Signal Mirrors Can Get You Rescued
By John D. McCann
One of the most important signaling devices you can have in your survival kit is a signal mirror! It is often underrated as a signaling device, but is a very valuable tool for daytime signaling. There are many types of mirrors available on the market, but this a piece of equipment that you should attempt to get the best you can afford.
One of the recommendations I often make in regard to signal mirrors, is get one with a Retro-Reflective grid. A Retro-Reflective grid allows the user of the signal mirror to be very accurate in regard to the aiming of the mirror. This is important, as you want to make sure that the flash from the mirror is aimed directly at place you want, such as on a rescue aircraft. It is not difficult, but let's first explain how a Retro-Reflective grid works.
A signal mirror with a Retro-Reflective grid has a hole in the center for viewing through the mirror. This hole has a small screen mesh type material installed in this center hole. Before the screen mesh is installed, it is first coated with small spherical beads. These beads work on the same principle as the streets signs, which reflect the lights of your car directly back towards you, instead of off at an angle. This technology, allowing a high angularity of reflection, was first invented by 3M and is known Retro-Reflectivity. The high angularity of the reflection causes the reflected light to return on the same path as originated, as opposed to off at another angle.
So what does all this technical mumbo-jumbo mean? Well the hole in the center of the mirror allows you to look through the center for aiming purposes. The retro-reflective grid catches the sun's rays and creates a small burst of light on the grid. This small burst is not the sun, but a reflection on the grid. If you move the mirror and place this small burst directly on your target, and gently move the mirror back and forth, you will be flashing the reflection from the sun, directly on your target. It is that easy and it is very accurate.
There are a few companies that manufacture this type of mirror. The first, is Vector 1 Inc., and they make both a laminated glass signal mirror, and a thin glass signal mirror that is encapsulated in a break resistant acrylic. The first is an Air Force Type signal mirror that is available in both a 2" x 3" and a 3" x 5". The glass is 1/4" laminated glass that is shatter resistant. Each mirror has directions on the back and has a reinforced lanyard hole. Being glass, this mirror is distortion free and allows for reflected sunlight to travel up to 25 miles. This company also makes an acrylic cased mirror, which still uses an actual piece of glass made in Japan, which although thin, is glass. Both mirrors provide a retro-reflective grid, and I personally prefer these mirrors.
The next mirror is the Rescue Flash® which is manufactured by Adventure Medical Kits, but uses the retro-reflective grid made by Vector 1 Inc. It is made from durable LEXAN® polycarbonate that also has direction printed on the back and is an effective mirror. The mirror is provided with a protective cover to prevent scratches when stored in a survival kit or pouch.
There will be occasions when the angle of the sun will not allow the use of a retro-reflective grid to aim a signal mirror. In this case, you will need to use an alternate aiming method.
In this case you will hold one arm outstretched and spread your index and middle figure, make a "V", like the sign for victory. Hold the signal mirror in the opposite hand. You will then need to get the sunlight to reflect off the mirror. You will manipulate the mirror, until you can reflect the sun onto your outstretched fingers. You want the reflection of the sun to be across both outstretched fingers, so that the reflection of the sun will pass between the two fingers. Keep your eye, signal mirror and your outstretched fingers in a straight line. You then, carefully, must move the outstretched hand, keeping the reflected sunlight between the two finger, until you have your target between your two fingers. At this point, you will move the mirror gently back and forth which will flash your target with the sunlight from the mirror.
As you can see, using a signal mirror is not a difficult. However, it is a skill that you should practice before you need it. Signal on an object other than a plane, as you don't want to give the false impression that you need help. But when you do, knowing how to use a signal mirror quickly and effectively can get you rescued.
We hope you enjoyed this article, and as always, Be Prepared To Survive!