How to Use an Emergency Whistle to Signal for Help

Emergency whistles can make the difference between life and death. From wilderness activities to long walks alone, many activities can have unexpected consequences that require assistance from others.

An emergency whistle is a whistle someone carries to call for help if they are in danger. It should be made of durable material, able to be firmly attached to you, be 115 dB or louder, and not sound similar to any bird or animal calls.

Emergency whistles are typically small, durable, loud whistles that can be found at any sporting goods store. Commonly, emergency whistles are used when participating in wilderness activities where someone may need to be rescued. Below is a guide to help you choose and use an emergency whistle.

Why Use an Emergency Whistle?

At its absolute loudest, the average human voice can create a noise of about 120 decibels (dB.—the units used to measure the sound volume). This is close to as loud as the siren on a cop car is, but this volume of noise takes a tremendous amount of effort and energy, which will eventually render your voice horse unusable. In an emergency or where you can’t move, shouting may not be a plausible option.

Emergency whistles are a simple solution to this problem. As long as you can breathe, you can sound a whistle. A standard emergency whistle, such as the Fox 40, will create a high-pitched tone at roughly 120 dB. with only a small amount of air. This allows you to save your voice and create a loud tone for much longer periods, which can be vital if you encounter an emergency in the woods where it may be quite some time before someone is close enough to hear you.

Different Kinds of Emergency Whistles

Whistles are devices that destabilize a stream of air to create an oscillation between two or one streams of air that becomes divided around an edge. The pitch and volumes available to the user can vary depending on how the whistle is built.

There are a variety of emergency whistles among the different manufacturers, but they are typically small or integrated into a larger multi-purpose tool. Because they are small, they are usually the standard handheld whistle shape. Emergency whistles usually look like police whistles or referee whistles. These are your typical handheld whistles that can be found at every sporting goods store.

Some emergency whistles may come with what is called a cork ball inside. This is a ball held inside the whistles, which generates a tone that oscillates more than a whistle without a cork ball. The ball is moved by air, rattling around inside, rapidly changing the tone depending on where the ball is. Some people think that cork ball whistles are easier to distinguish from other natural sounds, such as bird calls, and therefore will be easier for humans to distinguish as a call for help.

Other emergency whistles have multiple whistles that sound at different tones while blowing through one hole. These can create a tone that registers as a broader tone to the human ear and cuts through the background noise even if a different sound is ringing at one of the frequencies.

Important Things to Consider

Buying a whistle can be tricky; most places that sell whistles will not let you test them for hygienic reasons. Some more specialized outdoor stores have a cleaning system for a series of test whistles which can be incredibly helpful. But there are some basics to remember if you can only look at the specifications listed on the product packaging.

  • The human ear can only detect frequencies between 20Hz and 20,000Hz
  • Your whistle should be able to create a tone with a volume of 115 dB. or louder.
  • Get a highly durable whistle. Whistles made of thin metal are likely to be damaged.
  • There are different shapes to the mouth holes on whistles. Some whistles with larger or rectangular mouth openings can be hard for people with smaller mouths and children to blow through.
  • The tone on your whistle should be able to cut through bird calls and any other background noise that may be occurring during your time of stress.
  • Be sure the whistle has a spot for attaching the whistle to your bag or body. Emergency whistles are small and hopefully rarely used. It is easy to lose track of these if they are in pockets with other items.

It should be noted that most whistles sold as emergency whistles will meet these requirements. Companies creating emergency whistles often create other whistles as well. So, you must ensure that the whistle you buy is considered an emergency.

Recommended Emergency Whistles

SHvivik Emergency Whistle, 2PCS Premium Safety Survival Whistles with Lanyard Keychain, High Pitch Double Tubes for Outdoor Hiking Camping Hunting Fishing Boating
  • Super Loud: double-tube whistle is extremely loud and easy to blow. Sound power provides up to 120...
  • Premium Quality: Made by aluminum alloy material, strong and durable. Easy to Carry: with key chains...
  • Pea-Less: Emergency whistle blows wet or dry.
  • Easy to Carry: with key chains and hanging ropes, so it can be tied to backpack, belt or hanging...
  • Multipurpose: Emergency survival whistle is suitable for outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing,...

SHvivik Emergency Whistle –  Made of aluminum alloys and has a sturdy key ring to attach to just about anything. It can reach levels up to 120 dB.

LuxoGear Emergency Whistles with Lanyard Safety Whistle Survival Shrill Loud Blast for Kayak Life Vest Jacket Boating Fishing Boat Camping Hiking Hunting Rescue Signaling Kids Lifeguard Plastic 2 Pack
  • SUPER LOUD survival whistle: double tubes emergency whistle, high pitched powerful noise maker with...
  • PEALESS DESIGN means no moving parts, nothing to obstruct sound, and nothing to jam, break or...
  • ADJUSTABLE REFLECTIVE LANYARD and CLIP, high visibility even in the dark with slider button to...
  • SUPER DURABLE high impact ABS plastic construction ensures strong durability and complete waterproof...
  • EASY-TO-REACH SERVICE, every purchase includes our worry-free warranty and lifetime support. If you...

LuxoGear Emergency Whistle – Made of bright orange ABS plastic and has a lanyard that makes attaching easy. It can produce sounds up to 120 dB.

Storm World Emergency Whistle – Made of bright orange plastic and comes with a keyring and detachable lanyard. It can reach sound levels up to 120 dB and can even be blown underwater.

When choosing an emergency whistle, remember that metal whistles can get cold enough to stick to your lips in cold environments. Besides that, as long as they’re durable and loud enough, you can’t go wrong.

How To Blow An Emergency Whistle

Whistles can create a noise similar to other natural noises, such as:

  • wind whistling through trees
  • birdcalls
  • other animals

To distinguish from these in an emergency, you should develop a distinctive pattern that is constant and one that can be sustained for long periods.

Most people will use the Morse code distress signal for SOS. It is recognizable by most people as the only Morse code they will ever learn, and SOS acts as a universal call of distress, standing for Save Our Souls. You can repeat this repeatedly as it may be the best chance of someone finding you in your time of distress.

You should listen to the sounds around you. The SOS pattern is not a full-proof plan. You need to make sure that your whistle blows do not sound similar to any other sounds you can hear while blowing your whistle. If blown in constant quick or sporadic succession, whistles can easily be mistaken for birdcalls by some people.

An emergency whistle can be an invaluable part of any survival or emergency kit, but blowing a whistle in an emergency may not always be the most helpful course of action. A whistle can call for help, but if there is no one around to hear it, the effort used to make the noise will be in vain.

Evaluate where you are. If you are hiking on a trail, an emergency whistle is likely to attract the attention of other hikers who can find you and help or find help if needed. But if you are hiking in the remote wilderness, no person may hear you. A whistle is not a substitute for a beacon or cell phone, which sometimes will trump your whistle’s ability to call for help.

Using an emergency whistle is best when you are hiking with other people. If you all have emergency whistles, you can relax more about losing party members because you know you can contact others if a detrimental mistake occurs. One of you finds yourself in an emergency.


An emergency whistle could no doubt save your life when used correctly under the right circumstances, but it is not a catch-all for the emergencies you may face. Being prepared and aware enough to spot and handle your emergencies on your own will likely be your best action in any distressing situation.

The best way to get out of an emergency is to avoid the circumstances that can lead to an emergency. So, cover all your bases, including having your emergency whistle on you when disaster strikes.

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