Using a Signal Mirror

Mirrors are one of the simplest, most convenient ways to signal distress.

If you get in trouble, attracting the attention of rescuers can be difficult. Mirrors are one of the simplest, most convenient ways to signal distress, and they have a longer visual range than you’d probably give them credit for. Commercially available and relatively inexpensive, signal mirrors can be pocketed in a life jacket or worn on a lanyard.

Recommendations: Stay away from substitutes, such as CDs or pocket mirrors without sighting holes. CDs reflect much less light than a quality mirror. Pocket mirrors, meanwhile, do not have the sighting hole necessary for an aimed signal.

Aircraft: Signaling aircraft can be tricky. They move quickly, and pilots can generally see only ahead and to the sides of an aircraft. Signaling an aircraft directly overhead or going away from you with a mirror is a waste of time.

Laser Flares: More recent arrivals to the visual distress signal family are laser signaling devices, such as those made by Greatland Laser (greatlandlaser.com). These handy devices have the capability of providing a strong signal light both day and night by a spreading beam of light; the farther the distance, the wider the beam, improving your chances of being seen.

How to Use: Place the mirror close to your eye and peek through the hole. Extend your other arm and form a "V" with two fingers. Place the target in the "V" and slowly sweep the mirror so the reflected sunlight shows on your fingers. Continue signaling until rescued.

Tip: Practicing with the mirror before you need it ensures that, if and when you ever have to be rescued, you already know how to use it. Start by trying to make the sun’s reflection dance across a nearby boat or building, and then work your way out to objects at greater distances.