International Distress Signals

International Inland Distress Signals

In European and North American countries there are commonly recognised distress signals for use by persons in distress to communicate with the outside world:


In the mountains and remote areas of Europe a signal (a noise such as a whistle blast, or a light flash) should be repeated 6 times within a minute, then a minute pause, followed by a further 6 signals within a minute. This cycle should be repeated until rescue arrives.
A rescuer responding to this call should respond with three signals within a minute, followed by a minute’s pause.

North America

Here the rule is of ‘three’ – three flashes, three whistle blasts, three gunshots or even triangles of three bright objects. If the signal is repeatable it should be followed by a minute of no-signal, and then repeated.

Wherever you are in the world, a regular signal in an unusual place for an extended period of time should attract attention. To communicate with a helicopter or other aircraft then use arm signals – raise both together to form the letter ‘Y’ to indicate a positive, and lower one arm to form the letter ‘N’ to indicate a negative.



Richard Prideaux is a partner of Original Outdoors and our lead instructor. For more than a decade he has worked in outdoor education, expedition leadership, safety and management, mountain rescue and SAR and coaching and personal development.

He has also worked with international restaurants and chefs as a professional forager and advisor and appeared on several television and radio productions.

He lives in North Wales on the borders of Snowdonia National Park.

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