As Seen In: USA Today, Discovery Channel, US News & World Report

Climbing Commands

Communication is often difficult during a climb. As the distance between climber and belayer increases, it becomes harder to distinguish one word from another and the shortest sentence may be heard as nothing more than jumbled syllables. A series of standard voice commands were developed over the years to signal the essential rope management functions in a belayed climb. Each command is concise and sounds a bit different from another to reduce the risk of a misunderstanding between climber and belayer. They must be pronounced clearly and loudly so they can be heard and understood in the worst conditions.

Verbal Commands

Table 6-1 lists standard rope commands and their meanings in sequence as they would normally be used on a typical climb. (Note how the critical "BELAY" commands are reversed so they sound different and will not be confused.)






The belay is on; you may climb when ready; the rope will be managed as needed.


(as a courtesy)

I am ready to climb.

(as a courtesy)


Proceed, and again, the rope will be managed as necessary.



PROTECT YOURSELF FROM FALLING OBJECTS. Signal will be echoed by all climbers in the area. If multipitch climbing, ensure climbers below hear.



Take in excess rope between us without pulling me off the route.

Belayer takes in rope.



Release all braking/tension on the rope so I can have slack without pulling the rope.

Belayer removes brake/tension.



Take all the slack, apply brake, and hold me. My weight will be on the rope.

Belayer removes slack and applies brake.



I am falling.

Belayer applies brake to arrest the fall.



You have approximately 25 feet of rope left. Start looking for the next belay position.

Climber selects a belay position.



You have approximately 15 feet of rope left. Start looking for the next belay position.

Climber selects a belay position within the next few feet.


Set up the belay.

You have 5 feet of rope left. Set up the belay position. You have no more rope.

Climber sets up the belay.

Removes the belay, remains anchored. Prepares to climb.


I have finished climbing and I am anchored. You may remove the belay.

Belayer removes the belay and, remaining anchored, prepares to climb.

Table 6-1. Rope commands.

Rope Tug Commands

Sometimes the loudest scream cannot be heard when the climber and belayer are far apart. This is especially true in windy conditions, or when the climber is around a corner, above an overhang, or at the back of a ledge. It may be necessary to use a series of "tugs" on the rope in place of the standard voice commands. To avoid any possible confusion with interpretation of multiple rope tug commands, use only one.

a. While a lead climb is in progress, the most important command is "BELAY ON." This command is given only by the climber when the climber is anchored and is prepared for the second to begin climbing. With the issue of this command, the second knows the climber is anchored and the second prepares to climb.

b. For a rope tug command, the leader issues three distinct tugs on the rope AFTER anchoring and putting the second on belay. This is the signal for "BELAY ON" and signals the second to climb when ready. The new belayer keeps slack out of the rope.

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