What is the International Emergency Signal for Distress? [Informational Guide]

| Last Updated: March 29, 2021

Being stranded presents a pretty massive problem, but being stranded without a way to communicate to anyone that you need help is a bit more challenging. And while flailing your arms in the air is a great sign of distress, it's not visible at night or over much distance.

So let's go over some internationally recognized emergency signals using fire that indicate you're someone in need of saving!

Using Fire as an Emergency Signal

Fire is a great tool to indicate that you're in need of rescue, and thankfully there's two ways to use fire as an emergency signal that are recognized internationally. The first is the number of fires and the organization of them. You can't just set up five little fires in a star and hope to be rescued, that would draw attention but more observers than rescuers. Next you can use the smoke from a fire to send a message with either the color of the smoke or bursts of smoke.

But enough about theory, this is an emergency!

Three Fires for an Emergency

Like we said before, there's a slight method to setting up these fires to convey a message. The best way to signal for help using three fires is to place the fires in a triangular formation about 100 ft from each other. 

This number and placement of fires is an internationally recognized distress signal. And since you're using fire, it can be seen and smelled for miles, even at night. Just make sure the fires are in a visible area. It wouldn't do you much good to build these fires on the tree line of an open field instead of in the middle of the open field.

Using Smoke to Signal an Emergency

The color of the smoke that's sent up from a fire is the key indicator of your situation. If your fire is giving off white smoke, this is normal and authorities won't pay too much attention. However, if your fire is giving off thick black smoke, this is an internationally recognized sign for distress and will get the attention of local authorities.

To make black smoke you'll need to burn something man made, which is why the black smoke is recognized as a distress signal. So if you can spare to shave off the rubber of your shoes or have an extra shoe then that's your best bet. This will produce thick black smoke that can be seen and smelled for miles!

If you don't have the luxury of burning your shoes but you see a boat on the horizon or plane in the air, you can use the smoke pattern to get their attention.

To do this you'll use morse code for SOS (save our souls), which is three short three long and three short pause and repeat. You can make this happen by piling leaves on the fire and using a cover to block the smoke and make the pattern. This pattern of smoke or light is an internationally recognized signal for emergencies.

Share to Pinterest