Below are ways to call for help in an emergency.

Remember that an emergency is a situation that poses an immediate threat to human life or property, though this may be different in some areas. False reports of an emergency are usually prosecuted as a crime.

Table of contents
1 Telephone
2 Radio
3 Making contact
4 Wilderness emergency signals


With any telephone, whether a wired telephone or wireless, anywhere in the world, call an emergency telephone number such as "911" (in North America) or "119" (in parts of Asia) or "112" in Europe. Failing this dial the operator (often by dialing "0") and state clearly that it is an emergency.

Otherwise call anyone you can reach; the AT&T long distance operator can be reached at 1-800-225-5288 (800-CALL-ATT) in the United States and is trained to assist you in an emergency. Overseas, you can often ask a local telephone operator who does not speak your language for the AT&T Operator in English and be patched through. AT&T also has Language Line translation services available, although a fee is charged for this service.


If you have access to a radio -- any radio -- transmit the words "EMERGENCY EMERGENCY EMERGENCY" followed by your location and the nature of your emergency. If you are using a marine VHF radio set the channel to "16". If you are using a CB radio set the channel to "9" (designated as emergency channel) or "19" (used by truckers) -- try both. If you have a selector dial on the radio (amateur or aircraft), set it to "121.5" or "243.0" Pause between transmissions to listen for answers.

Do not use the keyword "MAYDAY" unless you are aboard a vessel or aircraft which is in immediate danger of sinking or crashing! You may endanger the lives of emergency responders tens or hundreds of miles away if you do. Helicopters and aircraft will respond to a mayday call with limited fuel supplies and risk crashing in order to pinpoint your location! This has caused fatal crashes several times in open ocean and in the Canadian and Alaskan outback.

Making contact

You may contact a person hundreds of miles away who is not familiar with your area. Be prepared to give your location. In an urban area give a street address, nearby business or cross streets. In a rural area give a highway number and exit, map or GPS coordinates if you have time, or the route from your location to the nearest landmark.

Also be prepared to state the nature of your emergency. You will be asked many questions, some of which may seem irrelevant. Answer them and stay on the line until you are released. You may be given advice on how to proceed depending on the capabilities of the person or dispatch center you are speaking to.

Wilderness emergency signals

Other distress signals are primarily for use in rural or isolated areas, or in the wilderness. These include "SOS" or anything in groups or triangles of three -- markers, gunshots, fires etc. Survival training includes ground to air signals that can be used to signal passing aircraft with flares, mirrors or marks made on the ground or snow. Again, do not use these signals except in an actual emergency and DESTROY THEM when you are rescued. Pilots will take extreme risks to locate and report what they believe to be an emergency signal from the ground.