During these discussions we focus on self rescue but rarely discuss the methods of signalling others to assist in our rescue. These skills may be absolutely necessary should you sustain an injury that renders you incapable of navigating your way out of the bush or physically travelling any great distance.
After two weeks away instructing a winter survival course I was reminded with great repetition the importance, the effectiveness and the power of the smoke signal.
In a winter survival emergency you will often construct your shelter in a location that provides shelter from the wind, is close to building materials and ensures that you are not in a frost pocket or on the highest elevation. What this means is that your shelter and working area are also sheltered from the sky and any aircraft that may provide rescue.
Therefor the timely and proper construction of your smoke signals is crucial.
Three smoke signals in a triangle pattern is a universal distress signal recognized by military and civilian aircraft alike. Three properly lit signal fires will send a thick ploom of smoke into the sky above the tree tops and into the view of the aircraft.
To make an emergency smoke signal follow the steps below:
- Collect 3 poles approx. 8 ft long and 3 inches in diameter
- Attached the 3 poles approx. 1 ft from the top in a tripod shape
- Approx. 3 ft from the ground attached all sides of the tripod with sticks
- Then lay small sticks across the support sticks making a base floor
- Limb green coniferous boughs and begin hanging them from the top of the tripod
- As the tripod begins to be covered with greens gather a garbage bag full of birch bark
- Place the birch bark on the base floor
- Then continue to cover the entire tripod with green boughs approx. 3 ft thick all the way around the tripod from the base floor to the top.
- Leave a small piece of bark hanging below the base floor as a wick.
When you're ready you will lite the wick which hangs below the base floor. That wick will ignite the birch bark hidden inside the frame and green boughs. The intense heat from the flash fire will cause the green boughs to begin smoking. That smoke will intensify within 30 seconds causing the smoke to rise quickly. That thick smoke will reach the tree tops within the minute and provide a great signal to aircraft or search and rescue teams about your whereabouts.
Smoke signals are an absolutely vital tool for being rescued in a wilderness survival emergency when your ability to self rescue has been limited by injury or an inability to navigate the terrain. Any survival course worth its money will ensure that you build and light a smoke signal fire so that you can experience its raw power and effectiveness.
Just remember, in a survival emergency - You may only get one chance - Do it right !