Emergency Signals – How to Use Visual and Auditory Signals for Help

Emergency Signals – How to Use Visual and Auditory Signals for Help

Emergency signals – What to know and how to use them


In emergency situations, when communication lines are down and you can’t rely on your smartphone or the internet, it’s important to have alternative ways of signaling for help. Knowing the different emergency signals and how to use them can greatly increase your chances of being rescued. In this article, we will explore some common emergency signals and provide tips on how to use them effectively.

1. Visual signals

Visual signals are a great way to attract attention and indicate your location to potential rescuers. Here are some commonly used visual signals:

a. Smoke signals

Creating smoke signals is a classic survival technique. To make a smoke signal, you will need a fire and a way to generate thick, dark smoke. One way to do this is by adding green vegetation to your fire. The moist leaves will create more smoke when burned. It’s important to create three quick puffs of smoke followed by a short pause to indicate that you are in distress.

b. Flashlight signals

Using a flashlight to create signals at night can be very effective. Use the international SOS signal, which is three short flashes, followed by three long flashes, and finally, three short flashes again. Repeat this pattern to let rescuers know that you are in need of help.

c. Signal mirrors

Signal mirrors are compact and lightweight, making them an ideal tool for signaling over long distances. Hold the mirror facing the sun and adjust its position until a bright reflection is aimed at your target. Move the mirror around to create flashes that will catch the attention of potential rescuers.

2. Auditory signals

When visibility is limited or you are unable to make visual signals, auditory signals can be an effective alternative. Here are some examples:

a. Whistle

A whistle is a small and lightweight device that can carry sound over long distances. Three short bursts from a whistle are recognized as the universal distress signal. Keep a whistle on your person or in your survival kit, as it can greatly increase your chances of being heard by rescuers.

b. Sirens or horns

If you have access to a car or a boat, using the vehicle’s horn or siren can attract attention in an emergency. Make sure to use these signals sparingly, as they can quickly drain the vehicle’s battery. Three short blasts or honks are generally recognized as a distress signal.

c. Shouting and banging

In certain situations, using your voice or banging on a hard surface can be an effective way to signal for help. Yelling “Help!” or “SOS!” at regular intervals can alert nearby individuals to your predicament. If possible, create rhythmic patterns with your voice or by banging on a hard surface, as this will attract attention more effectively.

3. Communication devices

In addition to visual and auditory signals, using communication devices can greatly increase your chances of being rescued. Here are some devices to consider:

a. Personal locator beacons (PLBs)

PLBs are small, handheld devices that use satellite technology to transmit your location to search and rescue teams. They are designed specifically for emergency situations and can greatly expedite the rescue process. Make sure to register your PLB and keep it in working condition at all times.

b. Two-way radio

Having a two-way radio allows you to communicate with others over short distances. This can be useful for coordinating with search parties or getting updates on rescue efforts. Ensure you have spare batteries or alternative power sources for your radio.

c. Cell phones

While cell phones may not be reliable in remote areas, they can still be useful if you have signal coverage. Keep your cell phone fully charged and bring a portable charger to extend its battery life. Consider investing in a satellite phone if you frequently venture into areas with little to no cellular coverage.


When faced with an emergency situation, it’s important to familiarize yourself with different emergency signals and have the necessary tools to signal for help. Visual signals, such as smoke signals and signal mirrors, can attract attention from a distance, while auditory signals like whistles and sirens can provide a means of communication in areas with limited visibility. Additionally, communication devices such as PLBs, two-way radios, and cell phones can greatly increase your chances of being rescued. Remember, being prepared and knowing how to use these signals could be a lifesaver in a dire situation.

My 2 Cents

Emergency signals are essential knowledge for any survivalist or outdoor enthusiast. It’s important to practice these signals before an emergency happens to ensure you can produce them effectively when needed. Keep a versatile signaling kit in your survival pack, including items like a whistle, signal mirror, and flashlight. Knowing how to attract attention and communicate your distress can be the difference between being rescued and being left stranded. Stay safe and always be prepared!