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6 Ways to Signal for Help

6 Ways to Signal for Help

6 Ways to Signal for Help

Nobody plans to get lost out in the woods or wilderness. Sometimes it just happens. Even the most skilled survivalist can find themselves a bit lost given the right circumstances or situation. When these kinds of things happen that are out of our control, as always, it's important to control what we can and use the skills we have acquired to move forward. By giving yourself several options to get out of these kind of situations, you give yourself and those around you the most clear path to safety. These Six Ways to Signal for Help gives you another tool to use in your survival toolbelt and allows you to have the peace of mind that if you're ever in a tight spot and need to get someone's attention, you'll know 6 ways to immediately make that happen, and maybe save some lives in the process.

1. Fire/Smoke Signal

A smoke signal is one of the most classic signal to get attention and let someone know where you are located. You will want to head to the top of whatever terrain you are in. For example, if you are out hiking, try to end up near the mountain's peak before starting your signal so there is less distance for the smoke to travel. Ensure you are away from a lot of surrounding trees or other obstructions to make certain you have the most visibility possible. Then you will want to create an effective fire that burns steadily, but is not out of control. As soon as your fire is burning bright, you will want to add fresh grasses or sticks as these types of fresh materials generate the most smoke. This will create a visible signal that will be able to be seen for miles and should indicate your location.

Traditionally, putting a wet blanket or other similar material over the fire in short sequences can create puffs of smoke and can further communicate your message.

1 Puff = Attention
2 Puffs = All is well
3 Puffs = Danger, Trouble or Call for Help

Smoke Signal

2. Cellphone/Radio Signal

Maybe the most commonly used signal for help in the current day is the signal from a cellphone communication. Cellphones are useful given you still have service, and cell phone towers are still active and effective, which most likely won't be the case. You can use a cellphone to call emergency services, use GPS, or use it's flashlight or compass.

In the likely event that cellphones aren't effective, a radio might be the best option for communicating using a handheld device. Radios are reliable, durable, and can hit repeaters in the area which can rebroadcast your SOS signal. Try to get to a high point in whatever landscape you are in for the best chance at a successful transmission. The 878UVII Plus is capable of VHF and UHF frequencies, so it's a great radio to have on you at all times. You may want to also have an Echo GMRS Radio on hand for General Mobile Radio Service communication or a Buddy FRS Radio for line-of-sight comms. 

If you are well-prepared with the repeater frequencies in the area, it will give you the best chance at a successful communication. Make your way to the highest elevation you can find, use all these kinds of handheld devices to try to make a connection, and ensure you are in the clearest area possible with the least amount of obstructions.

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3. Mirror Reflection Signal

Reflecting light off of a mirror is one of the most simple signals on this list, but can still be extremely effective. Survival mirrors are a real piece of equipment designed to signal rescuers, but other things can be used as a reflection signal as well. Things like a mirror from a makeup bag, the screen on your cellphone, the end of a soda can, or the backside of a DVD can also be used for a mirror signal. A mirror made for survival purposes may reach a maximum of around seven miles, and a less specialized mirror may reach around half this range, depending on the surrounding conditions. You will want to work on aiming your reflection mirror as well so you can be effective when attempting to signal a distant plane or rescue party. There are several methods to do this, but many suggest making your fingers into a "V" shape and reflecting the sun's rays right between your fingers by holding the mirror in the opposite hand. This way you have a 'scope' to look through to make sure you are effectively signaling.

Mirror Reflection Signal

4. Signal Flare

Signal Flares are an effective method to get someone's attention in a burst of light. Flares burn very hot and generate a radiant light that can be seen for miles. Whether you use a flare gun or a handheld flare, both emit a bright light, which is typically a red or orange color. A flare gun is typically used on the water or in wetlands to prevent fire damage to your surroundings, so just be very aware of the situation you are using each item in for maximum effectiveness.

Signal flares may not be the most readily available item if you find yourself caught in a survival situation, but they are built for getting attention and letting someone know of your direct location. Keep a few safely stored in your survival kit to give yourself a surefire attention grabbing signal if someone that can help is in your area.

5. Ground to Air Signals

Ground to air signals are the types of signals we've seen in all the movies. This resembles the big 'SOS' signal you see imprinted in the sand on a beach, in a large, and easy to read fashion. The best place for this type of signal would be in a clear location with not much else going on around it if possible. This ensures the best visibility so our ground to air signals can be most effective. These types of signals typically spell out 'SOS', but this is likely because this is the most well known type of this signal among the public. There are several other signs that are internationallly recognized that you can spell out on the ground to use.

V = Require Assistance
X = Require Medical Assistance
N = Negative
Y = Affirmative
--> (arrow) = head this direction

Try to contrast the messages with the ground that it is on to make sure it stands out among the rest of the landscape. A lot of times, using bright colors on hand or makeshift flags will greatly increase your chances of being discovered. Typically the international sign for "I see you!" from a rescuer is rocking the wings of a plane back and forth, or flashing/flickering the lights on and off to communicate you have been spotted. One of the easiest signals to make can be much more effective when implementing these quick tips to make your signal an attention grabber.

Help SOS signal

6. Audible Signals 

So far, we've talked about all the visual signals you can make, but this list would not be complete without mentioning the signals you can hear. These type of signals are a great way to attract attention using a slightly different approach. If a search team or any individual is searching for you on foot, audible signals are perfect for those who may not be able to see you from a bird's eye view.

Most people don't carry a noisemaker or loudspeaker with them, but there are plenty of other ways we can make a little noise and some commotion. The most basic form is using your voice. Yelling out with a booming voice can be effective, but gets tiresome. You'll want to save as much energy as possible. 

A whistle can be constructed by making a notch and hollowing out the top half of a small piece of wood (a quick google search will tell you exactly how to do this). A makeshift drum can also be constructed by hollowing out a larger piece of wood. You then hit the drum with heavier sticks to generate a low tone sound that can be heard up to a few miles away.


While I can assure you no one reading this plans to get lost or displaced any time soon, you are now equipped with the best ways to get found if you ever lose your way. Use your best judgement to figure out which of these six signals should be utilized, and use them to carve your path to safety.

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