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what is the international emergency signal for distress?

Distress signals are vital for seeking help in emergencies, whether visual, auditory, or Morse code like SOS, ensuring swift rescue and safety globally.
what is the international emergency signal for distress?


Navigating through life, we often don’t anticipate major emergencies that could leave us stranded and in need of help. Did you know that there is a universal language for distress signals understood globally? This blog post will walk you through various types of international emergency distress signals, how to use them appropriately, and why they are crucial to your safety.

Stick around as we ensure you’re never lost for words or signs when it really counts!

Key Takeaways

  • The international emergency signal for distress is a universal language understood globally to ask for help in dangerous situations.
  • Distress signals can be visual, such as creating a large X or using signal fires and flares, or auditory through whistle blasts, shots fired evenly apart, or shining light in a pattern of three flashes.
  • Morse Code signals like SOS and TTT are commonly used distress signals internationally.
  • Other distress signals include Mayday and Pan – Pan, which are used to indicate immediate danger and urgent problems respectively.

Understanding the International Emergency Signal for Distress

You must know the international emergency signal for distress. This signal is made up of three parts: three blasts on a whistleshots fired evenly apart, or shining light in a pattern of three flashes.

Rescue teams will understand if you use these signals as your way to ask for help.

This method works well even in wide-open places like deserts or snowy fields. You can build a large X using rocks, logs, or branches. Make it at least two feet long and as broad as you can so that it can be seen from afar.

If you are stuck with no tools around you, smoke signals could save the day! Burn some kindling to create thick smoke. But make sure to time it correctly – only when an airplane sounds close by should you start making this sign.

Different Types of International Emergency Signals

Emergency flare at night in the rainforest

One of the most well-known international emergency signals is Morse Code, with SOS and TTT being commonly used distress signals. Other signals include Mayday and Pan-Pan, as well as signal fires, flares, and international code flags.

Morse Code: SOS

SOS is a distress signal in Morse code. It’s the most known and used worldwide. You send it by doing three short signals, three long ones, then three short again. This pattern helps rescuers know that help is needed.

The SOS signal has been around for a long time. Germany started using it in 1905. After three years, everyone was using it as the main call for help at sea. Although now we have newer systems like the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), SOS is still important to learn and use.

Morse Code: TTT

Morse code TTT is also a call for help. But, it’s different from SOS. It tells others that there is big trouble but the danger isn’t to life yet. By tapping or flashing “T” three times, you can let someone know you need help fast.

This signal works by sight or sound and people around the world understand it. Whether by light flashes, whistle blasts, or knocks on a wall – anyone hearing or seeing TTT knows help is needed right away!

The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System

The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) is key for safety at sea. It uses many types of distress signals. For example, it may use Morse code or digital alerts to send a call for help.

The GMDSS allows ships in need to tell others they are in danger.

A ship can ask for help from any spot on earth with the GMDSS system. They may also use flares or rockets that shoot up into the sky to signal that they need quick aid. This type of signal is helpful if radio systems fail during an emergency situation.


Emergency rescue crew in the mountains

Mayday is an important distress signal used in emergency situations. It is widely recognized internationally as a call for immediate help. Mayday signals can be sent through various methods such as radio communications, visual signals like flares or smoke, or even by voice if there are people nearby.

When someone uses the Mayday signal, it means that they are facing serious danger and need assistance right away. However, it’s crucial to remember that misusing the Mayday signal is against the law and can lead to penalties.


Pan-Pan is an international radio distress signal used in emergency situations to indicate that there is an urgent problem, but not immediate danger to life or the vessel. It is typically used when there is a serious issue on board a ship or aircraft, such as engine failure or a medical emergency, but the situation is not life-threatening.

The Pan-Pan signal helps alert authorities and other nearby vessels or aircraft that assistance may be needed. It acts as a warning for them to monitor the frequency for further updates and to be prepared to provide help if necessary.

In terms of urgency, Pan-Pan falls between Mayday (a distress call indicating immediate danger) and Securité (a safety message). When someone broadcasts a Pan-Pan message, they usually state “Pan-Pan” three times at the beginning of their communication.

Declaring Emergency

During an emergency situation, it is important to know how to declare distress. There are three common signals that can be used to indicate an emergency: three blasts of a whistleevenly spaced shots, or three flashes produced with a mirror.

Additionally, creating a large X in the sand, grass, or snow can serve as a visible distress signal that can be seen from the air. Another method is lighting kindling to create a smoke signal which should burn down in approximately 10 minutes.

These methods can help rescuers locate and provide immediate assistance in life-threatening situations. It is crucial to learn these distress signals for preparedness in dangerous environments and ensure your best chance of being rescued.

Three Signals

There are three primary signals that can be used to indicate distress in emergency situations. The first signal is three blasts on a whistle, which can be heard from a distance and alert others that help is needed.

The second signal consists of three short flashes of light produced with a mirror, ideal for attracting attention during the day. Lastly, the third signal involves creating a large X in the sand, grass, or snow using rocks, branches, or logs.

These signals serve as visual indicators to rescuers that someone is in need of assistance.

Signal Fire

Signal fires are not mentioned in the content. No relevant data on signal fires is provided. There is no information on international emergency signals related to signal fires in the outlines.

Therefore, no facts or statistics about signal fires are included.

Orange and Red Flares

Orange and red flares are important visual distress signals that can be used in emergency situations. These flares are designed to be highly visible, even from a long distance away.

Orange flares are typically used during the daytime when visibility is good, while red flares are used at night when they can stand out against the darkness. Flares can be manually ignited or fired from a flare gun or launcher for maximum effectiveness.

It’s important to store flares in a cool and dry place and regularly check them to ensure they’re in working condition. While not specifically included in the international emergency signal for distress, orange and red flares are widely recognized as symbols of help and should be used if available in an emergency situation.

International Code Flags

International Code Flags are used as distress signals at sea. These flags have specific meanings and can be displayed to indicate that a vessel is in distress and requires assistance.

In the past, inverted national flags were also used as distress signals. Additionally, a flag with a knot tied in it can signal distress. It’s important to note that the usage of code flags and distress signals is regulated by international conventions and local jurisdictions.

Transmitting false or prank distress signals carries penalties because it can waste valuable resources and put lives at risk.

The Importance of Learning Distress Signals

A lost hiker in the jungle

Knowing distress signals is extremely important because it can save lives in emergency situations. When someone is in danger or needs immediate help, knowing how to communicate their distress can alert others and bring assistance quickly.

By learning distress signals, individuals can effectively convey their need for help and increase their chances of being rescued.

Learning distress signals allows people to be prepared for unexpected situations that may arise during activities such as hiking, camping, boating, or other outdoor adventures. Being able to signal for help using recognized distress signals ensures that rescuers will understand the urgency of the situation and be able to locate the person in distress more easily.

It’s also essential to note that using distress signals falsely or improperly can have legal consequences.

In addition, learning distress signals helps individuals become more self-reliant and capable of responding appropriately during an emergency. By understanding different types of distress signals – from sound signals like whistle blasts or Morse code SOS calls to visual indicators like signal fires or flares – people can effectively communicate their need for assistance even when other forms of communication are unavailable.

Overall, learning distress signals is a vital skill that everyone should acquire. It increases personal safety by enabling effective communication during emergencies and enhances the chances of a timely rescue.

So whether you’re planning an adventure outdoors or just want to be prepared for unexpected situations, taking the time to learn and practice various distress signaling methods could potentially save your life or someone else’s in times of trouble.

A Note on Personal Locator Beacons

A hiker using an emergency beacon

Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) are small devices that can be a lifesaver in emergency situations. These beacons are designed to transmit distress signals and provide information about your position.

When activated, PLBs emit an emergency distress signal on the 406 MHz radiofrequency, which is monitored by a satellite system. This signal allows search and rescue teams to quickly respond to your location.

Some PLBs also have built-in GPS receivers, so they can provide latitude and longitude coordinates of the emergency. It’s important to register your PLB with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) after purchasing it, as this ensures that the authorities have up-to-date information about you in case of an emergency.

Conclusion AND FAQ’S

In conclusion, the international emergency signal for distress is a combination of different signals used to call for help in dangerous situations. These signals include S-O-S in Morse CodeMaydayPan-pan, and declaring “Emergency.” It’s important to learn these distress signals as they can save lives and attract attention from rescue teams.

Visual and auditory signals like signal fires, flares, and code flags are also effective ways to indicate distress. By knowing these signals and using them correctly, you increase your chances of being rescued during an emergency.

What is the international emergency signal for distress?

The international emergency signal for distress is three flashes of light or three shots.

What is a PLB?

A PLB stands for Personal Locator Beacon. It is a small device that can be carried by individuals to transmit a distress signal.

What is a flare?

A flare is a pyrotechnic device that emits a bright light and is used as a distress signal in maritime emergencies.

What is an EPIRB?

An EPIRB stands for Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. It is a device used to transmit a distress signal in the event of an emergency.

What frequency does a distress beacon transmit on?

A distress beacon transmits on a frequency of 406 MHz.

What is the purpose of a distress beacon?

The purpose of a distress beacon is to alert search and rescue authorities of a distress situation and provide them with the location of the beacon.

Are there any other frequencies used for distress signals?

Yes, in addition to the 406 MHz frequency, distress beacons also transmit on a frequency of 121.5 MHz.

What is the unique identification number?

The unique identification number is a number assigned to each distress beacon, which allows search and rescue authorities to identify the owner of the beacon and gather important information.

Can a distress beacon be used on land?

Yes, distress beacons can be used both on land and at sea.

What should I do if I need to signal for help in an emergency?

In an emergency, you should activate your distress beacon and wait for help to arrive. In addition, you can also use visual signals such as three flashes of light or raising one arm up and one arm down to attract attention.

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Matt New

Living off-grid since 2012 with my wife Amy and dog MJ in the jungles of Costa Rica. Co-creater of the award winning Fusion Home.

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