When disaster strikes and puts you against the forces of nature, it’s important to help rescuers locate you. Most survival situations don’t last longer than several days due to the nature of modern search and rescue techniques, but it’s important to make that sure rescuers are able to spot you. After acquiring shelter and making a fire, the next survival priority is signaling for rescue.
Fire is best seen in darkness, but things like green plants, oil, and tires can be burned to produce thick smoke that can be seen for miles in daylight. Make sure that the fire’s location is at a high elevation and also remember to build it in a clear area. Remember that the international distress signal is three fires arranged in a triangle, so be sure to you have three columns of smoke. Firecraft is necessary for survival, so make sure these skills are honed before you have to use them.
If you have a cell phone, CB radio, or two-way radio, there is a chance that you can transmit a message for help. Having an amatur radio certificaion can be helpful for wilderness rescue, and this knowledge can also be useful during most disasters. While cell phones are great signaling devices, they should not be relied upon alone since they can break or fail to send a signal if you are out of the service range.
Many outdoor gear companies include a whistle on their backpacks since sound can be one of the best ways to let rescuers know where you are. Avoid using your voice to shout for help since this can expend valuable energy and contribute to dehydration. Car, boat, and air horns can also be great ways to send a signal for help. Knowing SOS in morse code can be helpful, but just remember that groups of three is the international distress signal.
If you are waving for help, be sure that both arms are raised since having only one arm raised means that you’re not in need of rescue. If you need to direct a helicopter to a clearing, squat down and point to the landing zone with both arms extended. There are many hand and body signals that can be used to communicate with aircraft or distant watchers, but just remember to keep both of your arms up to signal that you need to be rescued.
A mirror or other shiny object can reflect sunlight for dozens of miles, but these can only be used during clear daylight hours. At night, a flashlight, flare, or camera flash can be used to make a visual signal. Just remember to group your signals in groups of threes to indicate that you are in need of rescue. You can also spell out SOS, HELP, or another short but large message with rocks, branches, or other objects that contrast the color of the ground. You can also stomp down snow, but always remember to make the signal big enough to be seen from above.
The chances of being thrust into a survival situation are slim for most people, and it’s not likely that you’ll even be lost long enough to grow a beard and become self-sufficient. Most survival situations are resolved relatively quickly, so focus on your most immediate needs to not die. But always remember that the difference between rescue and death can be your own efforts to signal for help.