Signaling for Help in an Emergency

Imagine you are driving across the country and your car breaks down in the middle of the drive. What are you going to do? If you're prepared and know how to signal for help, you can create signs and signal aircrafts for help. Most people know the SOS sign, but here are other things that emergency personal will recognize as messages.

Three Fires
Building three separate fires is an international signal for distress. Ideally, they should be placed in a triangle at equal distances. However, if you are injured or fuel isn't available, you might only be able to build one fire which is a great start to signaling for help.

Many people have even built small rafts that they build fires on. This allows them to float their three-fire triangle in the middle of a lake or in a river where a passing aircraft is more likely to see them.

Single Fires
Smoking fires are a great way to signal for help from long distances. Be sure to set up your fire in a visible location so that people can see the flames or smoke before they dissipate. Typically, planes will fly from a high ridge to a low one

Ground-to-Air Codes
There are a few symbols that you can use to signify that you are in need. Typically, you’ll want to make these large and as noticeable as possible - usually a color that is contrasted with its surroundings.

Serious Injury, Evacuation Required Am Proceeding in This Direction
Need Medical Supplies Probably Safe to Land Here
Unable to Move Require Food and Water

Body Signaling
There are a series of signals that pilots and other airmen will understand and use. Make all of these signals in a clear and exaggerated manner.

Need Medical Attention Do Not Attempt to Land Here
Land Here (Indicate Direction) Affirmative
Pick Us Up Here Negative

If the pilot understands the message, he or she will continue flying the plane and tipping the wings in a rocking motion from side to side. If the pilot did not understand, they will begin flying the plane in a right-handed circle. At night time, the plane will either flash a green (affirmative) or red (negative) light to communicate.

21 thoughts on “Signaling for Help in an Emergency”

  • Bubba

    I would just like to clarify that if somebody in a bright orange jumper is signaling to you, don't pick them up ... especially next to prisons.

  • Kim

    Great information. Thanks!
    And Bubba, you just made my morning. That was so funny.

  • Woolval

    If I break down driving across the country... call AAA!! Seriously though, thanks for these signal tips, good to know. Would be useful if motocross riding in the desert and I break down. But I haven't ridden in the desert in 40 years, plus I now live in Florida. Just sayin'.

    Bubba, good advice. Are you speaking from personal experience? LOL!!

  • Carol

    This is actually very helpful. I have printed it, and intend to laminate it to carry in each car and backpack. When you're lost in the woods, or stranded in the snow, panic just might erase the information from your memory bank. Hence the laminated copies. Thanks for the helping hand.

  • Linda

    this is good info but one made me chuckle. If you can't move, how can you make a signal indicating that....hopefully you have a companion with you who can.

  • Rod

    When signaling aircraft you make a larger image by lying down than standing.

  • grambern

    God love ya Bubba!! You gave me a good laugh for 2day!! Hilarious:) !!!

  • Samuel F Campbell
    Samuel F Campbell April 6, 2013 at 5:11 am

    Great info! Thank You!

  • Ken

    Actually,we learned all of this in the Boy Scouts--that is,until they became a politically-correct football.Bootcamp was where we learned the aerial signals in SERE classes.

  • Sine

    Carol, great idea about laminating your print out and placing in your cars and backpacks. If you don't have access to a laminating machine you can use the plastic sheet protectors and tape the open end to help keep everything clean.

  • George O'Toole

    This is some r3eally handy information to have when you are driving or just surviving in the wilderness after a disaster occurs. I can picture using the signs and fires in an open field in the suburbs if necessary. Again, great information. I have filed it away for further study. Thanks!

  • Sue

    Not personal. Personnel. Spell check goofed.

  • home tutor

    It is a wonderful form of written content, very good content page.
    Great talking about this informative article, great way of putting this particular field to discuss.
    Keep on this fantastic work !

  • Dave

    Good information!
    Good info on the "orange suit"...good laugh,'d be suprised at how many of the ill-informed(libs mainly) that wouldn't "think"(kind of an 'oxymoron' when used with liberal) twice about picking up an "orange jumpsuit" near a prison...

  • GRG

    Like your article very helpful.

    If there is a long line of people close to a border Do Not bother to rescue them they will cross the border soon enough and we will be feeding that many more for Free. Just saying.

  • Laura

    Tried to print this page but the multi-line Ready Store header takes up a lot of room and causes the final row of diagrams to print on a separate page.

  • Yvette

    A clear water bottle(water still in it) makes for a great fire starter. Use like a magnifying glass.

  • Rebeca Risper

    Oh my god, poor Thanong over at The Nation, what will he ever do without his cherished Suvarnabhumi myth to cling to........

  • MJD

    Put a roll of bright-colored duct tape/scissors in the car, too! It'd be good to use to print
    message on top of the car (just don't use black to print on a black car...duh). Also, can use duct tape to hold together a splint or leg brace,
    lots of other things.

  • Qm

    Always good to know and understand..

  • kirk

    you might add that three (3) is the number people are looking for when searching. 3 rocks, three light flashes, 3 gun shots, three sticks (logs) standing up or laying down. The magic number is three.

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