Distress Signals – Do They Actually Work?

Written by on November 24, 2012 in Lifestyle - No comments | Print this page

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What do you do if you’re up a mountain on your own and break your leg? Or you’re on a boat in the middle of nowhere and run out of fuel?

There are plenty of distress signals recognised around the world, but which of them is actually most likely to save your life?

Semaphore

What is it?

A series of arm positions, each representing a different letter of the alphabet. Normally colourful flags are used to make it more obvious, but it can be done with bare hands too.

Does it work?

A common method of maritime communication back in the 1800’s, semaphore is not in wide use any more. Not only would it take forever to spell out your message letter-by-letter in an emergency, but 99.9% of the world’s population probably wouldn’t understand anyway! Still, the weird waving of arms would probably draw some attention…

Verdict 2/10

SOS

What is it?

‘SOS’ is commonly thought to stand for ‘Save Our Souls’ but does not in fact mean anything at all! This combination of letters is simply understood as a cry for help, whether spelt out in Morse code on the radio or in rocks on the beach of a deserted island some poor sailor washed up on!

Does it work?

Everyone knows that SOS = Help thanks to its widespread international use so it’s possibly even better than laying those rocks out to say ‘HELP’! Most people even know the Morse code sequence of “…—…” too.

Verdict 8/10

Smoke Signals

What is it?

If you’re lost or hurt on a mountain, you can signal for help by finding high ground and lighting a fire – gather up damp grass and place it on the fire a bundle at a time, which will send up a column of thick, dark smoke easily visible from a distance.

Does it work?

Smoke indicates a fire, and fire always draws attention! Spotting a carefully crafted set of timed smoke columns would definitely indicate that it wasn’t just an ordinary campfire either.

Verdict 10/10

Radio Broadcasts

What is it?

To send an alert, electrical equipment such as radios can be set up to send out a repeated signal, either in Morse code or just spoken voice.

Does it work?

The great thing about the repetition is that it’s likely someone will hear it eventually – although it does conjure up images of horror films with ghostly sounding signals going out into a post-apocalyptic world long after the caller is dead and gone!

There’s also the problem that the signal only goes out on one radio frequency, so someone could be right near to you with their radio set to another frequency and never hear your distress call.

Verdict 5/10

Flares

What is it?

A flare will burn brightly without actually exploding, for potentially as long as an hour depending on the flare type. They can also be combined with flare guns to shoot them up into the air for maximum chance of being seen! Typically, a red flare is used to signal distress.

Does it work?

During the daytime a flare is not so likely to get noticed, but at night it can be seen for miles and is unmistakable as something else! The only trouble is, if you only have one flare it will only show possible rescuers the direction in which to go, rather than pinpointing your exact location.

Verdict 8/10

Shouting and Waving

What is it?

Pretty self-explanatory – just wave your arms up and down and start shouting, whether that’s “help” in English or any other language!

Does it work?

If you’re abroad passersby might not understand “help” but everyone understands that someone waving their arms around and shouting is in need of help – of either the emergency or the psychological kind!

Verdict 10/10

These are just a few of the many distress signals invented – do you know any more?

Attached Images:

This is a guest post.  Estelle Page is a blogger for Alert Electrical, online retailers of equipment such as burglar alarms and fire alarms that would come in super handy in a life-threatening situation!

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