How to Send Out a Distress Signal

Constant connection is so much a part of our lives that it’s difficult to fathom being stranded anywhere, from anything.

More, desert island wash-ups and plane crashes that leave passengers fighting for their lives on uninhabited rocks, without food or potable water, have become the stuff of disaster movie lore. That doesn’t really happen to anyone, does it?

Actually, it does, and for a variety of reasons, not only those caused by wayward ships and downed planes. If you’re an adventurer, there’s a higher probability it’ll happen to you while out exploring those corners of the world few venture toward.

In the event that you find your cell phone gets spotty service in a desert or you’re running low on battery and there aren’t quite as many electrical outlets as you’d anticipated in the snowy wilderness, survival will depend on your primitive ability to signal for help.

Are you as prepared as you think to send out a distress signal? Find out.

Rule of Three

If you’re stranded, the number three could save your life. Confused? Let us explain. In the world of survivalists, doing something three times signals that you’re in trouble and need help.

More specifically, blowing a whistle three times (be sure to wait a minute or two in between triad blasts), setting up three piles of wood, or lighting three fires are all viable options.

If you’re going with one of the latter two choices, or piling any type of object to gain aerial attention, make sure to leave enough space in between groupings so the formation can be adequately assessed as such (a triangle form is a standard).

If you have access to a whistle (or flashlight), the Morse signal for SOS is three quick flashes (or blows as the case may be), three long flashes, and three quick flashes again.

Start a Fire

When we think survival, one of the first actions that comes to mind is building a fire. Not only because we can cook squirrels over it, but also because its flames can be used to alert passers by that seemingly desolate areas are, in fact, occupied by people who desperately want to be saved.

But just knowing how to start a fire isn’t enough; different times of day call for different types of blazes. In daylight, smokiness is key, and you should use upholstery, fabric, oil, or pieces of rubber to ensure a thick, and therefore visible, billowy trail.

At night, bright flames are key and you should use plenty of dry brush, lighter fluid, or gasoline to create them. Be sure to have materials on hand to build either type of fire and be ready to be light them up at all times. You never know when a plane is going to fly overhead and you may only get one chance at rescue.

Grab Something Shiny

Never has your belt buckle been more valuable (or your handheld mirror, if you have one of those). If you find yourself in crisis on a sunny day, get to the highest, flattest, most treeless spot you can find, and use the most reflective object you have to aim rays of sunshine back at the skies, in the direction of even the faintest sound of motorized flight.

Pilots can reportedly see a mirror’s flash up to 160 km away (that’s about 100 miles). Remember never to direct flashes at an aircraft for more than a few seconds. Doing so may blind pilots. The Morse flash cadence mentioned above can be put to good use with any and all reflective objects .

Be Creative

At this point, we’ve been through all the essentials, but it’s important to remember that, in a pinch, many less obvious objects can be used to attract attention. Half the battle is thinking creatively.

The Daily Survival blog recommends using anything out of the ordinary to alter your surroundings in such a way that might cause someone flying overhead or boating or hiking in the distance to take notice.

For instance, a brightly colored flag or space blanket can be fantastic survival tools. Alternatively, spelling out “SOS” by aligning logs or etching in sand is a must-do, surroundings allowing.

The upshot here: no matter where you’re going, whether on a week-long expedition or an hour-long grocery trip, it’s a good idea to keep a whistle, flashlight, and lighter on hand. And yes, a fully-charged cell phone never, ever hurts.

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