We’ve all seen the movies about the stranded, lost, or marooned. In the end of the movie they always use a big flashy signal or drastic action to get noticed by rescue teams or passing ships. But what if it’s actually a lot easier than that?
No one wants to lug the extra weight of a flare gun and half a dozen rounds on the off chance you get turned around in Shenandoah, Sawtooth, or the labyrinthian tangle that is the Croatan National Forest. So use what’s around you and keep your pack light.
Search and Rescue (SAR) groups, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Defense all have an agreed upon set of signals any hiker can use to communicate distress to air assets. So if you’ve got no service and supplies to settle in for a bit, get some logs and find some open ground. If you don’t have the material to make a big SOS, try these alternatives:
1. V – A large letter “V” in the day time signals that you require assistance. Make sure the logs (Or a thickly bound cluster of branches also works if you can’t bring down a whole tree) are positioned to cast as drastic of a shadow as possible, so ideally you would orient it north to south.
Three fires in a V shape do very well at night, provided you’re not on the run and don’t care who sees you. Space them out about 50 feet (or 15m). This is the universal distress signal.
2. X – The letter X does the same as the letter V, but it tells the SAR team, or whoever sees it, that you also require medical attention. You may not be rescued any faster, but doing this will ensure they bring along medical assets to treat any injuries you may have.
To be safe, and if you have the materials, make the X to accompany the V. At night, continue to just use the 3 fires.
3. Y/N – If you are found by an air asset but you cannot communicate with them by radio, some will use a loudspeaker and ask “Yes or No” questions to evaluate your situation. The first question is usually “Do you require assistance?”
Answer “yes” by raising both of your arms up in the air like you’re enjoying a round of YMCA. Then they will likely ask you about your condition, supplies, etc. If you want to answer No to the questions or it turns out you don’t need help, raise one arm up and lower the other like the middle of a letter N, for “No, I don’t require help.”
Liar, you totally do.
4.-> – Arrows should be used in conjunction with your distress signal. If you cannot camp near the clearing, point the arrow in the direction of your site. This is also useful if you have to move due to terrain, hazards, or for resources (such as a water source). Try to leave an arrow in every clearing you pass through so it is easier for them to find your camp site.
Make sure the dimensions of your arrows follow the 2 to 3 ratio. Make the base of your arrow (the long part) 1/3 thicker than the head lines of the arrow. An example would be to make the base 18” wide and the head lines each 12” wide.
The best thing about these distress signals is that they require no further work from you once they’re made until someone sees them. Take care of your other basic needs such as water, shelter, and food in the meantime.
Pro-tip: If where you are going has little in the way of fuel for signal fires or the fuel is all wet and won’t catch, carry a couple tea-light candles and place them on the corners of your signal at night. If SAR is using thermals, they’ll shine like the day and they burn for hours with just a match. They are also much lighter than a flare gun.
Remember, the best way to not get lost in the first place is to do your research before you get out the door. And, as always, stay safe.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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