How To Do The SOS Signal With Various Items (Light, Morse Code)

Most people have heard of the universal code SOS, but do you know how to create an effective SOS signal? Understanding a little about SOS signals and their importance could easily save your life and the lives of others in distress. 

Whilst we all want to be self-sufficient and able to survive on our own, there will inevitably be extreme circumstances when even the most well-prepared survivalists need help. It’s understood that SOS originated in the early 20th century and was originally believed to be an acronym for Save our Ship. 

Nowadays it’s also seen to represent ‘Save our Souls’ however the most important (and useful thing) about the SOS distress call is that it’s easy to understand in Morse code, and it’s not easily confused with other signals. 

Using SOS signals

We’ve pulled together some of the most well-known and easy to perform SOS methods to help you learn how to do SOS. 

Carry on reading to find out how you could use your flashlight to save your life, and how to signal using a series of different blinking sequences. 

1. Signal Mirror

As long as you’ve got daylight, you’ll have a chance of implementing this signal. Many unprepared adventurers end up using a simple vanity mirror or other material that is able to reflect sunlight, but it’s also a good backup method if you’ve lost emergency equipment or become separated from a group carrying it.

By simply angling your mirror to refract light in the following pattern, you could alert overhead airplanes, approaching ships or surrounding vehicles, of your situation. 

  • three short sharp bursts of light to begin
  • three longer bursts of light in the middle
  • three short sharp bursts of light to end

Things You Will Need: 

  • A mirror (you should make sure you always carry a compact survival mirror on every trip)
  • A light source (most likely sunlight but you could use a flashlight or mobile phone torch)
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2. Letting off a flare device

Sometimes there are more subtle things you can do such as learning how to say SOS in morse code, sometimes the gesture needs to be large, bright and bold. Letting off a flare device is a widely recognised sign of distress, particularly on ships and at sea. 

To always be fully prepared you should consider a flare device essential in your packing. These devices can be incredibly useful at night when you can’t be seen by anyone in your surrounding area and you may need to give out an instant message of warning. 

Ideally if you’re on a boat you will use your emergency distress light (following the pattern of 3 short, 3 long, 3 short flashes) yet if your boat is damaged and you only have flares left to use, setting them off will alert others. 

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3. Using an SOS signal light stick 

Once activated, many of these SOS signal light sticks will remain for up to 8 hours making them really useful pieces of equipment. SOS signal light sticks like these will spin around and generate a circle of light that can be seen for miles around. 

This is a progression in many ways but not a total replacement for using a flashlight. This is one of the easiest ways to signal your distress and follows the same pattern of short sharp bursts. 

Things You Will Need: 

  • SOS signal light stick 
  • Flash light as back up if you have one
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4. Write SOS using sticks or stones

This is one of the most visually recognisable images of an SOS rescue – popular with Hollywood films and blockbusters. Yet it’s also incredibly simple, and just like everything else connected to How to Do SOS – it could save your life. 

If you’re close to sand, you can simply find a stick or use your foot to scrape the letters SOS in the sand. Make sure you go to a depth of approximately 10 centimetres to ensure it’s visible and clear. This will also stop the sand filling in on itself or collapsing quickly afterwards. 

Try to keep the tides in mind. Wet sand is much easier to write in – but it does mean that the tide will cover it at some point. Try to write SOS as soon as possible after the tide has gone out to ensure your message has the maximum chance of being seen. 

If you’re using sticks or stones, try to make your letters as clear as possible. Using sticks can be a good option if you decide to create 3 ‘X’s in the shape of a triangle – this will also be understood as a distress signal. Bear in mind that you may be very low on energy with minimal food supplies so lifting stones could be tiring. 

Things You Will Need: 

  • Something to ‘write’ with (sticks, stones, your foot/hand)
  • A flat surface that is not covered by trees or branches and can be visible from afar/above

5. Signal SOS using your eyes or body

There are sometimes situations where you are truly left with nothing and you may be wondering how you can even attempt to signal SOS. Go back to the basics of a distress call and consider the fact that you are essentially trying to attract attention. 

Your arms are going to be most useful in terms of communicating from afar so think about whether you can wave them above your head or from side to side to attract attention. Take up as much space as you can – even if that means just standing with your arms outstretched. 

For more subtle and upclose encounters, you might want to consider the effectiveness of blinking your eyes in 3 short, sharp bursts. Doing this even just a few times could alert someone close to you that you are in trouble. 

Things You Will Need: 

  • Your body, even if only your eyes are exposed – use them! 

6. SOS Whistle

A whistle is likely to be one of the smallest pieces of equipment that you carry, but in an emergency, it can be one of the quickest and most effective ways to raise the alarm. 

Make it even more space-efficient and go for a flat designand attach it to the outside of your bag so it remains instantly accessible at all times. 

The method for how to do SOS with a whistle is simple, and it’s recognizable across the world: 

Three loud, short blasts each lasting approx 3 seconds. It’s that simple. 

There’s a high chance you may be panicking when you’re making an SOS call so try to slow your breathing down and don’t rush the blasts. Give yourself time between the blasts, and then keep repeating the pattern as much as possible if you think you have any chance at all of being heard. 

If you’re in a calm state, with another person or simply think it would be effective, you may want to also consider using your SOS whistle and translating the dots of Morse code into short sharp bursts. 

Things You Will Need: 

  • An SOS whistle, ideally attached to the outside of your backpack within easy reach
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7. Using the SOS button on a smart phone

In the event that you have your phone available to you and that you have battery left on it, you’ll be lucky enough to attempt to use the SOS button. This can be a real lifeline to people in distress and means you’ll be instantly connected to help. 

Make sure you figure out how your specific phone works when it comes to making an SOS call as models vary. One of the most common procedures is pressing and holding the button on the right side at the same time as the volume button on the left to get an Emergency SOS slider. By swiping this, you can place your call. 

Things You Will Need: 

  • Either your standard smart phone (with some battery remaining)
  • SOS phone
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8. Tap Using Your Fingers or Hands

If you have minimal resources but you still have at least one hand available and a surface on which to tap, there’s still hope! 

There are some incredible stories about people who have been rescued from confined spaces after using tapping. From people who have been kidnapped or those who have been buried underground or trapped in a small space by a rockfall or natural event, alerting others of your presence could save your life. 

Tap 3 short bursts repeatedly against a wall or surface for as long as you possibly can. 

Things You Will Need: 

  • A hand (or even just a few fingers)
  • A surface to tap

SOS signals: A conclusion

It’s pretty special to know that there are so many ways to raise a distress signal if you find yourself in need. Obviously you’ll be depending on those who receive your signals to understand them and be able to action help – but it’s a start, and it could mean the difference between life and death. 

Getting familiar with how to make SOS signals as well as having the correct equipment when you go out and about means you’re in the best position possible to stand strong and continue your adventures!

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