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#214937 - 01/14/11 03:30 PM Re: Usefullness of a signalmirror in the mountains [Re: Tjin]
hikermor Offline
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Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 7191
Loc: southern Cal
The best answer to your question - take a signal mirror into the conditions you describe and test its efficacy, before an emergency situation develops. It will really pay off if you ever have to use a signal mirror for real.

Please let us know how your testing turned out.
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#214961 - 01/15/11 01:25 AM Re: Usefullness of a signalmirror in the mountains [Re: Tjin]
rafowell Offline
Enthusiast

Registered: 11/29/09
Posts: 225
Loc: Southern California
Originally Posted By: Tjin
Is a signalmirror usefull if you are above the snowline?

Yes.

JerryFountain and hikermor have testified to that from their personal experience, and I provide more examples below.

Ideally the signal mirror is backup for a 24 hr, all-weather radio distress signal, such as a 406 MHz PLB (PLB FAQ), which need only weigh 5.3 oz (150 gm) for the McMurdo FastFind , or 4.6 oz (130 gm) when the ACR ResQLink is available.

For the signal mirror, given your weight concerns, look at the <0.75 oz (21 gm) 2"x3" polycarbonate "Rescue Flash" signal mirror from American Medical Kits. (See Doug Ritter's description halfway down this FAQ ) It is a high optical quality signal mirror with a an accurate, "one-handed" retroreflective aimer that produces a bright fuzzy "fireball" aiming spot, as photographed at the left in my avatar graphic. The "Mini Rescue Flash", at 1.5"x2", is even smaller and lighter, but is less than half as bright, and not available separately.

Here are some reports of successful signal mirror rescue in snow/ice:

(A) 1990s?: Australian recounts use of signal mirror in Antarctic as standard operating procedure on his Antarctica field work to signal for helicopter pickup { his parties didn't even have radios - ouch!} and shares one of his personal experiences. [1]

(B) Jan 1964: Capt. Parker C. Peedin rescued in snow, while still snowing, thanks to his signal mirror, after 36 hours on the ground after his plane went down in a blizzard. He had received no response on his hand-held UHF radio, despite calling out all day. [2]

(C) March 24, 1963: Two in Yukon rescued 50 days post-crash after plane spots their mirror flash in snow, -10 F / -23 C weather. [3]

(D) Oct 10, 1943: Three on Greenland rock (Uummannarsuaq) rescued after after flashing ship for three hours with flashes from regulation metal RAF mirror. The shipboard observer initially dismissed the flashes as reflections from sunlight on ice and snow. [4],[5]

(E) Jan 5, 1910: Three on Antarctic Shackleton expedition rescued from floating ice floe by signaling Nimrod at 10-12 mile range for one hour with "heliograph" { size not stated - if this were the standard British military heliograph, it would have a 5" diameter mirror, and be as bright at 10 miles as a 2"x3" glass mirror at 5 miles.|[6]

Originally Posted By: Tjin
I think it would be ineffective due to all the reflecting light from the white surfaces

A snowy background definitely reduces contrast, which reduces the range of detection, but a mirror signal will still be visible many miles away, as in Example E.

The closer you are, the brighter the mirror will be in contrast to the snow, and I can (just barely) spot the flash from a 2"x3" AMK Rescue Flash Lexan mirror at 22 miles 22 miles against a dark background with my naked eye[13].(Notes: (1) I recommend viewing this in "full screen" setting, (2) The video has low dynamic range, so it fails to convey the starlike brilliance of the flash.)

That's also one reason why you want a good mirror that provides a hard concentrated flash. You can test your mirror by reflecting the beam on a shadowed surface some 50 feet away. If you aren't seeing a nice round bright circle, you're not going to get as bright a beam as you could with a good mirror. My photo here, comparing the concentrated reflection from a Mini Rescue Flash with the diffuse reflection from a BCB Mayday mirror, is a graphic example:

Originally Posted By: Tjin
I however do not know of any alpine climbers carrying a signal mirror...


I haven't seen any recent discussion about alpine climber use, but the US [7] , Australia [8], and New Zealand [9] all require their personnel carry signal mirrors in Antarctica, which has as much snow, ice (and mountains) as one might like. Also, the 2005 expedition to climb Gunnbjørn Fjeld, Greenland (highest mountain north of the Arctic circle) listed two signal mirrors in their equipment list [10].


Originally Posted By: Tjin
i'm just not sure if the flash would attract attention, since everything is flashy in mountains.


False flashes are certainly an issue, as they were in Example D, and a lot of things have to come together for a signal mirror rescue. You need a mirror, you need sunlight/moonlight impinging on you, you need to hit the rescuer with the reflected light, they must be looking in your direction, they must notice the flash, they need to realize the flash is artificial, they have to conclude it is a distress signal, then they need to direct rescuers to your location.

Two things trained searchers should be looking for to distinguish mirror signals from natural reflections:

(a) Natural reflections from snow/ice will be steady - irregular flashes are more likely to be mirror signals (though they can be water or metal trash in the breeze). Sweep your flashes back and forth across the target.

(b) Natural flashes will persist for only a few minutes - as the sun geometry changes, the flash will go away (even more true for aerial searchers). A flash that "follows" a searcher is almost certainly a deliberate mirror signal. Be persistent.

Some things you can do to improve your odds vs. false flashes:

(a) Let potential rescuers know to look for mirror flashes:

One basic survival tactic is to leave a "trip plan" detailing your planned route and equipment with a reliable person, together with a time at which they should alert the authorities that you are overdue. If you are carrying a signal mirror, note in the "trip plan" that you are carrying a signal mirror and aren't afraid to use it. (The USCG calls this a "float plan")

(b) Try to make your flashes look different from natural flashes.

With aerial searchers, one advantage you have is that the beams from fixed natural objects don't "follow" the plane, and their duration will be short. For fixed observers, any natural fixed flash will only last for a few minutes, due to the movement of the sun. So: persevere - be obnoxious about it.

In WWII, naval personnel were told to look out for flashes that "followed them" as a sign of distress. Hopefully modern-day search personnel are still taught this.

(c) Get a good mirror with a retroreflective aimer.

Two reasons for this.

First, you'll put a lot more flashes on target than with two-handed methods, based on US and British military testing[12]. You don't want observers who take interest in your first flash to shrug and move on when they don't see it repeated in short order.

Second, if you do have to flash for hours to get someone to take note, fatigue is a serious issue. A mirror with retroreflective aimer can be used with one hand, close to your body, which is less stressing, and you can switch off arms.

(d) Practice. The beam from a good signal mirror is very narrow - about a third of the diameter of the retroreflective "fireball" bright fuzzy spot in a signal mirror (the fireball in a retroreflective mesh aimer is visible in my graphic avatar to the left of this post). For getting the hang of it, use a retroreflective target at about 100 yards range. I expect many traffic signs in the Netherlands are reflective. (Be very careful not to flash anyone within a mile or so who is operating a vehicle - at short range, signal mirrors are blindingly bright.)

Once you have mastered that, ideally you and a friend can practice at about five mile range, taking turns signalling each other and counting flashes seen/minute.

> I'm trying to shave off weight of mine equipment and every gram counts.

While mirrors are pretty light, if that's a concern, I'd recommend the American Medical Kits "Rescue Flash". According to my postal scale, here are the weights of some good optical quality signal mirrors with retroreflective aimers:

2.0 oz: glass 2"x3" Coghlan's signal mirror
1.4 oz: glass 2"x2" French Air Force Miroir SOS Type 644
0.8 oz: Starflash "Ultra" 2"x3" mirror ( keep it dry )
0.75 oz : Lexan 2"x3" AMK "Rescue Flash" designed by Doug Ritter [11]
0.375 oz: Lexan 1.5"x2" AMK "Mini Rescue Flash"

While the British 2"x2" BCB "Mayday mirror" is light (0.4 oz), and has a retroreflective aimer, the samples I've tried don't have good optical quality (diffuse beam).

=============================
REFERENCES
=============================
[1] Australian in Antarctica signals helicopter with mirror on hazy day.

http://www.mail-archive.com/sundial@uni-koeln.de/msg02583.html

[2] Civil Air Patrol Volunteer, April-Jun 2010, page 46.

http://www.capvolunteernow.com/media/cms/Volunteer_Apr_May_Jun_mag_MED_LOW_583C8A758FC2E.pdf
also here: http://www.salisburypa.com/buzzonefour.html

Capt. Parker C. Peedin rescued in snow in Jan 1964, thanks to his signal mirror, while still snowing, after 36 hours on the ground after his plane went down in a blizzard. He had received no response on his hand-held UHF radio, despite calling out all day.

[3] "I Found the Girl Lost in the Yukon" Rome News-Tribune - May 19, 1963

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=ZAouAAAAIBAj&sjid-WDEDAAAAIBAj&pg=5719,2171329&dq=mirror

Pilot Chuck Hamilton spots Ralph Flores' mirror signal Sunday March 24th, 1963 near Watson Lake, 5 miles southeast of Aeroplane lake, leading to the rescue of Ralph and Helen Klaben 50 days after they crashed.

"The brilliant sun ... glared harshly on the stark snow ... the worst of Arctic winters had fallen on the area ... Somebody's flashing a mirror at us! - I see him!" ... I located the man again, still flashing his mirror ...

[4] Fragments of war: stories from survivors of World War II
Joyce Hibbert, Publisher Dundurn Press Ltd., 1985
ISBN 0919670946, 9780919670945 Length 267 pages

http://books.google.com/books?id=HWfbUSaTB7oC&pg=PA258&dq=mirror

"For three hours and more they took turns holding the mirror in benumbed, near useless fingers for short periods while sending regular flashes.
In mid-afternoon another lucky coincidence. An American army major decided to study the Greenland coast through binoculars. At first he dismissed the flashes on Umnaarsuk as reflections from sunlight on ice and snow. But when he noticed a puff of smoke followed by the burst and fall of light from aVery rocket, he was convinced that the flashes were also signals."

[5] Down in the North, An Analysis of Survival Experiences in Arctic Areas
by Richard A. Howard, ADTIC Publication No. A-103, April 1953, Maxwell AFB Alabama.

pp. 37-38 "the rescue of the three man from Umanarsak, has been
glamorized in popular accounts by stating a 10-cent
pocket mirror was used, but the official record states they
flashed with a regulation signal mirror.

[6] The heart of the Antarctic Being the Story of the British Antarctic
Expedition 1907-1909 by Sir Ernest Shackleton, C.V.O.
http://books.google.com/books?id=VjQNAAAAIAAJ

page 252: Chapter XX: Bluff Depot Journey, Jan 15 to Feb 16, 1909

page 256:

They went back to the depot on the 14th, and pitched camp in order
to wait for the Northern Party until the 25th, when they were to
make their way back to winter quarters, or signal for the ship by
means of the heliograph. On January 24-25 this party had a very
narrow escape from disaster.

p. 257 { on January 25th, 1909: From Armytage's report }

http://books.google.com/books?id=VjQNAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA257&dq=heliograph

" I sighted the Nimrod under sail, ten or twelve miles out. We laid the heliograph on to the vessel, and after flashing for about an hour got a reply."

p. 258 { on January 25th, 1909 }

http://books.google.com/books?id=VjQNAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA258&dq=heliograph

The Nimrod stood out into the sound, and from a distance of ten or twelve miles a heliograph was seen twinkling near Butter Point. The ship was able to get right alongside the fast ice, and picked up Armytage, Priestley, and Brocklehurst.

[7] Field Manual for the United States Antarctic Program
http://www.usap.gov/travelAndDeployment/documents/USAPFieldManual.pdf
single person survival bag contains signal mirror: p. A-18
double person survival bag contains signal mirror: p. A-20
Palmer Station Survival Cache contains signal mirror: A-33

[8] "Minimum equipment to be carried on any Antarctic trip"
http://nla.gov.au/nla.arc-10243-20020607-0000-classroomantarctica.aad.gov.au/materials/clothing.pdf
Requires in "remoter areas" of Antarctica: "signal mirrors"

[9] New Zealand Antarctica manual:
http://www.antarcticanz.govt.nz/images/downloads/publications/field_manual_2010-11.pdf
both single and double person survival bags contain signal mirrors: pp. 129, 130
Value of signal mirror: page 56
One page survival card: page 7 of pdf

[10] http://www.explorers.org/flag_reports/051laughton2005.pdf

"The two aims of the expedition were to make a number of first ascents of unclimbed mountains in the Watkins Mountains in Greenland in the area of 69° North and 029° West and to climb Gunnbjørn Fjeld, 3,673 m, the highest peak in the Arctic."

On their page 18 gear list (in addition to a PLB and an Iridium phone) they list: Heliograph aircraft signalling mirror, BCB military, quantity 2

[11] AMK "Rescue Flash" mirror weight per my postal scale, last evening, including clear envelope and protective film.
Flashes from the 2"x3" AMK at 22 miles (no snow/ice) here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JtfpaMiUqQ
Doug Ritter's story of the "Rescue Flash" mirror development here (search for "signal mirror")
http://www.dougritter.com/amk_psp_faq.htm
How to use the "Rescue Flash" (or other mirror with retrorefective aimer)
http://www.dougritter.com/psp_rescueflash.htm
Another set of instructions:
http://www.equipped.com/pp/pic2042.htm

[12] The US testing by the National Bureau of Standards and US Coast Guard is reported in the article in the USCG Air Sea Rescue Bulletin attached here: http://forums.equipped.org/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=197058#Post197058


[13] 22 mile Sun Flash from 2"x3" Plastic Signal Mirror (best in HD, full screen)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JtfpaMiUqQ
_________________________
A signal mirror should backup a radio distress signal, like a 406 MHz PLB (ACR PLB) (Ocean Signal PLB)

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#214963 - 01/15/11 04:06 AM Re: Usefullness of a signalmirror in the mountains [Re: Tjin]
Glock-A-Roo Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 04/16/03
Posts: 1076
I knew rafowell would come through for ya! Great post dude.

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#214964 - 01/15/11 04:14 AM Re: Usefullness of a signalmirror in the mountains [Re: Tjin]
ireckon Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 04/01/10
Posts: 1629
Loc: Northern California
No affiliation, I have a Vector 1 Mirror (second mirror down on that page).

Since weight is a concern here, that mirror only weighs 1 oz., and is real glass wrapped in a permanent acrylic case. The other glass mirror on that page, same size, weighs 2 oz. There's also a "featherweight" mirror on that page that weighs 1/3 oz., but I have not handled it.

Maybe rafowell or somebody else can speak about the performance of that Vector 1 versus other mirrors. I'd like to know myself.
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#214979 - 01/15/11 03:40 PM Re: Usefullness of a signalmirror in the mountains [Re: Tjin]
Hikin_Jim Offline
Sheriff
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 10/12/07
Posts: 1804
Loc: Southern California
Really good post, Rafowell. Nice to know the AMK's are a good mirror. Shame about the BCB one.

HJ
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#214984 - 01/15/11 05:41 PM Re: Usefullness of a signalmirror in the mountains [Re: Tjin]
Tjin Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 04/08/02
Posts: 1772
Indeed Rafowell, very informing.

I knew the BCB's are rubish. Used to own several, because i could get them for 50 cents a piece. Good enough to annoy people at several hunderd meters, but the thing scratched like you would not believe and was clearly not as good as other mirrors.
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#214995 - 01/16/11 12:03 AM Re: Usefullness of a signalmirror in the mountains [Re: ireckon]
rafowell Offline
Enthusiast

Registered: 11/29/09
Posts: 225
Loc: Southern California
Originally Posted By: ireckon
No affiliation, I have a Vector 1 Mirror (second mirror down on that page).

Since weight is a concern here, that mirror only weighs 1 oz., and is real glass wrapped in a permanent acrylic case. The other glass mirror on that page, same size, weighs 2 oz. There's also a "featherweight" mirror on that page that weighs 1/3 oz., but I have not handled it.

Maybe rafowell or somebody else can speak about the performance of that Vector 1 versus other mirrors. I'd like to know myself.
Well, it was sunny today, so I did some testing.

My results: the AMK Rescue Flash is brighter, lighter and thinner than the "glass in acrylic" mirror - the one advantage of the "glass in acrylic" mirror is that it floats, unlike the Rescue Flash.

I tested:
  • Four Coghlan's 2"x3" glass in acrylic "Sight Grid" mirrors (1.125 oz (32 gm) in provided envelope)
  • A Vector 1 2"x3" laminated glass signal mirror (1.875 oz (53 gm) in closed-cell foam case)
  • An American Medical Kits 2"x3" Lexan "Rescue Flash" mirror (0.75 oz (21 gm) in protective envelope)
Let's define some terms, first. Vector 1 is a wholesaler that makes:
  • retroreflective mesh for signal mirror aimers,
  • laminated glass signal mirrors ( 2"x3", 3"x5", 4"x5"),
  • acrylic-encased glass signal mirrors (2"x3"), as well as non-signal-mirror items.

Vector 1 supplies Coghlan's with these 2"x3" mirrors branded for Coghlan's:
Both types Coghlan's sells are available direct from Vector 1, and the link you provide is to a retailer of the Vector 1 version of the Sight-Grid mirror. Since the first four sight-grid mirrors I found were the Coghlan's branded ones, I tested them - they should be equivalent to yours. ( I do have some of the Vector 1 branded ones around here somewhere ...)

The thinking behind the Sight-Grid mirror is to provide a buoyant, lightweight mirror via the acrylic case and closed-cell foam, while retaining the reflectivity of the glass. (Interesting historical note: this type of encased signal mirror was invented by Ehrsam , who also invented the "Woodsman's Pal", which was issued during the Vietnam War as "Survival Tool, Type IV".)

My understanding is that Vector 1 retroreflective mesh is used in all Vector 1, Coghlan's and American Medical Kits mirrors that use retroreflective mesh. (Rescue Reflectors makes their own mesh, and the S.I. Howard MIL-M-18371E mirrors use legacy 3M fiberglass mesh). So, as far as the mesh itself goes, there should be no direct difference between the types I tested today.

One unique feature of the Sight-Grid mirrors is that the sighting mesh lacks the clear central sighting hole punched in the mesh used in other mirrors. While the continuous mesh might avoid some difficulties occasioned because the "fireball" can only be seen in (or right next to) the mesh it comes at the cost of additional obscuration of the target during acquisition.

While the Sight-Grid mirrors I tested had nice tight beams, the four I tested didn't seem as bright as the single AMK Rescue Flash mirror I compared them to, and definitely not as bright as the Vector 1 2"x3" laminated glass mirror. Here's the pix (note that the left and right side are different exposures - compare top to bottom, not left to right:

One of the four Sight-Grid mirrors had a beam a bit wider than the others (looked as though the acrylic case was slightly non-parallel with the glass mirror), but that was not the one chosen for the photos above.

While I didn't provide a direct "side to side" above, the laminated glass mirror was brighter than the Rescue Flash mirror.
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A signal mirror should backup a radio distress signal, like a 406 MHz PLB (ACR PLB) (Ocean Signal PLB)

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#215019 - 01/16/11 06:35 AM Spotting Signal Mirrors at sea from other vessels [Re: ireckon]
rafowell Offline
Enthusiast

Registered: 11/29/09
Posts: 225
Loc: Southern California
Originally Posted By: ireckon
Originally Posted By: hikermor
Thinking about the general question, I believe there is one environment where a signal mirror might be less effective - at sea or a similar body of water, at least for other vessels at your level. This is because it is fairly common at sea to experience "mirror flashes" from other vessels. With this in mind, aim several flashes in succession at an intended target - that would be unusual and should get attention.


Even then, a signal mirror is unlikely to work. While on a beach a month ago, I was imagining someone stranded out there on a kayak. When I paid attention, I realized that there were thousands of strong reflections coming off the water. The reflections while on a boat were even worse. I couldn't imagine anybody detecting a mirror flash as being distinguishable from all the other reflections. If a mirror flash were noticed, it would be mostly dumb luck I think.


I see your point about wave flashes - they are quite evident in the WWII SIgnal Mirror Training Film (11 minutes runtime), for those of us who haven't looked lately.

However, the U.S. Coast Guard, whose job it is to rescue you at sea, advises that you carry a signal mirror with you when at sea, and there's lots of other evidence that it is a good idea (see below). So, I'm thinking there are mitigating circumstances here.

Perhaps some of the folks here who've worked maritime SAR can comment?

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary says: "the first item we recommend you attaching to your PFD is a signal mirror"

U.S. Coast Guard personnel aren't allowed to get underway unless they are carrying their signal mirrors (and EPIRB, flares, whistle ..., but the mirror is a hard requirement).

Commercial and passenger ships worldwide are required to stock their lifeboats with signal mirrors under the SOLAS treaty.

The US Coast Guard daylight search guidelines call out a 5 nm sweep width when searching from a Coast Guard cutter when the survivor has a "sun signal mirror" vs. 4.6 nm for handheld orange smoke when the watchman is fresh, and 2.8 nm after he has been on duty for 3 or more hours[1].
(Per page 3-19 of the above, this seems to mean that they will try to lay out a search pattern that gets within half that distance (2.5 nautical miles for the mirror), but I'd welcome clarification from one of the former/current professionals here.

(Literally) boatloads of people have been saved at sea due to their signal mirrors being seen by other boats - in fact the U.S. Coast Guard history credits their requirement for mirrors to a 1942 incident where 18 were saved by a passing vessel thanks to a mirror fashioned from a flattened tin can

The most recent example I have are the 23 rescued 3/9/2009 off Thailand when a small fishing boat "responded to the flash of a special mirror". The "special mirror" was part of the emergency equipment on the life rafts (as per SOLAS).

The oldest example I have are the 50 saved from the Galway Castle in 1918.

[1] COMDTINST M16130.2E 21 SEPTEMBER 2009 (8.7 Mb)
U. S. COAST GUARD ADDENDUM TO THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL SEARCH AND RESCUE SUPPLEMENT (NSS)
To The International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue Manual (IAMSAR) Sept 2009
Table H-20 Visual Sweep Width Estimate for Daylight Detection Aids (Page Page H-38)
{ Calls out a 5 nm visual sweep width for sun signal mirrors, 4.6 nm for handheld orange smoke when searcher is fresh, 2.8 nm after searcher has been on watch 3 hours. }
_________________________
A signal mirror should backup a radio distress signal, like a 406 MHz PLB (ACR PLB) (Ocean Signal PLB)

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#215022 - 01/16/11 10:35 AM Re: Spotting Signal Mirrors at sea from other vessels [Re: rafowell]
hikermor Offline
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Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 7191
Loc: southern Cal
I was out walking the dog late yesterday afternoon, just minutes before sunset, in the hills above my house, where we have a good view out to sea. Bingo! - There it was - a distinct mirror flash, on the horizon, just in front of Anacapa Island. Shortly, another flash, and then - nothing... I paused, thinking of this thread, and observed for a bit. The source of the flash was not visible, and there were no flares, smoke, or any other signs of distress - nothing out of the ordinary.

I concluded that it was simply a "window flash," as I had described in my earlier post in this thread. This was apparently correct, because the usual sources have made no mention of any maritime incidents at this time.

The source of the flash was easily at least fifteen miles distant. Signal mirrors are extremely good signaling devices, but persistence and regularity are important to getting your message across.
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#215053 - 01/16/11 07:18 PM Re: Spotting Signal Mirrors at sea from other vessels [Re: hikermor]
rafowell Offline
Enthusiast

Registered: 11/29/09
Posts: 225
Loc: Southern California
Originally Posted By: hikermor
Signal mirrors are extremely good signaling devices, but persistence and regularity are important to getting your message across.


Amen.
_________________________
A signal mirror should backup a radio distress signal, like a 406 MHz PLB (ACR PLB) (Ocean Signal PLB)

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