A quiz to test your knowledge of emergency signals

WHEN FACED WITH AN injured Scout in the deep backcountry, I used my Silva Ranger compass to signal a nearby float plane for help. And we delivered the Scout to a hospital in time. Ground Rules Emergency Signals

The moral of the story? It’s wise to carry signaling gear on an outing. Take this quiz and see how much you know about backcountry signaling devices. Only eight questions appeared in our November-December issue, but we’ve included 20 questions in the interactive quiz below. Some answers may have more than one correct answer; choose the best answer that applies.

Note: If the quiz is not visible below, please visit this link to take the quiz.

After taking the quiz, check out the answers with feedback and thoughts from the quiz author, Cliff Jacobson.

Like this quiz? Try another! Test your knowledge of winter camping skills.


  1. Q1. Smoke cannot be seen at night. Flames can be seen in the dark. Facts on the ground dictate action, not a theory. A “signal” is whatever stands out, flame or smoke as conditions dictate.

    Q8 Smoke signals In the Smokies? I have experienced visibility under 1/4 mile at Noon in July. What good smoke then?

    Q9 When you aide a canoe that stops “immediately” under all “river” conditions, please let me know. The solution is to get to the bank – left or right – to secure the canoe and decide how to dael with the hazard.

    • Orange smoke is great if you have an unlimited supply, can get to it quickly and have little wind blowing. However, I’d probably first try to get the attention of a plane with a heliograph and when the pilot came around to investigate, then break out the orange smoke to mark our position. Once the orange smoke is used, it is gone. A heliograph can be used over and over and the signal doesn’t blow away in the wind.

  2. Tom: re: your comment on Q1. Search planes more commonly fly in daylight than at night so orange smoke is preferable over flares. Though it certainly is a good idea to carry both. Flares can also cause a forest fire when used over land so you must be very carful with them! On Q8. I would not have foreseen this as a problem in the Smokies until you brought it up. Thank you! I guess you’ll just have to light up that orange smoke before the fog sets in! On Q9. Yes, novice canoeists cannot stop quickly in a strong current, though competent paddlers can. Competent paddlers will “ferry”right or left to hold position (with no downstream slip) or go to a safe stopping place (eddy or bank as the case may be) where they can safely wait for further instructions. The STOP signal simply tells following canoes that danger lies ahead and they should not continue downstream. They should stay put and wait for further instructions from the leader.

  3. It’s a Very Hard Quiz – I got 50% , (I think pretty good for a Mom of 3 Eagle Scouts). Thanks for the quiz, I learned a lot !

  4. An additional recently recognized emergency hailing freq on frs and gmrs radios is channel one.
    Excellent quiz!

  5. Great quiz, and I appreciate the discussion it can start. You were kidding about not foreseeing fog in the Smokies, right, Cliff? They didn’t get their name because of forest fires. 🙂

  6. So why did I have to take time to go online to check answers. I wanted to know the correct answers, not what someone else got wrong and then read their lengthy comments. .

    It is most irritating to be reading a magazine and need to go on line for the answers. Could you please send me a list of the right answers?

    • Hello, Marge:
      I can appreciate your frustration at going on line for the answers. But the reason why we chose to do it this way is because there is only so much space for questions in the magazine. And many of the questions have more than one answer–and that needs clarification, which takes up space. We feel the “rationale” is important so that scouters get all the facts to make wise decisions. Thank you for writing. Best,

  7. Scouting Magazine arrived today and I realized as I went through each question of this quiz that I was clueless about most of them. So I immediately wanted to know the answers and expected to find them in the magazine. But they weren’t there! I had to get online to find the answers. I am sure there are people who are not able to get online right away for the answers and who will forget to look them up later. I would much prefer to have them available in both the magazine and online. Then I can get the answers right away and bookmark the article for future reference.

    • Hi, Donna. I understand your frustration and agree that it would be much more convenient if the answers were published in the magazine. Unfortunately, we are extremely limited in space. If we print answers to the questions, this would require cutting text from another section. So, in the interest of delivering as many helpful and insightful columns written by Scouting and outdoor experts, we decided to only publish the quiz answers online. You can find an easy-to-print page listing each question and immediate answer here: http://scoutingmag.wpengine.com/?p=10765

      Thank you for reading!

      -Gretchen Sparling, associate editor

  8. I read the quiz in the magazine and was directed to a website for answers. Went to website and had to take quiz all over again. IT DID NOT GIVE ME ANSWERS! Next time print the answers in the magazine. Not every one has internet. To say I am disappointed would be an understatement.

    • Hi, Ken. I understand your frustration and agree that it would be much more convenient if the answers were published in the magazine. Unfortunately, we are extremely limited in space. If we print answers to the questions, this would require cutting text from another section. So, in the interest of delivering as many helpful and insightful columns written by Scouting and outdoor experts, we decided to only publish the quiz answers online. You can find an easy-to-print page listing each question and immediate answer here: http://scoutingmag.wpengine.com/?p=10765

      Thank you for reading!

      -Gretchen Sparling, associate editor

  9. 121.5 mHz is the civilian “guard” or emergency frequency, true enough – but as of 2009 is no longer monitored by COSPAS-SARSAT, which is only monitoring on 406 mHz. Most civilian aircraft still monitor 121.5 however – FAA regulations state that the freq is to be monitored by all domestic aircraft “if capable”. Don’t know if this clarifies or obscures.



    • Sorry Scouting magazine, but I have to agree. “1d,2a,3c,4e,5d, 6a,7b, 8d” (NOT the correct answers) is really not too hard to fit in. A Scout is honest, and the truth about many companies and publications these days is that they want traffic to their site. Hopefully, you can take the feedback from readers as a way to improve the ability of your publication to meet their needs.

  10. In reference to question 14, I have always read that three blasts of a whistle (or other source of sound) is the distress signal. Has this changed and if so, why?

  11. For an old Asian scouter who was involved with the BSA when I was a college and graduate student in the USA many many moons ago, I find the quiz a challenge since it deals with conditions found in the USA. It gives me an idea to do something for my local setting now back in Asia.TQ

  12. I hope I learned all my survival merit badges. On wilderness survival,
    ” It’s far better to teach how to avoid a survival situation. Than to teach how to get out of a survival situation one did not know how to avoid” This was written by Mr. Petzold, an authority in survival training.

  13. Gretchen,
    The answer to Question 19 is in the same format as the answer to Question 18: Dial 00, country code, area code and then phone number. Each satellite network uses its own country code and so it doesn’t matter where the call originates on earth. So even if dialing on a satellite phone from the U.S., the number sequence is 00 followed by country code (‘1′ for the US, ’44’ for the UK, etc) then city code and number. This is a great question. Thank you for including the satellite communications questions. I’ve worked in the SATCOM’s industry for over 25 years and it is great to see the technology aiding the general public.

    • gretchen, the only problem is that it is 00-cc-area-number first not 011-CC-area-number. I know this because every time you dial from a satcom phone which I had to do weekly while I was at one command while I was in the navy. and that was the way that the number was done.

  14. I didn’t mind looking up the answers to the quiz, but I was unable to find them so I don’t know how I did on the quiz or what the proper safety precautions are.

  15. Sorry Gretchen and Scouting magazine, but I strongly agree with Ken, Cathy, Ron, Larry, Donna & Marge. I am not a “smart phone” person and find it annoying to have to go to the Internet to get the answers, then hunt around to find the link to find the answers, only to take the quiz again to get the answers. If the purpose is to get more people the “right” information, I believe it failed…I suspect that like me, they will not bother to take a “quiz” in the future. Just how much space can Larry’s solution take?

  16. Let me add my voice to the chorus of readers wishing to see the answers to the quiz printed in the magazine. At least print the answers to the questions that were printed. If you really want to drive online traffic, then use the ‘answers box’ to promote the extended quiz and full-length explanations of all the answers. That would’ve been enough to bring me online.
    Other than that, it was a great quiz that really got me thinking. Thanks!

  17. This is better than watching tv. We will see if our Scouting family can get better than we did. Four correct!

  18. Good quiz. I didn’t do very well because I’m not familiar with the newer gadgets, but I still enjoyed the challenge.

  19. Interesting Quiz. I must confess, being a pilot, I am rarely in “search and rescue” mode. I’m usually on my way somewhere and would likely be oblivious to most of the mentioned signals. I don’t ever monitor 121.5, I don’t think of emergencies when I see smoke. To me, it seems a handhelld vhf radio tuned to a reachable repeater would be the next best thing to a cell phone that has service for sending an unambiguous distress call. Anything else seems like quite a shot in the dark.

    • most aviation radio’s automatically monitor the Guard freq. I know that all military flights do monitor them, being that I was an Aviation electronics technician 1st class in the navy.

  20. I agree with the majority-have the answers in the magazine. I’m 75, don’t have a computer or email address, can’t get to the senior center or library to use one that often when they’re open, called a friend who works nights to enter this message (who was annoyed they had to go through entire longer quiz to get the answers because I was interested in the results) . Every magazine I read does the same thing which is a royal pain.

  21. Great quiz! Me and my Eagle Scout son did it together at commercial breaks during Sunday night football. I didn’t mind having to go on-line to get the answers, even if we had to do it over again but with added questions…no big deal. I learned something new. Since now I was drawn to the website for the quiz, we see we can do other quizzes and check out other great info. Keep up the good work!

  22. I have to disagree with the answer for international distress signals. I have always been taught in every course I have ever taken that it is a grouping or series of three of any kind of attention gathering signals, hence three fires, three blasts on a whistle or horn, and the well known SOS which in Morse code is three dit followed by three dahs followed by three dits, hence SOS. This is confirmed by the US Coast Guard ANNEX IV: INTERNATIONAL DISTRESS SIGNALS. I have never heard of six of anything being a distress signal.

  23. Interesting…. having been in the telecommunications business since Divestiture, and landmobile since 1974, I would have never considered dialing 00 or 011 or any other “operator assisted” code.

  24. I also was frustrated after taking the quiz on the page to find I had to log-in and retake the quiz online. Stating it was an online quiz and saving the print space for a full article would be less frustrating.

  25. You don’t have any space constraints here on your website, so go ahead and write out your explanations for each answer. Give links for additional information. You did the research when you created the quiz – write it down and we’ll get the benefits of your efforts.

    If these were more of a learning tool, we’d be sending our Scouts here to take these quizzes!

    Love the comment strings questioning some of the answers – they are the best part.

  26. I was surprised at the lack of questions with amateur radio. You are far more likely to reach some one using amateur radio than CB. You can easily scan for an active frequency on either. 144 or 440 MHz. You can also monitor AM air emergency frequencies and much more on an inexpensive hand held radio these days.

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