Signaling for Help
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Disclaimers about the information, resources & links contained in
this website. The information provided below is for basic reference only
and is not intended to be professional instruction.
Proper signaling can mean the difference
between being rescued and being left for dead in the wilderness.
kit can be extremely helpful in carrying out the following signaling
- Fire. Most effective during darkness. Build three fires in a
triangle formation (international distress signal). Build the fire in
a natural or man-made clearing to avoid starting a forest fire.
Burning a tree will also attract attention, but is extremely dangerous,
as it may start a forest fire. Burn a tree only as a signaling
technique of last resort! If you
decide to burn a tree, always select one that is set apart from other
trees, and preferably near a water source.
- Smoke. Effective during daylight. Create three columns of
smoke (international distress signal). Create white smoke against a
dark background and vice versa. To create a white smoke, smother a
fire with green leaves, moss or water. To create black smoke, add
rubber or oil-soaked rags to the fire.
- Mirrors or Shiny Objects. Best on a sunny day. Mirror signals
can be seen over 70 miles under normal conditions in most
- Flashlight. Best at night. Use a flashlight to send an SOS
signal--three short blips followed by three long blips.
- Clothing. Spread clothing on the ground or on top of a tree.
Use bright colors if possible. Arrange the clothes in an unnatural
geometric pattern to distinguish the clothes from your surroundings.
- Natural Material. Use natural materials to spell out an SOS.
In snow-covered areas, tramp down the snow to form letters and fill in
with contrasting material such as twigs or dirt. In sand, use
vegetation. In brush-covered areas, cut out patterns in the
vegetation. In tundra, dig trenches or turn sod upside down. As a
general rule, use material that contrasts with the background.
The following is a table of Ground-to-Air Emergency Code:
|Require Medical Assistance
|Need Food And Water
|No or Negative
|Yes or Affirmative
|Proceeding In This Direction
|All Is Well
If your signal is acknowledged by an aircraft and understood,
the pilot will rock the aircraft from side to side (during daylight or
moonlight) or will make green flashes with the plane's signal lamp (during
If your signal is received but not understood, the aircraft will
make complete circle (during day or moonlight) or will make red flashes
with its signal lamp (during night).
- Both arms raised with palms open means, "I need help."
- One arm raised with palm open means, "I do not need
For more detailed information about signaling, see Chapter
19 ("Signaling Techniques") of the U.S. Army Survival