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How to Signal For Help

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 8 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Camping Signals Camping Signalling For

One of the things you need to consider if you're out on a hiking or camping trip and you get lost or get injured is how you might attract the attention of rescuers.

Depending on your location and the environment around you, you can signal for help in many different ways and it's useful to have a few ideas set up in advance if you can.

Using Your Mobile Phone to Get Help

For those who like to keep their camping or hiking trips traditional, the thought of taking their mobile phone with them is abhorrent. However, in an emergency situation, they're often the best method to summon help so it's rather foolhardy to dismiss technology completely out of hand. If you don't mind accommodating the extra few ounces of weight and space, then it won't hurt to have one but it's best to keep it for emergency use only when out on the trail as it'll be useless if it's run out of battery power.

Also, you should make some other additional signalling for help provisions as you might not be able to get a reception signal on your phone in some more remote areas.

The Rule of Three in an Emergency Situation

The 'rule of three' is something which has its traditions dating back to the old Morse Code days and the internationally recognised S.O.S. signal.

In rescue terms, three of something signifies that help is needed. This could be three blasts on a whistle, three piles of dark wood on light sand or three fires burning. If you're using a whistle, blow 3 distinct times and then wait a few minutes and then blow 3 blasts again. Continue to do this every 10 minutes or so.

If you're building 3 fires or making 3 piles of wood, keep them at a sufficient distance apart so they can be clearly identified as 3 separate entities by a plane or helicopter that may be looking for you overhead.

Send a Signal Using a Mirror

Reflecting the sun's rays off a mirror can be very effective at attracting attention over many miles. If you can get to a high spot, you can spend the time signalling to distant places on the horizon until you see a plane in the distance when you should then divert your signalling towards the aircraft. Remember, it's better to signal at a plane that is in the distance rather than one above you as the pilot can't see straight down. If you aren't carrying a mirror, anything with a shiny surface should work just as effectively, e.g. a compass, watch or a knife blade are all possibilities.

Send a Smoke Signal

If you are stranded yet have access to wood and the necessary means with which to build a fire, you should build a fire to keep warm first. Once you've got that going, you can then gather dry leaves, pine needles, moss and some water which will be your signal fire. You want this to be pretty big and as smoky as possible. If it's getting near dusk and supplies are limited, you may want to wait until morning to light your signalling fire but get up early. If rescue teams are aware you're out there somewhere, they'll be up and looking for you at the first sign of dawn so it's important you are too, so that you can get your signalling fire going. As you get the fire lit, you can work out which of the materials you've gathered create the most smoke without putting out the fire. Creating a large billow of smoke occasionally rather than burning all of your materials right away may increase your chances of being seen.

Be certain to set up your signals in the most visible or audible place available to you so that they can be seen or heard from as many directions as possible. People sometimes tend to adopt the manner of "it won't happen to me" but a few simple tools which don't take up much space in your backpack or pockets can often mean the difference between life and death in some extreme circumstances and it's well worth carrying a few extra ounces to accommodate these.

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