Safety: Communication with Outside Help

Table of Contents

‘Communication with Outside Help’: This is when a ‘message’ is sent that is addressed to a specific person or organisation. The following list is in order of effectiveness:

Phone/Radio Contact

My Baofeng UV-9R

Pre Contact

What you preferably know before making Phone/Radio Contact, in order to give rescue services as much information as available:

  • Location: Many of the gear we carry around can provide this information, check your maps, telephone, camera, watch and any gps-enabled aparatus. Give them landmarks. Is there a road in sight? Is there a 50×50 meter clearing close by for a helicopter to land? Tell them if you have flairs, beacons, makeshift signs and such. Tell them your last know location, general direction and time since.
  • Emergency. Give as much information as possible about why this is an emergency:
    • Wounded people? Immobile, bleeding, in shock?
    • Stuck, pinned, lost, dead people?
    • Lost? Give them landmarks. tell them if you have flairs, beacons and such. tell them your last know location, general direction and time since.
  • Urgency. Why is help time-sensitive. Wounded people, pinned people, weather closing in.

International Emergency Telephone Codes & Mountain Rescue Services

Please help me fill this chart with the correct information!

CountryPhone numberRadio Channel & Frequencies
Austria140 / 144 / 112No Radio Call available
Bosnia and

Bulgaria(088)1470 / (02)963200055.475 Mhz or 147.850 Mhz
Czech Republic
England, Wales,
999 / 112Radio call frequency restricted to the emergency services
France112 transfer the calls to the mountain rescue unit.150 MHz range
Bavarian Alps,
low mountainrange
112Radio call frequencies restricted to the emergency services
Italy118, activation of HEMS or mountain rescue teamsFor mountain rescue only 71.500 / 71.550
MHz, not available for the public.
Netherlands112VHF Channel 10, Freq. 156.500

Norway112 (police) / 113 (health service)Channel 5. Restricted to professionals
Poland112 / 601100300Radio frequency 153.625 MHz
Slovenia112Usually 157.725 MHz (not for public use)
Spain112 / 062Radio call frequency, if there is one available: 146:175 MHz.
Switzerland144 / 1414 / 112161.300 MHz

Mobile Phone Voice

Use the telephone numbers in the list on top of this page.  This is the best option if available and must take priority over any other communication method you may have at your disposal.
Emergency Calls Only
If your phone is showing ‘Emergency Calls Only’, this means that you will be able to make a emergency call. However, you will not be able to receive incoming calls. Inform the operator of this, as the police and/or Mountain Rescue Team will need to call you back. If someone else in the group has a phone that is not showing ‘Emergency Calls Only’, use their phone for the emergency call, as it will allow incoming calls.
Saving Mobile Battery
The primary function of your phone when on a kayak trip, should be for communication in an emergency. In remote areas battery drain can be rapid, and quicker than urban locations, for a variety of reasons, and the following steps will ensure that you have sufficient battery if you do need to make a call.

  • either switch off your mobile, or set it to ‘flight’ or ‘aircraft’ mode. Flight mode switches off the phone’s search for a mobile network, and thus prevents battery drain.
  • make sure all unnecessary smart phone apps are closed down.
  • switch off data, Bluetooth and GPS connections unless required. Some phones allow activation even when in flight mode.
  • store your phone in your rucksack and in a waterproof bag or container, but be sure in the prevailing conditions that the ring-tone can be heard (if called for emergency services).

Mobile Phone Text

If the signal is shaky or very weak, try SMS/text. Text and await a reply. You must have registered with the service before using. Include your number in case text is onward relayed.

VHF Radio / Walkie Talkie

Ideal for group communication as well as in habitated areas and when navigating open water as these can be used on frequencies used by ships as well. You will know if someone has received your message. VHF radios sometimes require an operator to be licensed. But, if the means is available and there is genuine distress, it should be used.

Radio Communications Techniques

There are a few simple practices that can make a big difference in the effectiveness of radio communications. Handheld radios should be held away from the body with the radio and antenna in a vertical position. If the antenna is in contact with the operator’s body, the RF signal strength will be reduced. Holding the radio and its antenna as high as possible will increase the line-of-sight range. The antennas on both transceivers in a radio link need to be in the same plane, or polarization. For VHF/UHF mobile radios, handheld radios, and repeaters, the polarization is always vertical. Having the antennas in different polarities can result in up to a 100-fold loss of signal strength. To transmit a message, hold the radio 5 to 10 centimeters from the face and listen for several seconds to ensure the frequency is available. Press and hold the push-to-talk button for 1 second before speaking, this prevents the first word or two of the message from being dropped. Speak slowly and clearly in a normal pitch, using normal vocabulary. It is often a good idea for the receiving station to repeat radio messages back to the sending station to ensure that the message was correctly understood, particularly if the signal is weak or garbled. One should assume that all radio transmissions are being monitored and that anything said on the radio is being said in public.

Satellite Messenger / Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

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This little unit is my main device to keep contact whilst on route. The Zoleo satellite communicator. Connected to the Zoleo app it’ll use the cheapest way to send and receive messages. It’s core functions are:

  • Send and receive messages anywhere over Wi-Fi, cellular and satellite, trying in the following order: Wi-Fi, cellular data, then over the Iridium satellite network, via the ZOLEO device. (Basically the least cost route for the message.)
  • Messaging is possible by SMS, email and app-to-app.
  • Send Check-in messages with one touch, to let others know you’re OK. Both the device and the app have a dedicated button for this. Your check-in message will be sent to your check-in contact(s). You can also include your GPS coordinates if desired.
  • Send an SOS alert to activate Search & Rescue, with 24/7 emergency monitoring and dispatch included (provided by GEOS), alike a PLB.
    • Both the device and the app have a dedicated button for this.
    • When GEOS receives your SOS alert, they’ll know the GPS coordinates of your ZOLEO communicator. They’ll contact the appropriate emergency response authorities for your location, and reach out to the emergency contacts you designated when creating your ZOLEO account.
    • Using the ZOLEO App, you’ll also be able to message back and forth with GEOS to exchange updates, until your emergency situation has been resolved. Two-way SOS simply isn’t offered by one-way communicators, PLBs and EPIRBs.
    • Even if you’re using the ZOLEO communicator on its own, without the app, you’ll get confirmation that your SOS message was received (via the LEDs on the device).
  • Get DarkSky weather forecasts.
  • Share your GPS location with others, via messages. (The Zoleo doesn’t provide a following/tracking feature.)
  • Automated updates.

Each Zoleo has it’s own unique cellnumber and e-mailaddress which it’ll use to send and receive messages.
The app and device have the ability to send app-to-app messages, SMS, and email messages. You’ll must be outside in the clear to get GPS position and to access the satellites.
Cost. For most types of use the Zoleo is the most cost effective, both the device as the (‘In Touch’) plan. It also has service enabling you to suspending the plan, for a small fee.

Technical specs:

  • Weight: 150 g
  • Size (L x W x D): 9.1 x 6.6 x 2.7 cm
  • Ingress Protection: IP68; dust- and water-resistant to 1.5 m for 30 min.
  • Shock-resistant: MIL-STD 810G (surviving 30 drops from 1,8 meter height).
  • Power input: Micro-USB Type B connector
  • Covered SOS button prevents false alarms (also cancellable)
  • Audible alerts for messages (user-selected tone)
  • Internal GPS chip, location-aware (accurate to 2.5 m)
  • LEDs for: messages, SOS, check-in, and power
  • Battery: Rechargeable internal Lithium Ion
  • Battery life: 200+ hours
  • Charging time: 2 hours using 1.5 A charger
  • Satellite network: Iridium
  • Connects via Bluetooth LE (one connection at a time; range of up to 50 m)
  • Global Navigation Satellite System: GPS, GLONASS

Availability: European sales will kick of in April 2022, starting in the UK and Nordic countries.


Rescue Laser Light

This is my Rescue Laser Light. A Laser Light is a hand-held day and night laser signaling device that provides a convenient, effective way to signal a rescue party. Unlike normal lasers, the Rescue Light isn’t beaming a dot. It beams a vertical fan of light that spreads thousands of feet long at miles of distance, making it easy to get the attention of rescue people, – vehicles or -aircrafts. A target will see a brief, but bright, momentary flash as the laser line crosses their field of vision. At distances of 13 feet or more, the Rescue Laser is perfectly eye safe, yet incredibly effective up to 30 miles away. It’s waterproof, rugged design combines the safety of a laser signaling device with the convenience of a flashlight. The Rescue Laser Light is non-flammable, environmentally safe, and can operate continuously for 40 hours on a single, long-life, replaceable CR123 lithium battery. It has a Sight Ring to help aim at your target.


  • Visibility: 32 km nighttime, optimum conditions and 1.6-4.8 km daytime
  • Waterproof: to 24 m
  • Operational Life: 40 hours continuous use before changing battery
  • Battery: CR123 lithium battery
  • Class 3R laser device < 5mW

Pyro signals

Wether you go kayaking, paragliding, hill-walking, climbing, skiing and or any other outdoor adventure, you’ll need to think about safety. Pyro signals are among the possible aids at your disposal. Here’s what I have and use:

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When in distress, a fire can be helpfull in many ways. For attracting attention, place a fire on high ground, preferably within hearing distance. When out of hearing distance, leave an arrow pointing towards your location. When sight is compromised by rain, mist or clouds, the smell of a fire will give an indication of your location. I pack a lighter and a couple of strips of inner tube. They are argueably the quickest way to make a rescue fire. (And it smokes and stinks!).

Compact Distress Signal

I use these Compact Distress Signals. The bare minimum that one should take when going into the outdoors. These signals, used to reveal your location when rescue services are sighted, are for day or night-use. Each cartridge projects its payload to a height of 50 metres, burns for over 5 seconds at a minimum of 10.000 candela and is visible for at least 5 miles in daylight increasing to 10 miles at night, depending on weather conditions. 74 g (2.6 oz)

Handheld Flare

The Red hand-held, short range distress signal is used to pinpoint location by day or night. It burns for 60 seconds at 15.000 candela (25.000 lumen). I pack this Red Handflare Mk8. These are the standard flares you’ll find on most lifeboats across the world. They feature a telescopic handle making it very compact and space saving. Easily extended and pull wire operated, they help helicopter pilots to pinpoint casualty location and give vital information about wind speed and direction. Flares must not be used near Search & Rescue helicopters at night, as they will seriously compromise the effectiveness of Night Vision equipment. These flair can be submersed when burning, without extinguishing. It burns for 60 seconds at 15.000 candela. 176g (6.2 oz)

Rocket/Parachute Flares

Rocket/parachute flares are set off from the hand, can reach a height of 300 metres (about 1,000ft). Personal/rocket flares have that initial height (can be seen from further afield), a bang, which may grab attention if there’s anyone around. I pack the Para Red Rocket Mk8A. These are the standard rockets you’ll find on most lifeboats across the world. Designed to withstand exceptional environmental exposure and to perform reliably even after immersion in water, the pull wire ignitor and improved grip provides easy handling. Ejecting a red flare on a parachute at 300m (1.000ft), burning for 40 seconds at 30.000 candela. 235 g (8.3 oz)

Smoke Beacons

When indication of rescue services nearby, these are used to mark the landing spot for a helicopter, showing the spot, the wind direction and -speed. I pack the Lifesmoke Mk9. It’s a compact, flat top, day time distress signal designed to be easy and safe to handle. It provides effective position marking during rescue operations and can be used to indicate wind direction, producing dense orange smoke for a minimum of 3 minutes. See helicopter information lower on this page.


I have these pyro’s stored (at home) in an ammo tin. Besides that, I have the Large Polybottle (waterproof) of 12 litre (2.64gal) capacity. It is really large. W218xH400xD218mm, weighing 0.6 Kg. Having said that, none of the two options above are light and small enough to take the selection of appropriate signals on a trip. What you probably need (which I do not have), is the Mini Polybottle Mini Polybottle, with a 3 litre (0.8gal) capacity.

The Pains Wessex company has been a leading supplier of marine distress signals for over 100 years, with distributors all around Europe. If you have problems finding the Pains Wessex products, by advised that similar, if not identical, products are sold under the Comet brand.

Available at Kanocentrum Arjan Bloem.


Usable if enough direct sunlight is available. As a highly directional signal, it should be used when potential help is sighted. Signal in threes to communicate distress.

Helicopter Communication

At night, military Search & Rescue helicopter pilots hate strobe lights and flares at short range and would rather home in, after long range identification has been established, to a torch beam pointed and flashed at the ground.

Ground to Air Communication

When you’re in distress in the outdoors and you need to call for help, you may choose to use a number of different rescue signal techniques. But if you believe that an airplane, helicopter, or other airborne rescue parties may be searching for you, then you can use the five-symbol ground-to-air emergency code to signal a specific message in advance of the aircraft’s landing. Most importantly, the ground-to-air emergency code can help let rescuers know whether or not anyone in your party is injured, and it can guide them more effectively towards your location.

  • As with other visual signals, signaling in threes communicates and confirms distress.
  • Choose a large, open area as close as possible to your location for the signal location.
  • Choose to place signals on the highest, flattest terrain you can find near your location.
  • Choose a signal that will contrast with the underlying terrain. Choose dark-colored branches, for example, on top of the white snow.
  • Go big! Use several rows of rocks or debris to build each part of a signal letter so that it is thick enough and big enough to be seen clearly from above.
  • Be prepared to use a backup signal, such as a signal mirror/laser/flair, to confirm your location as soon as you see aircraft in the area.

Need Help? (body signals)

V: Require AssistanceN : No or Negative

Helicopter landing space

When selecting and setting up a landing space mind the following:

  • Choose a large (half a football pitch), open area as close as possible to your location.
  • It needs to be firm and relatively horizontal.
  • Make sure there are no powerlines or other obstacles.
  • Light a beacon or have a smokey fire at the upwind side of te field, for the heli-crew to see wind direction and speed.