse

 

Assemble or rally

Assemble or rally

 

Join me, follow me, come forward

Join me, follow me, come forward

 

Increase speed, double time, rush

Increase speed, double time, rush

 

 

Take cover

Take cover

 

Air attack

Air attack

 

Nuclear, biological, or chemical attack

Nuclear, biological, or chemical attack

 

Check the map

Check the map

 

Pace count or number of steps

Pace count or number of steps

 

Phone or radio communication

Phone or radio communication

 

Head count

Head count

 

Danger area

Danger area

 

Stop and freeze

Freeze

 

Left and right traffic stop (traffic control)

Left and right traffic stop

 

Front traffic stop (traffic control)

Front traffic stop

 

Rear traffic stop (traffic control)

Rear traffic stop

 

Traffic from right may go (traffic control)

Traffic from right may go

 

Traffic from left may go (traffic control)

Traffic from left may go

 

 

Convoy open up distance between vehicles (convoy signal)

Convoy open up distance between vehicles

 

Convoy reduce distance between vehicles (close up) (convoy signal)

Convoy reduce distance between vehicles (close up)

 

Convoy – pass and keep going (convoy signal)

Convoy – pass and keep going

 

Convoy – move in reverse, back up (convoy signal)

Convoy – move in reverse, back up

 

Raise the hoist winch cable (used in recovery operations)

Raise the hoise winch cable (used in recovery operations)

 

Lower the hoist winch cable (used in recovery operations)

Lower the hoist winch cable(used in recovery operations)

 

Raise the boom (used in recovery operations)

Raise the boom (used in recovery operations)

 

Lower the boom (used in recovery operations)

Lower the boom (used in recovery operations)

 

In-haul the winch

In-haul the winch

 

Lower the spade (used to signal digging machinery)

Lower the spade (used to signal digging machinery)

 

Raise the spade (used to signal digging machinery)

Raise the spade (used to signal digging machinery)

 

Cut engine or stop rotors (aircraft control signal)

Cut engine or stop rotors

 

Load has not been released (aircraft control signal)

Load has not been released

 

Hookup complete (aircraft control signal)

Hookup complete

 

Release (ground to air signal for aircraft)

Release (ground to air signal for aircraft)

 

Depart (ground to air signal for aircraft)

Depart (ground to air signal for aircraft)

 

Go around, abort, do not land (ground to air signal)

Go around, abort, do not land (ground to air signal)

 

Land the aircraft (aircraft control signal)

Land the aircraft

 

Stop the aircraft (aircraft control signal)

Stop the aircraft

 

Steer the aircraft right (aircraft control signal)

Steer the aircraft right

 

Hover (ground to air signal for aircraft)

Hover (ground to air signal for aircraft)

 

Downloadable hand signal charts

Below are a collection of downloadable hand signal charts.

 

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