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The Signal Mirror
Casting a New Light on the Subject

Of all the signaling devices that are used in this age of air assisted rescue, possibly the most useful one is the smallest, simplest, and the one that is least used and understood by most of us who venture into the Outdoors...THE SIGNAL MIRROR.

Morse Code and Outdoor Signaling (S.O.S.)

Everyone talks about it, knows about it, but more often than not, nobody really carries one with them or really understands its practical use or potential life saving benefit.

You should have one in your pack or on your person anytime that you venture into the deep woods, mountains or unfamiliar terrain. This is not a shaving mirror or a cheap toy, but a tool for survival that you must appreciate and understand how to use effectively. You do not just flash at will with a signal mirror, you must create a visible and consistent reflection of light towards the direction of your potential rescuer.

The first step in using a signal mirror is to properly sight it. If you have an inferior mirror with no sighting device, or even a large flat piece of plain glass, hold your mirror surface towards the target that you are trying to signal in one hand close to your face, or off your forehead. Put your other hand in front of you in an outstretched fashion, focus the reflection of the sun onto your hand, adjust your hand and mirror upward and out so that the reflection off the mirror surface coincides with the direction of your intended target area. Using your free hand as a sight line, adjust the reflection to fulfill your needs. You must determine where your signal is going in order for it to be effective and readjust as you or the sun move around the sky. You are sure to attract attention.

If you have a quality mirror with a good sighting device, you can do more than attract attention; you can send text messages. Sweep the beam quickly across the target for a "dit", and slowly for a "dah". Lean morse code and practice with it whenever you can. If you are a serious survivalist you will learn the code. And you will always be able to communicate somehow-- by light blinking, horn honking, or whistle blowing. During the Vietnam war a prisoner was able to communicate without alerting his captors by blinking his eyes in morse code. Why don't they teach this in high school English classes?

As with any OUTDOOR SAFETY SKILL, this one also requires some practice to master long before you may find yourself in a position where you really have to rely on it. Take the time to try it in your back yard, or in camp trying to signal a friend in the distance. Practice, Practice, Practice are the basic fundamentals of acquiring any new skill that you wish to add to your personal safety arsenal. YOU MUST BE AWARE TO BE PREPARED, IT'S YOUR PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.

Few people realize how far mirror flashes will carry. For best results, the air should be clear and the sun high in the sky, BUT surprisingly strong reflections can be achieved even on hazy or overcast days. The flashes can and may be seen even when you can not see the airplane, just sweep the horizon as there may be someone out there who will see your signal. Consistent bright reflections are a readily recognized distress signal by all who venture into the outdoors... remember to investigate any that you might see on your treks into the Outdoors. If you are not really lost but are having some other difficulty such as a minor injury, look at your map for fire towers or Forest Service lookouts, take a compass fix on it and aim your mirror in that direction. In all cases, PERSEVERE, keep at it and don't give up, most rescue sightings are from the air or from distant high vantages.

At night, use fire as a signal by arranging three small fires in a triangular form, use your flashing emergency strobe (or there is a new product marketed under the name "safe signal" available from MPI Outdoors). It is a highly reflective signal mirror for use during the day and also has special properties so it can function to signal at night. During the daylight hours the highly bright mirror surface on one side is utilized as you would any signal mirror, but at night the reverse side of the mirror has a special red surface that you use in conjunction with your flashlight to create a brilliant red flashing beacon of light to help attract attention for up to a distance of 3 miles from the air and as far on the ground depending on the surrounding terrain and the prevailing weather conditions. Of course, if you have a good flashlight with a momentary contact switch, you can use it to send text messages in code. Line of sight communication at ten miles (tested across San Francisco Bay) is easy on a clear night.

If you find yourself without a signal mirror in a survival situation, some say you can improvise with a can lid that you can shine up, use your polished knife blade, or your Space Emergency Blanket wrapped over a circular frame created by lashing off a green branch, this makes an excellent large mirror surface from which to create a reflection. But a large flat piece of ordinary glass, if available, works best.BE PREPARED TO HELP MAKE OTHERS AWARE OF YOUR LOCATION.

Safety Outdoor Signaling

There are some situations that could occur in the Outdoors that may require you to signal for medical assistance or rescue by using Morse Code. Everyone who ventures into the Outdoors should be at the least familiar with S.O.S. (••• - - - •••). This can be constructed as a ground to air signal with rocks (•) and logs ( - ), by stamping out the symbols in the snow, by using backpacks (•) and sleeping bags ( - ) , by using brightly colored extra clothing you have or SPACE® Brand EMERGENCY BLANKETS or ALL WEATHER BLANKETS folded to shape, or by covering up parts with dirt, brush or snow to simulate the (••• - - - •••). The most direct method if you can visually see an airplane or vehicle in the distance would be to carefully flash the message out on a signal mirror or flashlight (3 short flashes•••, 3 long flashes - - -and 3 short flashes•••). Be sure to try this on any flashlight before it goes into your survival pack; many flashlights will not do it! After signalling, pause and watch for a sign of recognition and understanding. S.O.S. is internationally recognized by all pilots, park rangers, and rescue personnel. This vital signal should be deeply ingrained in the memory of all Outdoors enthusiasts. Someday you may have to use it for your own survival needs, or so that you can quickly recognize the distress signal of someone who may need your immediate assistance. And you should seriously consider lerning the entire code so that you can send text messages such as "NEED WATER", "INJURED CAN NOT MOVE", and receive instructions from rescuers. As with all Outdoor Safety Skills remember the "7 P's", Proper Preparation, Planning and Practice Prevents Potential Problems.

Something You May Someday Need

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Contributed By: Patrick E. McHugh

MPI Outdoors manufactures and distributes a wide range of unique personal safety, comfort and protection products for use by the avid or casual outdoors enthusiast. See some of the products on the list on your right and on our other product line sections.

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