Signaling For Help – International Distress Signals/Markers

How 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

Smoke signals for rescueLighting 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.


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 helacopter. 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.

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

Distress Signal Serious injury, Need doctor

Serious injury, need a doctor signal.

International signal for "YES"

International signal for “YES”

Need compass and map signal

“need compass and map”

Distress signal do not understand

International symbol for “do not understand”

Indicate direction to proceed signal marker

“Indicate direction to proceed” signal marker



This marker means " I am going this way"

This marker means ” I am going this way”

All is well marker

This international ground signal means “All is well”

International symbol for "it should be safe to land here"

“It should be safe to land here”

This ground signal means "Need food and/or water"

“Need food and/or water”