Early this year, a 60-year-old woman went out for her daily hike in the Florida wilderness. After a few hours, she realized she wandered off the path and couldn’t find her way out. The sun began to set. Her family was concerned she wouldn’t make it home. A helicopter with night vision was deployed and was able to pick up light from the woman’s cell phone. An ATV unit eventually rescued her.

This example is a modern-day rescue story with a 21st-century signal, a cell phone. Signals are arguably the most crucial survival technique, though maybe not the sexiest. Fire building seems to get the most attention. But using a signal correctly and early, rescue is almost certain. In this case, the woman’s iPhone saved her life, but a cell as a survival tool is a Catch 22. Phones are incredibly helpful with navigation since they are equipped with a compass and GPS. You can also simply call for help. Outdoorsmen and women, though, typically want to be in nature away from their devices. Also, cell phones have limited battery life, and service is not guaranteed in the wild. So how do you signal without a cell phone?

Types of Signals

fenix tk20 rechargeable flashlight beam
  • Smoke and fire signals are useful day or night whenever a person can build a fire.
  • Water dye kits are packs of chemicals that will alter the color of the water.
  • Ground-to-air signals are large markers using natural items, like logs or leaves, to write a message also is helpful for ground-to-air. Some water dye kits can also be used to write on the snow or ground for ground-to-air signaling.
  • Eye-level flags are meant for search parties on foot.
  • Whistles employ sound to alert rescuers
  • Mirrors utilize the sun’s reflection during the day, while a flashlight is best at night.
  • Flashlight signals are an old-school distress message method to use when cell phones are ineffective

How to Use a Flashlight Distress Signal

Getting lost in the woods at night like the Florida woman is one example of when to use a flashlight signal. Nighttime boat or car accidents are other situations that warrant a flashlight.

To use a light visual distress signal, flash SOS in Morse Code in the direction of your target. Morse code was developed in the 1830s with the telegraph, and the SOS sequence was adopted for maritime communication as a way to easily signal distress. It’s a misnomer that SOS stands for “Save Our Ship” or “Save our Souls.” Those phrases were attributed to the acronym after the fact. Originally various countries and organizations had their unique distress code, and it caused dangerous confusion. The letters SOS are represented as three short flashes, followed by three long flashes, then followed by three more long flashes. The simplicity of this sequence is the reason it is now the universal distress series and was officially adopted in 1908.

What Light is Best for Signaling?

fenix lr40r flashlight beam

The Florida woman’s iPhone flashlight on its max setting is 50 lumens. That is enough power to illuminate objects closest to you and is apparently findable by a helicopter with night-vision technology. Fenix’s simplest penlight is 70 lumens, and we have plenty of penlights with more power. The benefits are that they are small and easy-to-pack. However, this strength is recommended more for up-close use such as reading in low light. Around 300 lumens is recommended for outdoor navigation. For visual distress signaling, the more powerful the light, the more effective. One of Fenix’s brightest lights, the LR40R, will turn night into day. This strength might be overkill. In terms of search and rescue, any of our 1501-plus lumens lights are the best option. There are also products with strobe and SOS functions that automatically signal so you can keep your hands free. Headlamps with SOS can also be used for hands-free lighting.

Rechargeable Batteries, Headlamps, and Other Fenix Survival Gear

In addition to a flashlight, a headlamp is necessary for navigating dark paths hands-free, so the user can focus on other tasks such as building a fire or treating an injury. Having extra batteries on hand is essential. Fenix’s rechargeable batteries can last for many hours and can be re-powered 500 cycles. They are small and light enough to pack extra without taking up important extra space. Other than signals, knives are an indispensable survival tool. Made from stainless steel, it will withstand all weather conditions.

The most vital part of survival is planning. Basic precautions include making sure you have enough food and water and letting someone know where you are. A knife, flashlight, and the right clothing are other essentials. If you have questions about what flashlight is most appropriate for your trip and terrain, reach out to the Fenix team. We would love to tell you more about how our flashlights can assist you with work, your daily life, or on your next adventure.