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
WHO SAYS IT
The lead climber is asking their partner if they are ready to belay
To tell the lead climber that they are on belay (response to "On belay?")
The lead climber is letting their belayer know that they will begin climbing
Go ahead and climb (response to "climbing")
This lets 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
This lets the belayer know that the lead climber has finished clipping a bolt
Usually, in a multi-pitch climbing scenario or when cleaning a route, the lead climber will use this to make sure their belayer sees that they are safely attached to the anchors and that the belayer can stop belaying the leader
This tells the lead climber that they are no longer being belayed (response to "Off belay")
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
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
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")
This command tells the belayer to lower their climber to the ground
This alerts the belayer that the lead climber might take a fall soon
This tells the belayer that the climber is about to fall
Anyone that spots a falling object shouts this command to alert everyone to take cover (Always wear a helmet!) Belaying is the most dangerous job when climbing outside)
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 the 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.
Knowing your commands is important, but what is just as crucial, if not more, is trusting in the person receiving your commands. Learn about choosing the perfect climbing partner!