Image of the May 2014 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
May 2014 Issue
Home / Articles / Skills

Call for help

How to signal for help when you don’t have a personal locator beacon.

Communication in the outdoors can be tricky, especially if you’re out of cell phone range and you’re not carrying another form of communication device. If you need to communicate with the outside world here are a few options:

Find a nearby hut or popular track

Some backcountry huts have radios. While this isn’t common and should never be relied upon, if you need help then heading to a nearby hut may worthwhile. This also presents the option of meeting other people who may be carrying a communication device.

Send someone for help

Splitting up your party isn’t generally a good idea but if you have an injured person and need to get urgent assistance then this is an option worth considering. Make sure each group has sufficient supplies and clearly agree on what each group will do and where they will go. Ideally the party with the injured person will stay put while the other party goes for help.

Create a signal

Unless there are people looking for you, it’s unlikely a signal fire or bright coloured material laid out on the ground will attract any attention, as there is rarely enough air traffic at low levels to make this an effective option. In a worst case scenario if you can’t send someone for help or make it to a nearby hut then creating a smoky fire is better than nothing and may attract the attention of someone passing by.

Communicating without a communication device is very difficult and even if successful can have a significant time delay. The Outdoor Safety Code recommends taking an appropriate means of communication into the outdoors and leaving clear outdoors intentions before setting out.