distress signal

distress signal
1. a signal used, or designed to be used, by persons in peril, for the purpose of summoning aid, indicating their position, etc., as a radio code sign, aerial flare, flag hoist, or the like. Cf. distress call (def. 1).
2. an indication, esp. a nonverbal one, that assistance, cooperation, or the like, is needed: He correctly interpreted the host's upturned eyes as a distress signal and hastily changed the subject.

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      a method by which a ship at sea can summon assistance. Distress signals are fixed by custom and by internationally agreed-on rules of the road at sea. The most important are: (1) visual signals, such as a flame, a red flare, an orange smoke signal, or a square flag displayed with a ball below; (2) sound signals, such as a gun or rocket fired at regular intervals, or a continuous sounding of a fog-signal apparatus; and (3) radio signals such as the Morse group SOS, the international code signal NC, or the spoken word “Mayday” (from French m'aider, “help me”), by radiotelephone. Distressed vessels may also actuate alarms of other vessels by a radio signal consisting of a series of 12 four-second dashes or by a radiotelephone signal consisting of two tones alternately transmitted for 30 to 60 seconds.

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Universalium. 2010.

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