In all outdoor sports the importance of being able to communicate effectively in an emergency could mean the difference between an uncomfortable moment and a night in the woods. Whether you’re getting the attention of your paddling/fishing/skiing partner or emergency personnel like the coast guard/ski patrol/search and rescue, the ability of a whistle to audibly draw attention to yourself is going to be far greater than your vocal cords.
In this modern age the cell phone, GPS, and Spot Device are becoming ubiquitous in outdoor recreation. These devices are capable of pinpointing your location and sending that information to the necessary emergency personnel, but once you have people in your rescue zone you still need to be able to draw their attention to you location. As we all know the majority of our outdoor recreating is done in a variety of terrain and weather, both of these can contribute greatly to one’s ability to be found in a rescue scenario.
When I go paddling, whether that is whitewater, flatwater, or sea kayaking I keep a whistle tied to the shoulder strap of my PFD, this keeps it close at hand and out of my way. By keeping it tied to the PFD it will always be there when you need it because like a safe boater you wear your PFD at all times while on the water. I always try to advise people not to put it in a pocket or other storage, having it hanging from your PFD means that you can quickly use the whistle while still maintaining eye contact with the object at hand.
As a backcountry skier and hiker (as wella s a boater) I also keep a whistle secured to the shoulder strap of my back pack. The skiing and backpacking world still haven’t adopted the whistle as required equipment but that doesn’t mean that it’s not an important part of your emergency preparedness kit.
The international rescue community uses whistle blasts in combination with hand signals to communicate in less than ideal conditions. Three long blasts of a whistle is the internationally recognized signal for emergency, one blast means “look at me”, two blasts means “stop and look at me”. While paddling or travelling in the backcountry while using hand signals remember your new mantra; “always point positive”. Basically you always want to point in the direction you WANT to go, don’t point towards the hazard. Before you start your trip you should be sure that all the members of your party are aware of what the signals mean and are in agreement to their usage.
At SEA-LECT designs we carry two styles of whistles, the Life Jacket Whistle (K571260-1) and the Police Whistle (K571286-1). If you’re in a wet or aquatic environment (ie rainforest, river, ocean) I recommend the Life Jacket Whistle. Because it doesn’t have an internal "ball", it can perform while wet (whereas the Police Whistle has a ball inside it, and when wet the ball can get stuck and cause it not to perform properly).
While having fun adventures in the outdoors remember to remain aware of your group and what they’re doing, changing weather conditions, and changing group dynamics. Have fun and be safe and hopefully you’ll never need to use your Whistle. Happy paddling.