Before we dive into off-grid communication, let’s define a few terms. “Off the grid” means no electric power, but solar and hand-cranked generators are still a possibility. That means that batteries for walkie-talkies, CB radios, flashlights, Ham radios and something as simple as car horns or car headlights are an option.
As a result, your off-grid communication could be as simple as voice communication if you have a working walkie-talkie, CB radio or Ham with voice. It also might mean you are dependent on knowledge and mastery of Morse code, which can be communicated by sound, light or with battery-powered electronics.
But there’s another alternative that is genuinely primitive. Many of these forms include symbols and signals made by various arrangements of objects, or in the case of semaphore, the arrangement of flags in different configurations.
If you have any serious concerns about living off grid, you should learn Morse code. If there is no electricity and if other communication forms fail, it could be your only option for getting word to others; if you can communicate with Morse by sound and sight then you have a significant survival advantage.
Start with the basic alphabet, learn the numbers and other key signs like “CQ,” and practice with a friend or family member. (In case you’re wondering, “CQ” stands for “seek you,” usually followed by the designation for that person.) Many of the text message abbreviations we see today come from Morse code and Ham radio.
|A||. _||N||_ .|
|B||_ . . .||O||_ _ _|
|C||_ . _ .||P||. _ _ .|
|D||_ . .||Q||_ _ . _|
|E||.||R||. _ .|
|F||. . _ .||S||. . .|
|G||_ _ .||T||_|
|H||. . . .||U||. . _|
|I||. .||V||. . . _|
|J||. _ _ _||W||. _ _|
|K||_ . _||X||_ . . _|
|L||. _ . .||Y||_ . _ _|
|M||_ _||Z||_ _ . .|
|1||. _ _ _ _||6||_ . . . .|
|2||. . _ _ _||7||_ _ . . .|
|3||. . . _ _||8||_ _ _ . .|
|4||. . . . _||9||_ _ _ _ .|
|5||. . . . .||0||_ _ _ _ _|
Morse Delivered 3 Ways
You can deliver Morse code messages with light, sounds or electronically with audible dots and dashes on a keypad. Any primitive communication would be impossible with audible electronic beats, so let’s get really analog.
Car Horn Morse Code
If you have a functioning 12-volt battery, you can use a car horn to transmit Morse code. This assumes the person you’re trying to communicate with is expecting your message. This is where the old “CQ” salutation followed by the person’s name or call sign comes in handy. Once you’ve connected, you’re in business — assuming the other person has a functioning car horn, air horn or a flashlight.
The Canoe Drum
This gets a little trickier if you’re trying to signal using Morse code. The benefit of a horn or a flashlight is that you can vary the duration to create easily recognizable dots and dashes. With a canoe, you need a different approach. You need to flip the canoe over and with a piece of wood, hit the belly of the canoe for a dash, and toward the bow or stern for a dot. The belly of the canoe will have a heavy, bass sound and the stern or bow a lighter, treble sound.
A Hollow Tree
This could work, assuming you find one that produces a loud enough sound. You’re also going to hope that two sections of the tree or log gives you the sound variation similar to the canoe.
The Signal Mirror
A reflection from a mirror can be seen up to 20 miles away. The trick to effectively transmitting Morse code is aligning the reflections with your target. That’s why signal mirrors have two reflective sides and a small hole drilled in the center of the mirror. The idea is to allow the spot of sun streaming through the hole to land on your cheek. When you look at your face and align the hole with the spot of sun on your cheek, you are directing the reflection directly at your target. Now you can vary the duration of the dots and dashes accurately to send your message.
Some signal mirrors actually have Morse code super imposed over the mirrored surface, pointed at your face, in case you’re new to Morse.
This is a signaling system that involves the use of two flags in extended arms that are presented with varying arrangements to create the alphabet. It was used by the French during the Napoleonic wars and is still taught in the Boy Scouts.
The flags can be fashioned out of any material affixed to two sticks. Here’s the official Boy Scout instructions:
There are signals that can be communicated to aircraft or someone at a high elevation and a direct line of site to your location. Some consist of symbols created with objects on the ground like branches, leaves or tracks in the snow. Here are some of the standard configurations:
Body postures also can be used to communicate with aircraft or people at a distance who can see you well enough to discern your posture:
Practice, Practice, Practice
Take time to learn the signals and if at all possible, practice with a friend. Someday, it may save your life.
What advice would you add for off-grid communication? Share your thoughts in the section below: