Using standardized rock climbing commands, which are relatively universal throughout climbing cultures can significantly decrease confusion that sometimes occurs within a climbing party. There have been many climbing accidents that are the result of poor communication between climbing partners. Therefore, it is essential that new climbers quickly learn and utilize climbing commands to avoid accidents.
Even if you’re climbing indoors, it’s crucial that all members of a climbing party are using their commands; prior to setting out on a climb with your partners, make sure that everyone has a solid understanding of 1) the climbing commands that will be used by the party, 2) who will be saying what commands, and 3) the purpose/meaning behind each of these commands.
Below, we’ve provided a table of most of the climbing commands that are commonly used in single-pitch and multi-pitch climbing scenarios. Be sure to learn all the commands contained in Table 1, even if you only plan on climbing at your local gym.
Table 1. Basic Climbing Commands
|The Command||Who Says It||Purpose|
|On Belay?||Lead Climber||The lead climber is asking their partner if they are ready to belay|
|Belay On||Belayer||To tell the lead climber that they are on belay (response to “On belay?”)|
|Climbing||Lead Climber||The lead climber is letting their belayer know that they will begin climbing|
|Climb On||Belayer||Go ahead and climb (response to “climbing”)|
|Clipping||Lead Climber||This let’s the belayer know that the lead climber is clipping a bolt and may need extra slack. This is very useful for roofs where the climber may be out of sight|
|Clipped||Lead Climber||This lets the belayer know that the lead climber has finished clipping a bolt|
|Off Belay||Lead Climber||Usually, in a multi-pitch climbing scenario or when cleaning a route, the lead climber will use this to make sure their belayer see that they are safely attached to the anchors and that the belayer can stop belaying the leader|
|Belay Off||Belayer||This tells the lead climber that they are no longer being belayed (response to “Off belay”)|
|Slack||Lead Climber||This lets the belayer know that the rope is too tight on the lead climber and that the lead climber needs more rope so that they can move around|
|Take||Lead Climber||This command tells the Belayer that there is too much slack in the system and that they need to pull in rope until it’s tight on the lead climber|
|On Me||Belayer||This command lets the lead climber know that they have taken all the slack out of the system, and are now pulling on their climber (response to “Take”)|
|Lower Me||Lead Climber||This command tells the belayer to lower their climber to the ground|
|Watch Me||Lead Climber||This alerts the belayer that the lead climber might take a fall soon|
|Falling||Lead Climber||This tells the belayer that the climber is about to fall|
|Rock||Lead Climber/Belayer/Follower||Anyone that spots a falling object shouts this command to alert everyone to take cover (Always where a helmet! Belaying is the most dangerous job when climbing outside)|
The commands you commonly use might change depending on if you’re single-pitch or multi-pitch climbing, however, many of these commands are essential for all types of climbing. For example, whether you’re multi-pitch or single-pitch climbing, the commands “on belay, belay on, climbing, and climb on” will all be commonly used. If you’re single pitch climbing, the commands “take, on me, lower me, and lowering” might be used more regularly than multi-pitch climbing. Finally, if you’re multi-pitch climbing, the commands “off belay, belay off” become extremely important and commonly used. It’s vital for you to know all climbing commands, and familiarize yourself with the commands that are widely used in different types of climbing. It’s especially important that you understand the context in which these commands are used.
It’s important that you loudly convey commands to your climbing partner. If you’re in a crowded area, common etiquette is to preface commands with your climbing partner’s name. For example, if a lead climber has safely attached to their climbing anchor, they will loudly shout, “John, off belay!” and their belayer will respond with, “Nate, you are off belay!” or “Nate, belay is off!” Using a first name reduces confusion if there are multiple climbers in the area, and being loud helps everyone hear what’s going on. There is no time or place for being quiet or shy while you’re using climbing commands.
Remember, utilizing climbing commands is one of the fundamental aspects of climbing. Without using your commands, you expose yourself to unnecessary danger. Be wary of climbing with people that don’t take climbing commands seriously, as these individuals don’t have an appreciation for the inherent risk that is involved in rock climbing. Finally, it is the responsibility of everyone in the climbing party to understand and use these basic commands. Make it a habit of using these commands, and you will reduce the amount of confusion your party encounters during a climb.