Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How do you send a smoke signal?


How to Send a Smoke Signal
The Boy Scouts of America still use smoke signals as an emergency beacon.
The Boy Scouts of America still use smoke signals as an emergency beacon.
Archive Holdings Inc./Getty Images

The first thing you'll need to create a smoke signal is a fire. Build your fire in an open area as high up as you can. Your goal is to have the signal seen from many miles away, so a clearing at the top of a mountain is a good location. After you have a good fire going, add grass and green sticks and branches to your fire. This will smother the flames and create a dense, white smoke.

To send your message, wet a blanket to keep it from burning and throw it over your smoking fire. Once the trail of upward smoke has ceased, pull the blanket off to send a white puff skyward, and then put the blanket back on. This will send a one puff message. What message it conveys is up to you and your recipient. You can repeat this action to create a two puff and three puff message.

While this sounds like an extremely basic form of communication, you need to remember that it's what the puffs of smoke represent that counts. The messages that Native American tribes sent were simple, but very important. Here are a few of the common signals used by the Apache Indian tribe:

  • One puff -- Sending a single plume of smoke would commonly be an attention signal. This meant that something unusual was going on, but there's no cause for alarm or imminent danger. It was commonly a sign to watch for further signals.
  • Two puffs -- A two puff signal meant that all was well and that camp was established and safe. It indicated that they would stay at their current location until further notice. If the camp was more permanent, a continual two puff message was sent to let neighboring bands know that permanent camp was near and safe. It was an important message, as Native American tribes often moved camp according to the seasons, the availability of resources and for safety.
  • Three puffs -- This was an alarm signal, just as it is with Boy Scouts today. Indians warned of approaching enemies or marked the beginning of a battle with this signal. Continuous single columns of smoke indicated greater danger and a call for help.

If you want to learn more about smoke signals and other survival techniques, try the links on the next page.

­


More to Explore