5 Ways to Signal SOS in Survival Situations

The ability to signal for SOS in an emergency survival situation could just save your life. Before we get into some of the ways to do this, let us talk about what SOS means.

signal for SOS

Most people have an idea of what SOS stands for, but may be mistaken. If asked, most would say it stands for “Save our Souls” or “Save our Ship.” Contrary to popular belief, it is not an acronym.

It is a Morse Code sequence that was introduced by the German government in 1905. Translated to Morse Code, SOS would look like this “dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot.”. The sequence of triple dots and dashes soon became an international favorite for its simplicity. Transmitted without pause every few seconds, the SOS meaning was unmistakable.

Since not all people are familiar with Morse Code, below are a few more options to signal for help if you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation.

5 Ways to Signal SOS

Using a Mirror

If conditions are favorable, you can use a mirror to reflect sunlight. If aimed at an airplane, boat, or vehicle, it will make you more visible. It is pretty commonly known that sequences of three are usually recognized as a signal for help. Even if someone is not aware of this, your flashing light will still get their attention. If you do not have a mirror, you can still do this technique with any reflective surface.

Blowing a Whistle

Another option to signal for help is by blowing a whistle. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you know there is a good chance people are near, but you’re unable to reach them, use an emergency whistle. The whistle’s sound will travel further than your voice alone, and its distinct noise is a definite signal that someone may need assistance. By all means, if you do not have a whistle on you, always give yelling a chance.


This next method is especially effective at night because fire is very noticeable. If you have the means, build a fire. If possible, build three fires either in a triangular shape or in a straight line about 100 feet apart. This is an internationally known as a signal for help.

During the day, you can use smoke from a fire to signal, but not all fires will produce enough smoke needed to be well seen. A good way to generate more smoke from your fire is to add green vegetation. Of course, not all fires may be interpreted as a sign for help, but can greatly add to your chances of being spotted.

Use a Flashlight

This signal is similar to the first one, except is executed with a flashlight instead of a mirror. Not only is a flashlight a great item to keep with you at all times, but it is also easily used for signaling.

If you have a designated target, flash your light in that direction. This will increase your chances of being found. If you do not have a flashlight on you, you may also use this method with a cellphone (assuming you do not have a signal to make a call).

Using Sand or Stones


The next method works best if you are in an area with sand, but other soft soils can be used as well. Simply spell out SOS in the sand with your finger or a stick.

Make sure the words are large enough to be seen from a distance. Make the words deep enough so elements like the wind will not fill the lettering back in. Also, make sure the lettering is above any tidal marks that could wash the message away.

If you are not in an area with sand or soft soil, you can always use other items you find around you to spell out words on the ground. Stones or branches would be great alternatives.

Discreet SOS

Here are a few ideas for signaling for help in an urban environment.

One method is calling for “a pizza” during a dangerous situation.  During times of a hostage or domestic situation there may be a lull. During this time you can call for pizza when in fact you are calling 911. Through discreet verbiage you should be able to let them know you are in need of assistance.

Another situation would entail law enforcement showing up at your door. When this happens, often the threat is standing out of sight but within ear shot. This puts the victim in a precarious situation. When the officer asks you if you need help, verbally answer “no” but use some form of physical communication to let them know otherwise, such as an eye wink or a tapping/point of the finger.

Wrapping it up

Of course, you may come up with your own great means of signaling for help, but these are just a few ideas to consider using items a lot of people will always be carrying on them. Feel free to comment below with your ideas for signaling for help in a survival situation. Thanks for reading!

Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021. Read more of Bryan's articles.