Communicating With Your Belayer – A Rock Climbing Essential


As I’ve said before, and I’ll say over and over again, rock climbing is a very safe extreme sport provided when you do go out on a climbing day or trip you know what you are doing and remain focused and aware of what is going on around you. Rock climbing still maintains a bad rap in the extreme sports world for being dangerous, but in reality very few accidents occur when rock climbers possess the correct knowledge and training to safely enjoy the sport. Even if you have your rope and gear mastered, there is one part of the chain that can still be weak – the teamwork. Climbing is a social sport and you should never go climbing by yourself – rather go in a group of three or more people.

When you are in a group and climbing, you do need to know what the other is thinking or saying to you at all times and that means you will need to know the phrases and slang climbers will use when they are climbing or belaying. Let’s have a look at some of these saying and slang phrases so when you encounter them you’ll know what they mean.

The first thing you and your climbing partner need to do is make sure that before the climb you are both familiar with the rock climbing commands that you will be giving each other. This is probably the most important step because once you know your partner will be familiar with your commands, you’ll be able to communicate effectively with him and vice versa.

Let’s first look at the roles when you are climbing as a pair – the climber and the belayer. Usually the climber (or the first to go up in the case of a multiple pitch climb or when the belayer will follow the climber up) will be known as the leader and the belayer as the second. It is the belayer’s job to ensure that the climber does not fall down when he slips off the climb but rather Is caught by the rope – this means keeping the rope as taut as possible as well as (using a special device called a belay device) to stop unused rope from running freely away from him. The communication between the leader and the second is crucial.

Rock Climbing Commands

The communication between belayer and leader usually takes the form of the following rock climbing commands:

ON BELAY – The belayer will relay this to the climber so that the climber knows it is safe to start climbing.

OFF BELAY – The climber is telling the belayer that it is safe for him to take the climber off belay as he is secured.

BELAY OFF – The belayer is letting the climber know that he is no longer protected by the belayer and needs to ensure he is secured of his own accord.

CLIMBING – The climber is letting the belayer know that he is ready to climb and wants the belayer to begin belaying him.

CLIMB ON – The belayer is letting the climber know it is safe for him to climb as he is protecting the climber with the belaying role.

SLACK – The climber is requesting that the belayer let out some slack rope for the climber.

UP ROPE – The climber is requesting that the belayer take in the slack rope so the rope becomes taut.

TENSION or TAKE – The climber telling the belayer that he needs the belayer to take in all the rope until it is taut and prepare or begin to hold the climber.

WATCH ME – Climber to belayer, alerting him that he is attempting to perform a difficult move and might need to be held by the belayer any second.

FALLING – The climber is telling the belayer that he is about to fall and he should prepare to take the fall.

READY TO LOWER – The climber is letting the belayer know he has reached the top and would like to be lowered down.

LOWERING – The belayer is letting the climber know he is beginning to lower the climber.

CLIPPING – The climber is telling the belayer to give him some slack because he is about to attach or clip the rope into a piece of safety equipment – usually a Karabiner.

ON RAPPEL or ON ABSEIL – The climber is letting the belayer know to stand clear of the bottom of the climb as he is going to descend.

ROCK – The climber is letting the belayer or anyone below him know that a rock has come loose and is falling down the climb and they should watch their heads.

ROPE – The climber is letting the belayer or anyone below him know that he is dropping a rope or an end of a rope and they should watch that it doesn’t hit them.

Once you have memorised and familiarised yourself with these climbing commands there is only one other thing to remember – you’re outside! Sound often doesn’t carry very well while you’re climbing or belaying, so it is important to speak loudly and clearly to ensure that your instructions or warnings have been heard by your partner.

Out on the climb, you need to know that your instructions have been heard and that’s why often you’ll hear conversations or strings of these commands being put together. For example, at the start of a climb you might hear the conversation go something like this…

Belayer: ON BELAY
Belayer: CLIMB ON

These rock climbing commands commands are very easy to understand and are very much universal amongst climbers. They promote good, clear communication which is essential to safe climbing. Screaming “Oh no! I’m going to fall! Hold me!” might be more expressive, but simply shouting loudly and clearly “FALLING!” says everything the longer statement says with much less chance of being misheard.

Now that you know how to communicate with your climbing partner, you should have a much easier, more relaxing and safer time out on the climbs!