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Off-Grid Communication [15 Methods For Survival Communication]

Off-grid communication methods are indispensable when regular methods like using a cell phone fail. Your backups can be: ham radios, a satellite phone or lighting a fire to signal for help.

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Going off the grid is synonymous with abandoning public utility services in favor of self-reliance and a quieter life away from the city for those who live there. For preppers and professional hikers, it might mean some hours or a few days away from the comfort of ready-to-access public utilities.

Whether you are off-grid for a hike or you live there, you will want to receive and send information and eventually get rescued should disaster strike and disrupt your off-grid peace. If your cell phone fails, what will be your survival off-grid communication method?

Off-grid communication methods for emergency survival work in your favor when ordinary methods like using a cell phone fail. You can use ham radio to receive updates during an emergency, use a satellite phone to contact your family or light a fire to create a signal if you are stuck in the woods.

There are a lot of other off-grid communication methods you can use to let someone know you need help. We’ll be telling you about all these methods throughout this article.

In brief, you’ll have comprehensive info about these topics:

  • Using a Cell Phone for Emergency Off-grid Communication.
  • Choosing an Off-grid Communication Method: What You Should Know.
  • 15 Alternative Types Off-grid Communication Methods for Emergency.
  • Tips for Preparing and Using Off-grid Emergency Communication.

In a hurry? If you just want to get to our conclusions, here are our top picks and recommendations!

Last update on 2021-03-07 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Using a Cell phone for Emergency Off-grid Communication

Cell phones are one of the best things that have happened to us when it comes to communication, and there’s no reason you can’t use them for survival prepper communication.

As a matter of fact, a cell phone is your quickest pick when disaster strikes, which is why we’ve declined to throw them out of the window and included them in our off-grid prepper communications list.

During an emergency, cell phones can well be used to send “help” messages to rescue agencies, communicate with family members, or record that you are safe on designated websites.

Besides, you can also receive disaster alerts and updates through your phone if you are subscribed to these services

So, before we tell you about alternative off-grid communication methods, we want to explore the possibility of using a cell phone effectively for emergency survival while off the grid. Here are 2 ways you can do that:

Keeping your cell phone charged and having a backup charger

It is possible to live or be off-grid and use your phone normally for calls, SMS, and the internet if you have a consistent supply of power to charge your phone. If you live off-grid, your power supply can be sourced from solar, wind, or hydro energy.

If you are on a hike or away from your tiny home, you could opt for portable solar panels or rechargeable power banks to charge your phone.

There are good quality portable solar panels and rechargeable power banks. Here are our top choices from Amazon.

Anker 21W 2-Port USB Portable Solar Charger

The Anker Portable Solar Charger is made of compact PET polymer solar panels that are sewn into a weather-resistant polyester canvas, making it perfect for your off-grid phone charging.

Last update on 2021-03-07 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Anker 21W 2-Port USB Portable Solar Charger key features include:

  • Two output charging ports.
  • High charging speed (2.4 amps per port under direct sunlight).
  • An easy to fold, ultra-thin, and ultra-light portable panel.
  • Stainless-steel ring-holes for easy attachment to a backpack or other surfaces.
  • A 3ft micro USB cable, a welcome guide, and an 18-month warranty.

Anker PowerCore 10000 Portable Charger

This tiny and light power bank can be loaded with 10,000mAh.

Last update on 2021-03-01 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Anker PowerCore 10000 Portable Charger key features include:

  • Ultra-compact make.
  • High charging capacity (3 and a half iPhone8 charges and 2 and a half GalaxyS8 charges).
  • High-speed charging.
  • Certified as safe for you and your gadgets.
  • Comes with a micro USB cable, a containing pouch, a welcome guide, and one and half year warranty.

Connecting your cell phone to the goTenna mesh

This recent technology is a two-way low-frequency radio wave network for cell phones (around 151-154 MHz). It works by pairing iOS or Android devices using Bluetooth, allowing you to share texts and location even without WiFi or cell service.

How to use goTenna:

  • Purchase the 2oz goTenna Mesh on Amazon. The mesh has a 24-hour battery which allows you to stay connected till you can get help.
  • Install the goTenna app from the app/play store and follow instructions to set up your phone number as your goTenna contact number. You can check the details of the goTenna set up on the user manual.
  • When you want to use it, slide out the antenna and press the power button to get your goTenna mesh going.
  • You can now chat, text or GPS with other goTenna enabled devices.

Last update on 2021-03-01 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The only drawback with goTenna technology is that it only covers a 4-mile-radius (around 6.4km). This radius can, however, increase on higher grounds.

As an off-grid citizen with a prepper mind, you can involve your off-grid neighbors and disaster agencies within your radius so that you are able to communicate should SHTF. You could even create a chain of goTenna users until the one closest to a rescue agent delivers a rescue message for all the others.

Despite these two effective ways of using a cell phone for off-grid survival communication, experience has shown that cell phones may not always be the most reliable device for off-grid communication when disaster strikes.

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Here are 3 key reasons why cell phones are not great for off grid communication:

Land-based signal transmission towers have limited coverage

Cellular phones use land-based towers to transit information from one device to another. Your cell connects to the nearest transmission tower and will move to the next as you move with your phone.

Being off the grid often has you too far from a cell tower. That means you are out of network coverage and your cell cannot send info. If that happens during an emergency, your cell is as good as being uncharged (unless of course, you’ve connected it to the earlier discussed goTenna).

Emergencies overload transmission towers

Cellular towers are created on the criteria that they can support a certain number of signals at one time from the population within the radius it covers. While that works in normal situations, it completely flops during emergencies.

It is possible that 100% of designated cellular tower users access the tower at the same time during emergencies. While some try to call, others text, and still others send images of the emergency situation.

When that happens, the cellular power is jammed and calls cannot go through. Texts may also take hours to get to their destination. And if you are off grid trying to call for help in such a situation, your fate is as good as sealed.

Cellular tower infrastructure is prone to destruction

While any communication infrastructure can be prone to destruction, cellular towers are especially susceptible to destruction by natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes.

Imagine being caught up by floods or other natural disasters off the grid and the closest cellular power is already destroyed by the same disaster. If your only communication device is a cell phone, your only other hope is a rescue helicopter with occupants that can detect your emergency signals.

So, what do you do if you can’t rely solely on a cell phone, what other more reliable options do you have?

Well, you have innumerable alternative off-grid communication methods for emergency survival and you can make your choice according to their communication functions. But you also need to know a few basics about choosing your off-grid communication method.

Choosing an Off-grid Communication Method: What You should Know

Being off-grid during an emergency necessitates that you are able to receive crucial updates and be able to send info, especially if you need help.

In that light, alternative off-grid communication methods can be thought of in 3 different ways:

  • Those that allow you to directly exchange verbal or written messages with others (family or rescue agencies).
  • Those that allow you to only receive info, say warnings and updates about a looming or already happening disaster.
  • Those that allow you to send signals and call for help especially when you are lost or stuck in a disaster situation.

Your choice of the most reliable method will depend on the situation. However, as much as possible, ensure that your chosen off-grid emergency communication method allows you to both receive and send info. You don’t want to be moving from your location when help is just around the corner because you didn’t get a response to a request for evacuation.

With that in mind, you can now proceed to learn about the wide range of alternative off-grid methods that you can choose for communication during an emergency.

15 Alternative Types Off-grid Communication Methods for Emergency

There are innumerable communication methods that you can opt to use when disaster strikes while off the grid.

We’ve categorized 15 off grid communication methods into 4 major types:

  1. Satellite phones
  2. Radios (CB radios, ham radios, radio scanners, others)
  3. Signaling methods (PLB, tactical flashlight, fire and smoke, flares, signal mirrors, whistles, flags, and hand signs)
  4. Coded communication (Morse code and sign language)

1. Satellite phones (Sat phones)

We did not include satellite phones in our earlier discussion on using a cell phone for emergency off-grid communication because satellite phones use a completely different technology from cell phones.

While cell phones rely on land-based towers to transmit signals and can easily be disrupted by signal overload or destroyed by disasters, satellite phones do not rely on towers but instead, send signals via satellites orbiting the earth.

This means that, once you send a signal from your satellite phone, it is communicated to the closest satellite and sent to the nearest gateway, which then delivers the signal to the receiving device (a landline phone, a cell phone or another sat phone).

The greatest advantage of using a sat phone for your off-grid emergency communication is that signals from satellite phones are transmitted above the earth, which exempts them from the limits of land-based towers and makes them optimal for remote off-grid survival communication.

Before deciding on a sat phone, here are some key facts you should know:

  • Sat phones cost more than ordinary cell phones (around $600 and $1700 according to Forbes). However, you can opt for a rental plan, even though that wouldn’t work for perpetual off-grid citizens who instead should own one.
  • Sat phones have similar services to a cell phone including calls, text messaging and emailing.
  • Because sat phone communication allows less control, they have been associated with terrorism and other criminal activities, which is why some countries restrict or altogether ban their use.
  • Sat phone airtime can be prepaid or paid on a monthly service contract. Calls can be expensive depending on where you are, but you can control high costs by purchasing an emergency-only calling plan or opting for a service provider with Over Dial capabilities or Direct Inward Dial.
  • While there are several sat-phone network providers, Iridium and Inmarsat remain the two most reliable global sat network providers.
  • The voice quality of sat-phone calls may be poorer than that of cell phones because the bandwidth is limited by power optimization. You may also experience a delay (latency) in communication between parties, especially when using satellites in the geostationary orbit.

From a market perspective, we recommend the BlueCosmo Inmarsat IsatPhone.

The sat phone come as a kit that includes the handset, a SIM card, a Lithium-ion battery, an automobile DC charger, an international AC wall charger with international plugs, a hands-free earpiece, a holster with belt clip, lanyard, a USB thumb drive with documentation, USB cable, and a quick start guide.

Last update on 2021-03-07 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The key features of the BlueCosmo Inmarsat Isatphone include:

  • Element-resistant handset (water, dust, shock).
  • Extra-long battery life (160hrs standby, 8hrs talk time).
  • Global IsatPhone SIM card that’s ready for activation with BlueCosmo.
  • Choose between prepaid and a monthly data plan.
  • Global voice calls, SMS, GPS, and emergency SOS services.

A customer review on Amazon from a professional nature photographer confirms the BlueCosmo’s reliability in off-grid communication:

“I'm often in places with no cell phone reception. I purchased this mainly for letting family know where I'm at each day while traveling off the grid, as well as emergency use. The reception exceeded my expectations, and even works very well within a dense forest (with trees about 3 stories tall).”

2. Radios

Radio options for off-grid communication are as varied as users can be. You can make your choice depending on what’s available, your off-grid communication needs, the radio’s performance, and licensing requirements.

With an emergency radio, you will stay updated about what is happening around you with AM frequencies and beyond the off-grid with FM stations.

Here are 4 of the most common types of off-grid communication radios:

CB radios

CB (citizen’s band) radios, also known as Personal Radio Service, are common among trail riders, truckers, and motorcycle clubs, all people who often find themselves off the grid.

These land mobile radio systems have 40 channels and allow bi-directional voice communication around a short radius using the high-frequency band (short wave).

They can be operated without a license in most countries for personal or business communication, which makes them great for off-grid emergency communication.

The radio is normally set in the receive mode so other radios on the channel can transmit. Once you tune in, you’ll need to alert other users that you are tuned in. Communicators within the same range have to take turns to talk, you cannot talk at the same time.

See this quick video on how to operate a CB radio.

So, if you are off-grid, you can make a transmission to seek help during an emergency and anyone within your range can respond to you. You can also receive info about looming or already happening disasters from agencies or other people within your range.

One drawback with CB radios is that they have a limited transmission power (usually 4 watts) which translates to 3miles (4.8km) of wave radius but which may increase depending on terrain.

The wave radius is regulated in most countries. In the US, for example, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will come after you if you try to increase the transmission power beyond 4 watts.

CB radios are of three types:

Mobile CB radio: a small box with knobs and gauges with a corded handset attached to the box. The box can be mounted on any surface.

Handset CB radio: with all controls built into the handset. They are good when you don’t have space to mount a mobile CB radio.

Hand-held CB radio: similar to walkie-talkies and easy to carry around. They have plug-in antennas, rechargeable batteries, and a USB or cigarette-lighter charger.

Considering that an off-grid emergency may require you to move around, purchasing a handheld CB radio may be your best bet.

Our CB radio choice: Uniden PRO401HH Handheld CB Radio

The 40-channel 4-watt CB radio is fitted with a volume control knob, an antenna jack, a push-to-talk button, an automatic noise-cancellation feature, and a strap and belt clip among others.

Last update on 2021-03-01 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Uniden PRO401HH Handheld CB Radio special features include:

  • High performance within the set radius.
  • Lightweight (1lb), allowing you to operate it with a single hand.
  • Possibility to choose between rechargeable or alkaline batteries.

You may want to compare the handheld model with the traditional mobile CB radio by checking out the Uniden PRO505XL CB Radio.

Last update on 2021-03-01 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Amateur Radio Service (HAM radio)

Ham radios are considered the best in their category for off-grid communication. They are used by key service-agencies like the military and search and rescue agencies like the Red Cross.

Ham radios are regulated by national governments with the issuance of a license and a unique identifying call sign. To obtain the license, ham radio users must pass a government test to show adequacy in legal and technical know-how for radio use.

In the US, you have to pass the FCC examination to operate on Amateur Bands (ham radio frequencies).

Licensed hams graduate from a Technical class to a General class and the Amateur Extra class by passing an exam for each level. See here the list of Amateur Radio Frequency Allocations that each class has access to in the US.

The original intention in the use of ham radios was to create a backup of experts for emergencies and tap the goodwill of hobbyists that act as emergency communicators, saving innumerable lives.

The greatest advantage in owning a ham radio while off the grid is that it can reach emergency frequencies and deliver information from key local authorities including the NOAA (National Weather System), Emergency Alert System (EAS), Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs). That means you can be up to date with any emergency news.

This site gives you a comprehensive list of ham radio frequencies where you can pull out specific channels you might want to follow during emergencies.

To choose the best ham radio for your off-grid communication, consider features such as:

  • Bands (dual-band).
  • Backlit LCD screen (better vision in the dark)
  • Memory (around 100-200 slots to allow you to receive weather, disaster, and international communication).
  • Frequency range (according to what you are looking for as a Technician, General, or Amateur extra license).
  • Power (good power supply, the 5-watt output is basic).
  • High-frequency radio spectrum section (HF from 3-30MHz; VHF from 30-300MHz, and UHF from 300 MHz-3 GHz).
  • Range (Urban vs rural; transmission power, wavelength, and antenna power).
Our HAM radio pick: Ham Radio Walkie Talkie

This ham radio comes as a complete set of accessories including the Greaval UV-5R 8W Radio,  2 Li-ion batteries, a programming cable, an RH-771 high-gain antenna, an SRH805S short antenna, an original antenna, a hand microphone, a power adapter, a car charger adapter, an earpiece, a belt clip, a hand strap, and a user's manual.

Last update on 2021-03-01 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Ham Radio Walkie Talkie key features include:

  • Its dual-band.
  • 128 channel memory.
  • UHF and VHF tuner technology.       
  • Frequency range: 136 - 174 MHz, 400 - 520 MHz, 65 - 108 MHz.
  • Channel-programmable via a keypad.
  • 12-20 hours of battery life.

Radio scanners

Radio scanners can be used alongside ham radios but also work well by themselves. We’ve placed them among radios since they work in a similar manner by scanning radio waves.

With a radio scanner, you can tap into emergency frequencies, allowing you to stay informed about looming disaster or the development of occurring ones.

You don’t need a license to own radio scanners. However, radio scanners are illegal in some countries.

In the US, they are generally legal but some states may restrict their use especially as mobile tools or for illegal activity like tapping into police communications and using them to escape from law enforcers.

Our radio scanner choice: Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner

This hand-held scanner gives you access to over 40,000 frequencies. You can listen to civilian and military bands including police, marine, aircraft, civil air, railroad, ambulance, fire, weather, racing events, and ham radio services.

Last update on 2021-03-07 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Key features of the Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner radio scanner:

  • 500 alpha-tagged channels (you can organize channels by location, department, or area of interest).
  • Instant tuning to signals from close transmitters.
  • A “Do not disturb” feature that blocks calls during transmission.
  • A backlight LCD screen allows easy reading in low light conditions.

Other radio options (GMRS / FRS / MURS)

General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), Family Radio Service (FRS), and Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) are other simple radio options for your off-grid communication. They will generally give you similar service to the CB radio and have similar limits.

FRS and MURS don’t require a license and are a simple but improved version of the CB radios, even though with similar limits. They are also more affordable.

Using GMRS frequencies requires you to have a license but you have a higher operating power. You can also tap into a repeater (transmission-amplifying device) to cover longer distances or pass transmission obstructions.  

Despite their licensing restriction, GMRS is a more efficient choice for your off-grid transmission among the three options.

Our GMRS Choice from Amazon: Midland 50 Channel Waterproof GMRS

The Minland GRMS is a complete package of 2 radios, 2 rechargeable battery packs, 2 boom mic headsets, 2 belt clips, a 120V dual desktop charger, an AC adapter, a DC adapter, and a user’s manual.

The two-way radios have 142 privacy codes and SOS siren and are connected to the NOAA weather alerts.

The walkie-talkies also feature 50 GMRS channels and the privacy codes allow you to scan for more activity. The privacy codes give you the possibility of blocking conversation in up to 3,124 channels.

Last update on 2021-03-01 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

3. Signaling methods

Signaling methods vary from primitive to high tech ones. They are especially useful when you are stuck off-grid and don’t have any other way of saying you need help or when you are trying to get noticed by long-distant and air rescuers.

When you use stationary signals, it is important that you create contrast. For example, you can use green twigs on a snow background to design an SOS message so rescue helicopters can spot it.

We’ll start with some tech-aided signaling methods before telling you how to communicate without technology using more primitive visual and audible communication methods.

The Personal Locator Beacon

A personal locator beacon (PLB) is a device that is directly connected to a satellite to send an emergency distress signal on 406MHz. They are common in ships, aircraft, vehicles, and among hikers and skiers.

Using a personal locator beacon off the grid during an emergency will transmit a continuous signal to the nearest satellite so that rescuers can locate you within the ‘golden day’ (24 hours into the disaster situation when most survivors can still be rescued alive).

Our personal locator pick: McMurdo FAST FIND 220 Personal Locator Beacon

This mini-size but mighty signal PLB stands out for these key features:

  • 406/121.5MHz frequency.
  • Easy to operate.
  • Strong emergency signal.
  • Brightness LED SOS light.
  • Lasts a minimum of 24hr with continuous signaling.
  • Floats with the pouch if you are on water.

Last update on 2021-03-07 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Tactical flashlight

Tactical flashlights can be used as emergency signals because they usually come with 5 different brightness modes: high, medium, low, strobe, and SOS.

The SOS mode uses an international optical Morse code to send a distress signal usually indicated by a sound, 3 short flashes (less than a second) and 3 long flashes (longer than a second). Some flashlights may lack the sound but only have the 3 short and 3 long flashes.

The 3 elements of the signal are repeated until rescue agencies come to the aid of the person in need. So if you are stuck in an emergency while off-grid, a cheap flashlight could save your life.

See this video for a demonstration of how the SOS flashlight works.

Our Amazon tactical flashlight pick: YIFENG XML T6 Ultra Bright LED Tactical Flashlight

This ultra-bright LED tactical flashlight has five modes of brightness: high, middle, low, strobe, and SOS. It is made of aircraft-grade alloy and is also water-resistant.

You can adjust the focus according to need; a floodlight for a large area and an intense spotlight for long-range focus. The SOS light on the YIFENG XML T6 Ultra Bright LED Tactical Flashlight has the standard 3 quick and 3 slower flashes that work repeatedly so any rescue mission will find it easy to spot you.

You have the option for a 18650 Li-on rechargeable battery or 3 AAA batteries which you purchase separately.

Last update on 2021-03-07 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Fire and smoke signals

Fire is one common thing you’ll have around when you are off-grid. You can light a fire to get rid of flammable garbage or for a barbecue evening if you live off-grid or to keep you warm during an overnight hike.

When it comes to using fire as a distress signal, however, you’ll need to create a signal that indicates the need for help. There are different ways you can do that:

  • Light more than a single fire: even if a helicopter was passing above your location and its occupants saw a fire, they can easily think a hiker is roasting their game. Three fires in one spot will, instead, create doubt and give a signal for help.
  • Use the smoke to say you need help: if you are lighting a big fire, chances are you won’t be throwing together some huge logs and waiting for them to slowly make charcoal. Instead, you throw in branches and twigs and probably a lot of green ones. These produce white smoke. But if it’s foggy, your white smoke will not make any communication.

Consider throwing in stuff that will make dark smoke such as pieces of tire and plastic or any petroleum-based liquid if you can get hold of some.

You can also use a piece of cloth to create patterns with the smoke, cover and release continuously, which will definitely signal that you need help.

When using fire for communication, bear in mind these efficiency and safety tips:

  • Ensure your fire is in a visible location so the smoke and flame can be easily spotted.
  • Clear any flammable material around the fire before getting it started. This will prevent the fire from spreading and getting uncontrollable. You don’t want to be creating a forest fire and adding to your emergencies.
  • Keep the fire to a controllable size and avoid letting it grow so big that it becomes impossible to put out when you need to.

Handheld flares and flare guns

Handheld flares are a bright and universally understood distress signal. You can hold them in hand or attach them to a stick with duct tape and lift them for better visibility.

When purchasing hand flares, go for those with a long shelf life and which glow for hours like the Original Highway Flare Kit. These last for up to 12 hours and make the same safety effect as the flashlights of a police car when combined in three. Anyone seeing them off-grid will know you need help.

Last update on 2021-03-07 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Flare guns can be a bit risky as they can ignite forest fires. But any search aircraft crew will notice a shot from a flare gun and head to your location. Be sure to direct the shots where there is no risk of starting a fire, if possible, a location where the flares fall into the water or wet ground.

When buying a flare gun, go for one with high candlepower to ensure visibility. The Orion Safety Combo Alerter is one such option. The refill kit comes with 4x12-gauge aerial flares that have 16,000 candlepower and lasts for 7seconds at a 500ft height.

Last update on 2021-03-07 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Signal mirrors

Signal mirrors can have a far-reaching effect, up to 10 miles especially when they have a sighting lens. You’ll need to aim them directly to the targeted areas where rescuers are flying in order to have their emergency rescue purpose.

The UST StarFlash Micro Signal Mirror is an optimal choice for your off-grid safety kit;

  • It has a built-in precision aiming system.
  • It is non-breaking.
  • It has a lanyard for a secure grip.
  • It also works at night with moonlight.

Last update on 2021-03-07 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Whistles and DIY willow whistles

Whistles are among the audible signs you can use as a backup for other emergency communication methods or when technology-dependent methods have failed.

You’ll need an extremely loud whistle to draw attention from rescuers if you are caught up in an emergency while off the grid. The Michael Josh 2PCS Outdoor Loudest Emergency Survival Whistles are your go-to choice. You get a pair of stainless steel whistles that give 150 decibels in sound.

Last update on 2021-03-07 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If you are caught up unawares, you can also make a willow whistle in 5 minutes and with just a knife. See how you do that here.

Flags

Flags are one of the oldest communication signals. You can purchase one that is meant for emergency purposes like the Goglobe Distress Flag and include it in your emergency kit.

Last update on 2021-03-07 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

You can also make a DIY version. Simply hang a brightly colored garment to a high stick, ensuring that it is big enough and has a contrasting color to the surrounding. This will ensure visibility.

You can also draw the SOS sign using a marker that has a contrasting color from that of the garment. That will send home the signal more effectively.

Hand signs

Here’s your last resort for off-grid signal communication methods. Hand signs will come in handy if you have no other communication tool, no way of improvising from nature or from stuff you may have, or if the rescue aircraft is above you and you have no time to grab a signaling tool.

You also have options with hand signs:

  • Simply raise your arms and wave them in cross-motions in the air to let the rescuers know you are in trouble.
  • Slowly raise your outstretched arms on each side of your body above your head and lower them repeatedly.

4. Coded communication

Coded communication methods are those that use implicit signs to send a message that the receiver can decipher. The Morse code and sign language are the most common ones.

Morse code (CW)

You’ve probably heard about the Morse code, the telegraph system invented by Samuel Morse in 1844 and which has been used over the centuries to send coded messages.

The Morse code is a system that delivers coded messages in letters and characters using an off-and-on system.

It can be represented in:

Sound codes:

  • Short beeps
  • Long beeps
  • Pauses

Coded symbols that can be sent as sound codes through radio signals represented by Dots and Dashes as in the case of the most universally recognized Morse code, SOS, which is represented by …---… (3Dots, 3Dashes, 3Dots).

Optical signs, as in the case of the 3-short and 3-long SOS flashes used in tactical flashlights and electric visual distress signals.

Last update on 2021-03-01 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

While some amateur radio users have abandoned the Morse code for faster digital communication, the Morse code remains an essential survival communication mode, especially when the digital means fail or are limited by lack of power. As such, CW is optimal as an off-grid survival communication method.

If you want to learn how to use Morse code, you’ll need a bit more than reading this article, beginning with familiarizing yourself with the international Morse code chart and the audible coded signals.

This video is a good beginning for anyone who wants to learn the Morse code for survival.

So, is Morse code still useful? Absolutely!

If you are off the grid and you know how to use the Morse code, you have greater chances of saving yourself for these reasons:

  • Morse code signals require little power to transmit. A simple battery-powered radio is enough for the job.
  • Morse code uses less signal bandwidth than ordinary voice communication and it can travel miles and miles away from the source.
  • It is easier to filter the noise of interacting radio waves and other background noises, which makes CW ideal for low-signal and high-noise environments.
  • Where nothing else works, Morse code will work, as long as you have a simple transmission device.

Sign language

When SHTF, the more communication options you have the better your chances of getting a “help” message home. That is especially true if you are off the grid.

Sign language is a system of communication that uses visual signs and gestures to give a message without using verbal words.

Since no one knows what situation they’ll find themselves in during disaster, learning sign language for survival is a prudent choice.

Here are a few situations where sign language might be your salvation during an emergency:

  • Your hearing is compromised and the only way you can ask for help is through sign language.
  • You are in an emergency with people who don’t speak your language.
  • The emergency is caused by ill-willed people and the only way you can send a “help” message to someone of goodwill without giving yourself away is through sign language.
  • There’s a barrier between you and the person to whom the communication is directed and verbal communication will not be heard.

Note that there is no universal sign language. Different countries, groups, or regions have different sign languages, which means that if you are an American and know the ASL, you may not necessarily understand a Brit who knows the BSL.

Luckily, you can easily learn sign language by accessing the innumerable free resources available online including free posters, free books, and free classes. You also have plenty of demonstrative videos that allow you to learn by yourself. For example, this online ASL dictionary allows you to search sign language words and phrases and compare their ASL equivalence through videos.

There’re also plenty of ASL teachers who create a series of videos to allow you to learn systematically. For example, this video will teach you the ASL alphabet while another one in the series teaches you 100 basic ASL signs and phrases you need to know.

Of course, you’ll need to learn sign language before you find yourself in an emergency. But that applies to all off-grid survival communication methods; you need to learn them beforehand to use them effectively when disaster hits.

Tips for Preparing and Using Off-grid Emergency Communication Methods

Whichever method of off-grid communication you choose to use during an emergency, it is extremely important that you use it effectively. That means learning to use communication equipment and practicing distress signals before you need to use them.

Following these off-grid communication tips and rules can make all the difference between getting immediate help during an emergency and waiting for hours on end before getting any help.

  • Prepare more than a single communication method/device before you go off-grid. This allows you to go for the method that is most efficient when disaster strikes and have an alternative should the main one fail.
  • During an emergency, use more than one communication method. That increases the chances of your “help” message getting delivered faster.
  • Always carry a backup power source when relying on electronic communication devices. This could mean spare batteries or a portable charger as discussed earlier in the article.
  • When using visual signals, be sure to create enough contrast between your communication sign and the surrounding environment to guarantee quick and clear visibility.
  • Make use of higher terrains to enhance visibility and transmission: the higher you are the easier it is to spot you and the further your visual and audio signals can go. Besides, communication signals are also tapped better from higher terrains.
  • Test your off-grid communication equipment before including them in your survival kit. You don’t want to be tapping and shaking your ham radio to get it to work when S*** has already Hit The Fan.
  • Never give up! Even if your last prepared emergency communication fails, devise unconventional methods from what is around you and keep trying to get some help.

Off-grid Communication Methods Summary

Off-grid communication methods are a crucial part of your survival plan should SHTF while you are hiking or live off the grid.

While cell phones can still be a reliable off-grid communication means if you have a reliable source of power, have portable power sources, or are connected to a goTenna, these gadgets can also fail if power is not available or the land-based transmission towers fail.

To ensure your rescue and survival, opt for alternative communication methods that may vary from satellite phones, radios, signaling methods, and coded communication methods.

Always remember that your off-grid survival depends on your readiness to effectively use survival communication methods. If you have a ham radio but can’t use it, you have already sealed your peril before disaster hits. So learn to use your survival communication devices and practice making the signal ones.

The prepper spirit is key when using off-grid communication methods for survival: Keep trying until you succeed, and never give up!

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Hi, I'm Russ!

I've been prepping for a long time, but 2020 convinced me that I need to take it to the next level.

This website started as a way to keep me going forward on the path to being better prepared.

Now, I’m turning it into a complete blueprint for anyone else looking to do the same!
Russell M. Morgan
Telson Survival

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