Be loud with these, because miscommunication can be as consequential as any other type of climbing-system failure. Review commands initially to be sure you and your partner are on the same page. Here are the common commands: 

  • Climber: “On belay?” (Are you ready to belay me?)
  • Belayer: “Belay on” (Slack is gone and I’m ready)
  • Climber: “Climbing” (I’m going to climb now)
  • Belayer: “Climb on” (I’m ready for you to climb)
  • Climber: “Slack!” (Pay out a little rope)
  • Belayer: (Pay out rope and pause to see if climber asks again)
  • Climber: “take” (Pull in rope slack)
  • Belayer: (Pull in slack and pause to see if climber asks again)
  • Climber: “Tension / on you” (I want to rest by hanging on the rope now)
  • Belayer: “Gotcha” (Remove all slack and hold tight)
  • Climber: “Ready to lower” (I’m done climbing)
  • Belayer: “Lowering” (Reposition both hands to brake)
  • Climber: “Off belay” (I’m standing securely on the ground)
  • Belayer: “Belay off” (I’ve stopped belaying you)

The “take” command: Many climbers use this rather than “tension” when they want the belayer to remove slack and take the weight of the climber on the rope. The argument for using “tension” instead is that “take” can be confused with “slack,” and confusing those commands would be a very bad thing.

Naming names: Start every command with your partner’s name. On a crowded crag or in a busy gym, voices are hard to distinguish. One sure way that your partner will know that the command came from you is to add your partner’s name to it.