How to Use Climbing Commands

Important climbing voice commands keep you safe

Use clear communication and commands when you're climbing desert towers like Independence Monument, especially if it's windy. Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

Climbing commands are standard phrases or single words that allow a climbing team to function smoothly and safely. Communication between climbers is very important, especially between the lead climber and the belayer. The leader needs to clearly communicate with his belayer, and likewise, the belayer needs to communicate with the leader.

Review Commands Before Climbing

It’s important to communicate with each other before you start climbing. Make sure you’re using the same commands, especially if your climbing partner is from a foreign country where they use different commands or a beginner who does not know the proper verbal commands. Review basic commands and get on the same page before you leave the ground—it will save you lots of trouble later.

Use Clear Commands Outside

Many climbers, especially those who have learned to climb at indoor gyms, don’t value the necessity of using the same clear, sharp commands all the time. When you’re climbing indoors, it is easy to communicate since the only interference might be that the gym’s music is too loud. Outside, though, you run into a whole different set of circumstances. Your voice might be swallowed up by winds, a roaring creek, or the cliff’s geometry does not allow easy communication between your partner and yourself.

Good Communication Keeps You Safe

Bad communication when you’re out rock climbing is a recipe for disaster. Good communication keeps your climbing partner and yourself safe on the rocks. Learn the basic climbing voice commands and use them.

Basic Climbing Voice Commands

Here is a list of basic climbing voice commands. Listed first is the command; second who says the command; and third what the command means.

  • “On belay” Belayer to climber: I have you on belay and safe.
  • “Off belay” Climber to belayer: I am safe and you can take me off belay.
  • ”Belay off” Belayer to climber: I understand that you’re safe and am taking you off belay.
  • “Climbing” Climber to belayer: I am climbing up now.
  • “Climb on” Belayer to climber: Okay, I’m ready. Go ahead and climb.
  • “Slack” Climber to belayer: Give me some slack or loose rope and don’t hold the rope so tight.
  • “Up Rope!” Climber (with a top-rope) to belayer: Pull any slack in the rope up tight.
  • “Tension," “Tight rope,” and "Take" Climber to belayer: Pull the rope very tight and hold me.
  • “Watch me!” Climber to belayer: Pay attention, get off your cell phone, this is hard and I might fall.
  • “Falling!” Climber to belayer: I’m falling off and you need to hold me with your belay.
  • ”Ready to lower” Climber to belayer: I’m at the anchors on this sport route and ready to come down.
  • “Lowering” Belayer to climber: Okay, I’m going to lower you down now.
  • “Clipping” Climber to belayer: I’m getting ready to clip the rope into a carabiner, you’ll need to give me some slack rope.
  • “On Rappel” Climber to anyone below: I’m getting ready to rappel down now.
  • “Off Rappel” Climber to partner above: I am totally disengaged from the rope and you can rappel now.
  • “Rock!” Climber to anyone below: Watch out! A chunk of rock is falling and might hit you.
  • ”Rope!” Climber to anyone below: Watch out! I am pulling down or tossing down a rope and it might hit you.

Read More About Climbing Communication

Communicate Before Lowering Off Sport Climbs

Use Climbing Hand Signals to Communicate

9 Steps to Safely Lower Off a Sport Climb

How to Toss Rappel Ropes