Signs and signals are an important part of safety when traversing Missouri’s waterways or any waterway for that matter. That’s why a system of sign language has been adopted worldwide. These signs are universally used to signal when a person is safe or in need of help when in or on the water.
The sign used to indicate STOP is formed by making a horizontal line with your arms. When you see this signal, it means there is a possible hazard up ahead. Upon sighting someone making this sign, you should pass the sign along to those behind you by making the sign yourself. This way, the warning gets passed along the waterway.
In the case of an EMERGENCY where immediate help is needed, the sign is to blow a rescue whistle three long times and wave a paddle or throw rope over your head. If you don’t have a whistle, just make the hand signal. If you don’t have a whistle, it’s a good idea to get one and attach it to your life jacket with a short cord or lanyard. A whistle can be heard further than a voice can when on the water.
The ALL CLEAR signal is to raise a hand or preferably a paddle in a vertical line over your head. If using a paddle, turn it so that the flat edge of the paddle faces oncoming floaters. This gives the signal better visibility. When the paddle or hand is held directly overhead, oncoming kayakers or canoers should continue, but in the middle of the river.
If the paddle or hand and arm is held at a forty-five degree angle, continue on, but veer to whichever side the paddle is angled. This indicates that something is in the way, but you can continue in a particular direction. If you are the one giving the signal, do not, ever point toward the obstacle. This will cause oncoming paddlers to steer directly toward the obstruction, possibly causing damage or injury.
The last of the universal signs is the signal for I’M OKAY. This signal is needed to stop possible rescue attempts which may become endangered in the process. To make this sign, the person in question should raise their arm, bend it at the elbow, and pat themselves repeatedly on the head. This sign indicates that you are not hurt. While you may need to be rescued, it gives the rescue party time to figure out the safest and best way to help.
These four simple signs can make the difference between life and death. By being used universally, language is not a barrier. Anyone who spends time on the water, needs to make a point of learning these universal signals. By using them, the life you save may be your own.