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Arctic survival tips from a search and rescue volunteer

With the sea ice beginning to form and more people heading out on the land, the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association wants to remind people about the skills, safety techniques and tools you need to ensure you survive if stranded in the wilderness.

If stranded on the land, be ready to spend 72 hours on your own, says CASARA zone commander

'Before people start to go out on the land they can make themselves discoverable in case they get lost,' says Michael Chappell, the CASARA zone commander for Iqaluit. (Vincent Robinet/CBC)

With the sea ice beginning to form and more people heading out on the land, the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA) wants to remind people about the skills, safety techniques and tools you need to ensure you survive if stranded in the wilderness.

CASARA's Michael Chappell says taking along a mirror to reflect sunlight is a great way to help spotters in a potential search. (Vincent Robinet/CBC)

CASARA is a national volunteer organization funded by the Department of National Defence that provides air search assistance to the Royal Canadian Air Force and promotes flight safety.

"Before people start to go out on the land they can make themselves discoverable in case they get lost," said Michael Chappell, the CASARA zone commander for Iqaluit.

The first rule of thumb is to tell at least two people where you are going and when you expect to return, said Chappell. He added that you have to check the weather.

Going over your gear, equipment and supplies to make sure nothing essential has been left out or is malfunctioning is another important step, and taking along a map and or a GPS system and SPOT device is essential.

CASARA's Michael Chappell shares survival tips

6 years ago
Duration 2:24
The seasons are changing, which means it can be a dangerous time to travel on the land and sea. Michael Chappell from Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA) spoke with CBC Nunavut about survival tips to keep in mind.

Chappell added that the ministry of environment also has updated digital maps, free of charge, that include information about cabins in your area in case you need emergency shelter.

"Tundra is tundra," he said, "so if you got something different than the colour of tundra and rocks that's going to be significant — we can see that from hundreds of feet in the air."

Taking along a map and or a GPS system and SPOT device is essential, says Chappell. (Vincent Robinet/CBC)

Taking a tarp or poncho in a striking bright colour that cannot be found naturally on the land — or even an orange or red jerry can — will be a great help to rescue teams looking for you from the air.

"Wear a coat that has colour to it," said Chappell. "If you go out in camouflage, then you're going to be camouflaged. We're not going to find you."

According to Chappell, taking along a mirror to reflect sunlight to help spotters find you is even better than a flare. A strobe or flashing light is another great tool to assist search and rescue workers.

Anyone lost or stranded on the land should be ready to spend 72 hours on their own while rescue teams coordinate and mount a search. That means taking along proper clothes, camping equipment, food and supplies to help you keep warm.

"If it's getting really cold, you've got maybe a day before that frostbite starts taking your fingers and toes," warned Chappell.

Staying put is also important, said Chappell, because rescue teams have the power to follow your trail until it ends.

Finally, Chappell emphasized the importance of spending time getting familiar with proper signals to tell rescue workers if you need help or if you're OK, adding that at times, search workers have honed in on people on the land who did not need help and were simply trying to signal to the air crew that everything was fine.

With files from Michael Salomonie and Vincent Robinet

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