How to use a Signal Mirror

By Doug Williams
Publish Date:

If you are in a distress situation and you have lost hope of rescue, the sight of a rescue aircraft should fill you with joy. However, you need to remember that just the presence of an aircraft in your vicinity doesn’t ensure your rescue, they still need to spot you.


Aircraft are big and, despite the fact they are most probably looking for you, you can never be sure. Also, it is not easy to spot human presence in the woods and wilderness from the height of an aircraft, so a signal will most definitely be more effective than simply waving (as seen in the Hollywood movies) or shouting on top of your lungs. There are other ways to signal to the rescue aircraft. However, the most effective of all techniques is signalling using a mirror.

Signal mirror
Signal mirror

This method, though sounding pretty simple, is not that easy. Remember the following points while signaling your location using a mirror.


How to aim and use the Signal Mirror effectively

A signal mirror is specifically designed to signal in case of distress. Unlike other mirrors, a signal mirror comes with a shiny surface along with a hole placed right in the middle. The purpose of the hole is to cancel out the flaw in the traditional mirror while signaling: it is hard to point the light reflected from the mirror on an object in the air, though it is easier to do so on the ground. So, there’s a hole that allows you to sight through it and help you aim the reflected light at your target, in this case, the airplane.

Soviet Signal Mirror – Author: signal mirror- CC BY 2.0
Soviet Signal Mirror – Author: signal mirror- CC BY 2.0

The hole in the middle enables the person using it to accurately point the shine on the aircraft window to clearly indicate their location. Most signaling mirrors come with a list of instructions about effectively signaling. These instructions are often written on the non-reflective side of the mirror to make things easier. To use a signaling mirror effectively, follow these steps:

  • Always hold the mirror in your fingers with your fingers tips aligned on the edges of the mirror, thus making sure almost all the reflected light reaches the target.
  • To create a reflection, you need to make sure your mirror first faces in the direction of the sun. Use your other hand to protect your eyes from the intense light of the sun.
  • You can then use your other hand, currently blocking the sunlight, to have a sense of the reflection from the mirror before targeting it towards the aircraft or rescue team.
  • Now is the time to target the reflected light. Bring the mirror close to your face, look through the hole in the middle and aim for the aircraft, focusing the light towards it.
  • At this time, make sure you know the aiming hole is in fact where your bright light will be.
  • You can also stretch your arms outwards and then aim with one eye shut if the sun is not very bright or is low on the horizon.
Signal Mirror Flash at 19 miles – Author: signal mirror- CC BY 2.0
Signal Mirror Flash at 19 miles – Author: signal mirror- CC BY 2.0

Improvised Signal Mirror

Bright Light Spot – Author: signal mirror- CC BY 2.0
Bright Light Spot – Author: signal mirror- CC BY 2.0

It’s unlikely that you carry a purpose-built signal mirror with you at all times. In this case, you can always improvise if in need of help or rescue. You can use a variety of other shiny objects to help attract the attention of rescuers and guide them to your location.

5″ Heliograph 
5″ Heliograph 

Go through your gear and look for some metallic objects: anything with a shiny surface such as a water bottle, shiny cookware, belt buckles and emergency foil blankets. Hold the reflective object in one hand use it to reflect the light from the sun to create a beacon of light on your location.

First of all, you must always locate the reflection and must not point it towards the sky without having a clear idea of where the reflection is actually going.

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