Appendix A: Signal System

This short section is just to outline the official Troop 8 belay and signal system. Our system is based on the NOLS system developed originally by climber Paul Petzoldt. It differs slightly from other North American systems.


As any experienced climber knows, the equipment, when well-placed, is not a problem. Carabiners and ropes used properly can take shock loads well in excess of what a human body is able to withstand. The critical link is the human one - everything depends on the skill and attention of the belayer, who controls the flow of rope to the climber. Good communication based on standard signals is critical to guiding the belayer’s actions and ensuring the safety of the climber.


The Start Sequence

Because the belayer is the key to safety, the belayer starts the sequence. The climber can encourage him to begin ("You set?") but must wait.


Everything in our signal system is based on syllables. This is important to safety, because in real multi-pitch climbing (or real top-roping) sounds don’t carry well. Making the signals syllable dependent helps increase the safety margin when shouting from a mountain top in a strong wind.


The signal system is also based on an "answer-back" for the same reason. The climber or belayer is expected to answer "THANK YOU" to all signals his partner gives &emdash; IF he understands them. If the signaller does not hear a THANK YOU, he knows he was not heard and must repeat the signal.

Belayer: "ON BELAY!" (3 syllables)

Climber: "THANK YOU" (if not yet ready) (2 syllables)

"CLIMBING" (when ready to climb) (2 syllables)

Belayer: "CLIMB!" (1 syllable)


Note that the North American system used by OB finishes with CLIMB ON or CLIMB AWAY, which can be confused for other two-syllable signals and which should not be used in Troop 8 scouting.


It is important that the seriousness of belaying be conveyed repeatedly. Once a person says "ON BELAY" he is responsible for the other person’s life; his brake hand can never leave the rope no matter what.


While Climbing

While climbing, most signals come from the climber. One syllable signals indicate a request for releasing rope, while two-syllable signals indicate a request for taking in rope.


Climber: "SLACK!"

Belayer: "THANK YOU!" (belayer then releases 3-5 feet of rope and stops - if climber needs more, he’ll ask again).

Climber: "UP ROPE!"

Belayer: "THANK YOU!" (belayer then takes in rope until he "feels" the climber on the end)

Climber: "TENSION!" (this is an "Oh No!" signal usually given right before a fall)

Belayer: "THANK YOU!" (belayer takes in rope, pulling hard to remove all stretch and actually support a bit of the climbers weight, then secures in belay position).

Climber: "FALLING!" (sometimes "OH SHIT!")

Belayer: (secures climber in belay position) "THANK YOU!"

Climber or belayer: "ROCK!"

Partner: (getting out of the way of any falling object) "THANK YOU!"


"ROCK!" is the universal signal used whenever anything - rock, tree, human, etc. comes free-falling off the cliff. The size and danger posed by the object is proportional to the panic in the signaler’s voice. "rock" may mean a small twig. "ROOOOCCCCKKK!!!!" may signify a small boulder. Person(s) below should get out of the way intelligently. The direction depends on circumstances, but avoiding falling objects only requires a step or two, not a frenzied run. Often, plastering oneself close to the cliff is a good choice, because falling items tend to bounce off of protrusions and end up several feet from the cliff at the bottom.


The exception is "ROPE!" which is used while tossing a rope from above when setting up a system.


Ending a Climb

If you are using a Yo-yo belay, so that the belayer is at the bottom of the cliff, when a climber reaches the yo-yo carabiners he’s "made it." He then calls


Climber: "TENSION!"

Belayer: "THANK YOU!" (pulling tension to take climber’s weight)

Climber: "LOWER ME!"

Belayer: "THANK YOU!" (belayer then lowers climber slowly back down rock face as a controlled rappel).

Once a climber is totally safe &emdash; back on the ground, or on the cliff well away from the edge (usually behind the belayer), he ends the sequence:

Climber: "BELAY OFF!"

Belayer: "THANK YOU!" (belayer then releases brake hand, undoes system)


Belayers should be cautious about accepting a "Belay Off" command from a new climber, and should make sure the climber is in a very safe location (away from the edge!) before acknowledging the signal.



Rappel signals

If a belayer is used, the signals for this are the same as a regular climb - ON BELAY, CLIMBING, CLIMB - even though the person is really rappelling rather than climbing. This is done for a roped belay, or for a bottom belay (a person standing with his hand on the rope at the bottom, who is able to stop the rappel by pulling downward on the rappel rope). Often adults or older boys will provide a bottom belay out of habit or for extra safety, even when the rappeller is experienced and one would not be required; this will typically be done without the on belay signal.


BELAY OFF finishes at the bottom.


When there is no belayer but the rappeller is above others, a shout of "RAPPEL ON" alerts the folks below to the decent (and the possibility of rocks or other falling objects being kicked off by the rappeller).


For both belayed and unbelayed rappels, there is an additional signal, used to indicate that the rope is now ready for the next person to come down. This is OFF RAPPEL AND ALL CLEAR, and is used only when the rappeller is off the rope and well away from the cliff face (otherwise he could be hit by rocks dislodged by a new rappeller). If he can’t get clear (as with a rappel to a mid-station on a multipitch route), the signal is simply OFF RAPPEL.