Cranes are the most effective way to move heavy loads on a construction site, and proper use of crane hand signals is a vital part of safe operation. After learning basic crane hand signals, a signal person is able to safely direct a crane operator to raise and lower the boom, hoist and lower the load, or move the load horizontally — and, of course, to stop the crane in case of emergency.
Importantly, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that anyone designated as a signal person must meet certain qualifications and be evaluated by a qualified individual. These regulations and a commitment to standardized signals have helped reshape the landscape of crane safety, with crane-related deaths falling to their lowest recorded level in 2017 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Below, we have a visual guide to basic crane hand signals, including a few signals that are particular to telescopic, crawler and tower cranes. In any case, crane hand signals are an essential part of operating a crane whether using a small carry deck crane or a larger all-terrain crane—these signals are even used with the largest cranes in the world. Some crane rentals also include operators and a signal person in the cost.
Read on for a list of signals, or jump straight to our infographic and a downloadable version of the crane hand signals chart.
Stop signals are the most important signals for crane operation because they enable a signal person to quickly communicate the need to cease movement and activity.
- Stop: Extend one arm, palm down, then swing the arm back and forth, touching the chest, then back out to the side.
- Emergency stop: Extend both arms with palms down, then swing arms back and forth, touching the chest, then back out to the sides.
- Dog everything: Clasp both hands together and hold them in front of the navel.
Boom and Load Signals
Boom signals instruct the crane operator to raise or lower the boom, which is the long arm extending out from a crane. There are three common boom signals:
- Raise boom: Extend an arm outward and point the thumb upward with a closed fist.
- Lower boom: Extend an arm outward and point the thumb downward with a closed fist.
- Swing boom: Extend an arm outward, pointing with an index finger in the direction the boom should swing.
Load signals instruct the crane operator to raise or lower the load using the crane’s hoist, which is the long chain with a hook that attaches to the load. There are two common load signals:
- Hoist load: Extend an arm vertically, pointing a finger toward the sky, and make small clockwise circles with the hand.
- Lower load: Extend an arm vertically, pointing a finger toward the ground, and make small clockwise circles with the hand.
Keep in mind that raising and lowering the boom changes the load radius, so you may need to use combination commands to keep the crane within safe operating limits. There are two common combination commands:
- Raise boom and lower load: Extend an arm outward and point the thumb upward, opening and closing the other fingers.
- Lower boom and hoist load: Extend an arm outward and point the thumb downward, opening and closing the other fingers.
There are also a few boom commands that are specific to telescopic cranes, which have booms that can extend and retract. There are two essential commands for telescopic cranes:
- Telescope out: Place the hands at waist level and point the thumbs outward, fists closed.
- Telescope in: Place the hands at waist level and point the thumbs inward, fists closed.
Cranes themselves can be moved, and hand signals help communicate to the operator how to move the crane in a safe way in the desired direction.
- Travel (Mobile Cranes): Point the fingers upward with the hand extended out in front of the body, pushing in and out in the direction of travel.
- Trolley Travel (Tower Cranes): Point a thumb in the direction of travel, palm facing upward and other fingers closed in a fist. Move thumb back and forth to indicate travel.
- Travel (Both Tracks — Crawler Cranes): Rotate the hands with closed fists in front of the body. Rotation toward the body indicates travel forward, while rotation away from the body indicates travel backward.
- Travel (One Track — Crawler Cranes): Raise a fist to indicate which track to lock, then rotate the other fist in front of the body to indicate direction of travel.
Crane Hand Signals Promote Jobsite Safety
Knowledge of crane hand signals helps to ensure the safe operation of cranes —whether small carry deck cranes or large all-terrain cranes — which often weigh thousands of pounds and carry enormous loads. Using standardized hand signals helps maintain continuity between job sites and promotes safety across the entire construction industry.
Download a PDF version of our crane hand signals reference chart below to take with you to the job site.
Below, see a visual reference of all of the most important crane hand signals that anyone working on a construction site should know.