Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #10: A Whistle

fox40What is it: A whistle is used for basically three professional purposes: for officiating sports contests, for law enforcement/public safety/traffic safety purposes by federal, state and local authorities, and for issuing and responding to distress signals.  It is for this final purpose that I recommend that everyone carry a whistle with them at all times.

The whistle of choice here is the Fox40 classic whistle.  Fox40 whistles were used by Search & Rescue teams working at the Oklahoma City, World Trade Center, Asian tsunami, and Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma rescue operations.  They are also the whistle used by professional officiating crews of the NBA, NFL, World Cup of Soccer and the Olympics.

The Fox40 whistle is pealess – which makes it more sanitary and less likely to clog – you can wash it, rinse it out, and it will still work well.  It is loud, over 100 db, so you should never use it at full power near someone else’s ear (or even your own).  It is a bit more expensive than alternatives but at around safely under $10, it can save your life and is worth every penny.

fox40_microYou might also consider the Fox40 micro-whistle, which is a bit slimmer so may fit better in your pocket or under your clothing.  Any of the Fox40 whistles will do – they make a bunch of different models, and come in a variety of colors – so choose one that fits your needs and your lifestyle.

Utility on a Daily Basis: Honestly, not much, unless you are a professional, amateur or volunteer referee/umpire at sporting events.

There are some formal programs to distribute whistles on university campuses as a means of deterring crime by alerting campus police and other students of someone in trouble or otherwise threatened.  A police or public safety officer is going to respond to the sound of a distress signal being blown.  But calling attention to yourself in the presence of a criminal is not always the wisest course of action.  Say, for example, someone pulls a gun or knife on you and demands your wallet while on a deserted street.  Give this person your wallet!  Don’t start blowing a whistle – at least until after he or she has fled a safe distance from you.

Whistles are good accessories for hikers and water sports enthusiasts but it is ultimately a piece of survival gear that is only needed in a disaster – whether large and public or small and personal.  Like a vehicle escape tool, you are going to want a whistle with you when you need it and you never, ever, know when that is going to be.  So for me, like the vehicle escape tool, a whistle makes this list even though it does not have utility on a daily basis.

My Fox40 Classic Whistle (in cool camo-color), Photon Freedom LED flashlight, and SanDisk Cruzer on neck lanyard

My Fox40 Classic Whistle (in cool camo-color), Photon Freedom LED flashlight, and SanDisk Cruzer on neck lanyard

Personal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared™? Yes.  I wear a whistle on a lanyard chain with breakaway clasp around my neck and usually under my clothes, along with a Photon LED flashlight and a SanDisk Cruzer 16 GB USB drive.  A whistle can also attach easily to your keychain or fit into a pocket, for those times when having something around your neck just doesn’t work.  My chain leaves a noticeable bulge underneath dress shirts and I might not want to wear it all the time in warmer weather, but for most casual and work clothes, it works out just fine there.

Many people wear lanyards around their neck on a daily basis with work ID cards, public transportation passes and keycards – more than wear neckties it seems.  Adding a whistle and LED flashlight to this kit is simple and makes you better prepared.  It’s also a great icebreaker/conversation starter.  Yes, you can help spread the gospel of Living Prepared when someone asks you why you are carrying a whistle around with you.  Amen!

Criticality after a disaster: A whistle is used to signal others that you are in distress and need assistance.  It is also used to answer signals from those in distress.  Shouting, yelling, and other forms of vocal alerting do not have the range and require much more fatiguing effort than the simpler task of blowing on a whistle.

Some reasons why you might find yourself in need of a whistle after a disaster – either a big one affecting thousands of people, or a small personal one just affecting yourself:  you are trapped in a building collapse caused by an earthquake, explosion, hurricane, tornado or any other event causing structural failure; you are trapped in a vehicle that has run off the road into a ditch and you are injured or otherwise unable to make it back to the roadway without assistance; you are trapped in an elevator after a power failure; you have been beaten and mugged and left for dead in a dark alley needing medical assistance; you fall down a flight of stairs, breaking your legs; you are lost in the woods, in the mountains, in the dessert; you may be witness to a criminal act and wish to signal public safety officials; you may even be separated from your family and want to signal them where you are in a crowded and chaotic environment.  There are lots of things that can happen to you in a disaster that can injure you, immobilize you, incapacitate you, but if you are conscious and breathing and within reach of a whistle, you will have the ability to call for help well beyond the range of your own voice.  A whistle has literally hundreds of potential uses.  I’m sure you can think of more than I have listed here.  I want you to have one with you.

A visual signaling device has the capabilities of alerting people from much farther away.  So if you are in the open and mobile, your flashlight may better serve you.  The new Photon Freedom flashlights have an automatic S-O-S blinking pattern that you can set that will run for hours and hours on its batteries.  Pretty cool.  I will review them in another post.

Advice on how to use a whistle to issue and respond to a distress call.

In the U.S. and Canada, the distress signal is typically three blasts of the whistle made in rapid succession, repeated after a one minute interval.  The standard signal for replying to the distress signal is a single blast, repeated after a minute’s silence.  And two blasts can be used by either caller or responder to mean “Come to me”.  This is how I was taught but I cannot find much reference for this online beyond the S.A.F.E. Whistles website.

However, in much of the rest of the world, the international distress signal is considered to be six blasts made in quick succession, with the reply being three blasts.

Either three or six will be recognized as a distress signal by trained rescue workers and public safety officials.  You do not need to try to whistle S-O-S or any longer signal than three blasts – once per minute.  It may take a while for rescue workers to respond.

Keep blowing your whistle until rescue arrives at your side. Do not stop issuing your three blasts once you hear a response.  Keep it up, which allows rescue workers to more quickly find you.  Only stop once you have made visual contact with them, and you can see that they have seen you or else they will have to keep looking for you.  The rescue workers will continue to issue their response as well, until visual confirmation is made.


The Living PreparedScorecard:  Whistle

  • Easily Carried: YES
  • Not too heavy: YES
  • Practical Purpose on a Daily basis: Not Really
  • Critical Purpose when Disaster Strikes: YES


So, carry a whistle with you.  If you do, you will be Living Prepared.