There are times you might be stranded a mile from help, and times you might be 50 miles from the nearest person. However, with a proper signaling strategy you can find help in almost every scenario.
No matter how you plan to signal for help, contrast is the key. This is the principle of ensuring that your signal stands out from its surroundings. For a stationary signal, this could mean bright colors against a drab background. It could mean letters or shapes in a natural environment. For a smoke signal, it could mean black smoke against a white sky or white smoke against a blue sky. As for sound based signals it could mean a horn, a whistle, or the sound of metal clanging. Contrast light signals, it means a bright light against a dark background, a flashing light, or a light making a pattern. All of these are examples of creating contrast using your signal.
Using light to signal for help is one of the best ways to get the attention rescue personnel. LED flashlights and laser pointers are great for signaling at night. You can simply flash them on and off, or you can use Morse code to signal ‘SOS’. One of the most common ways of signaling is using a reflective surface like a mirror. This allows you to bounce the light of the sun off of a distant target. You can poke a hole in the center to help you aim these flashes of light at a helicopter or car. Just remember that you must be facing the sun to signal a target that you are facing. All of these visual signals can work miles away from their targets.
Sound is another excellent way to signal for help, especially if the sun is not visible. You can yell for help, but you will tire quickly and often your voice will be drowned out by the wind. A whistle is a very common signaling tool to use as it requires less effort and reaches much further than a human voice. If you can find anything made of metal, you can often bang on it to create a distinct sound that carries. Just remember that sound rarely travels as far as light. In addition, windy conditions and valleys make sound signals more difficult.
By simply building a fire, you can often signal for help. You will need a good way to start that fire, so a lighter or Ferro rod is good to have. Once the fire is started, you will need a way to create contrast. You can use rubber or plastic for black smoke, or green vegetation for white smoke. To create a pattern, you can build three signal fires about 50 feet apart. You can also use a blanket or tarp to waft the smoke and create a signal with the plumes. Typically Morse code is used for this as well. Just wait to add the plastic or green vegetation until you think you have rescue personnel in range. You do not want to run out of supplies too early.
Stationary Signals, Flagging, and Vehicles
Stationary signals are large letters or shapes made in contrast with the ground. These must be visible from the air. Three equal lines is a universal sign of distress. If you have any material that is bright in color, you can attach it to a long pole and move to a high spot. Wave it back and forth when rescue teams are in range. Finally, remember that a vehicle is often your best signal. It is large, colorful, and metallic. You have a horn and headlights for sound and light. You can even burn parts of the car for black smoke, or bang on the hood for a sound signal.
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