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How to Send an Emergency Signal in the Wilderness

Learn how to send an emergency signal in the wilderness from NYC Outward Bound instructor Marko Yurachek in this survival skills video from Howcast.


The traditional signal for help is three of anything. So, if you were signalling by fire for an aircraft you'd have a triangle with three fires. Three fires would indicate that you needed help.

If you needed to call someone by whistling a lot of backpacks have whistles on them now. So, you'd blow three blasts, and that's your signal for help from a whistle on a backpack. You can improvise whistles as well. Acorns make really great whistles. And to improvise an acorn whistle you make a V with your fingers and blow across the top, like that.

Three gun blasts would also be an indication that you need help. Three of anything is kind of the universal sign. Writing SOS is, of course, a great signal from the air.

A big thing that people use now are personal locator beacons. A personal locator beacon, I don't have one to show you, but they're available pretty cheap for what they give you. And that is if you're in trouble you can push the button and it sends a signal up to a satellite that alerts EMS wherever you are and they'll come out and get you. So that's a personal locator beacon. It's sort of like a black box on an airplane. They have them on boats. They have them on airplanes. But now people can have them as well.

And then the last thing I have is a flare which is really very simple. This is a Skyblazer flare, and it's kind of just a piece of firework. You pull it. I've been told by pilots, and I do a lot of heli-guiding, that if you do have to signal an aircraft you want to lead the aircaft with your flare so that you're firing at the front of it and it's not going up behind the aircraft and you can see it.

So, to fire a flare you pull the pin on the bottom. And this one is a dud. So it's a good thing I have a mirror. The flares do have an expiration date, by the way, so just like any other thing with an expiration date you should probably use them when they're fresh. This one might be expired. So much for the big bang. Use the mirror, use the whistle, build a fire.

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