Signaling For Help – International Distress Signals/Markers

This post was last updated on July 1st, 2021 at 08:35 am

Smoke-signals-for-rescueHow To Signal For Help Using Various Methods

In a situation where you need to be rescued, you might only get one good chance to alert people of your presence. Use these tactics to get a rescuers attention.

Using Smoke

Lighting a signal fire is likely the most obvious way to get an overhead chopper or planes attention. By adding green material such as pine bows and living leaves to your fire, you can increase the visibility of your smoke cloud. Learn how to build a survival fire here if you don’t have a lighter.


If you are fortunate enough to have flares, be sure to save them for that perfect moment when you can actually see a plane or helicopter. You don’t want to waste them when there is a chance a rescuer might not see them.

Using the Sun

You can attract a pilots attention from a long distance by sending the suns rays toward them. Even fairly dull objects will do a decent job of reflecting. Flash the light back and forth over their windshield. A cellphone screen, a watch, or even a key will work for a heliograph. It is most likely easier said than done, but it’s worth a shot.

Using Ground Markers

There are international signs you can leave out in the open to alert rescuers to your potential problems and needs. These should be identified easily by any rescue teams or pilots. But don’t forget the standard S.O.S is also very effective. That will be easily identified by even the casual observer who wouldn’t understand most of the symbols and markers below.

International Ground Marker Symbols

Serious injury, need a doctor signal.

International signal for “YES”

“need compass and map”

International symbol for “do not understand”

“Indicate direction to proceed” signal marker


This marker means ” I am going this way”

This international ground signal means “All is well”

“It should be safe to land here”

“Need food and/or water”