Summary of Comms Methods

Summary of Comms Methods

There are a number of communications methods available, and this section explores them all

Summary of Comms Methods 

Summary of Emergency Communication Methods

This section looks at the full range of communication methods of calling for help, with the proximity of your route to civilisation sometimes determining the appropriateness of each method, which should be factored into your planning. Take the appropriate kit for your route.

Categorisation of Methods

First though we’ll just explore a categorisation of different methods of communication, which are shown as defined/directed/active and passive/undirected/general methods.


We'll call these 'Active' methods. This is when a 'message' is sent that is addressed to a specific person or organisation


We'll call these 'Passive' methods: This is when a general communication is sent, being addressed to no one in particular, but in the hope that someone will see or hear a distress communication.

Summary List

The following list is in order of effectiveness, with Active/Passive classification. Each method is explored in further detail later. (If you disagree with the order, please get in touch)





Mobile phone - voice


Dial 999 – ask for the police.  This is the best option if available and must take priority over any other communication method you may have at your disposal

Mobile phone – text


If the signal is shaky or very weak, try SMS/text.   Text 999 and await a reply. You must have registered with the service before using.   Include your number in case text is onward relayed.

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)


Reliably gets distress-alert message with position to SAR /emergency services via satellite, through the international Cospas-Sarsat system.  Once tasked, SAR helicopters can source the homing transmissions

Satellite phone


Make a phone call from virtually anywhere (must be outside or under fairly transparent cover). Handsets relatively expensive and considerable ongoing financial commitment to keep active.

Satellite Messenger 


Message sent via commercial satellite constellations. SPOT Messenger provides GPS position with each of additional three customised messages, with your  SOS pre-set emergency info as the top level, involving the Emergency Services..  Emergency message sent to UK emergency services.  Must be used outside in the clear to get GPS position and to access the satellites.

Whistle or torch


6 blasts of whistle or flashes of torch. Reply is 3 blasts or flashes – It is inadvisable to reply, because the casualty will often then stop

Distress flares


Red or orange flares. Last for less than a minute – not to be used when SAR helicopters are near, as they will saturate the pilot's Night Vision Goggles

Distress strobe light


They flash for hours, but of limited use in the daytime – as they will saturate the pilot's Night Vision Goggles

On foot – then phone


It could be a long walk to find or phone for help, leaving casualty in situ whilst away – also, see above for finding a place where mobile phone coverage is available.  

VHF radio


Of use only in coastal mountainous areas by calling the coast guard on channel 16. You will know if someone has received your message. VHF radios normally require an operator to be licensed and use on land is strictly forbidden. However, if the means is available and there is genuine distress, it should be used.

Read more about each of these communication methods on the following pages.