If you recently got a new iPhone 14 or iPhone 15 as a gift, it’s time to test one of its best abilities: Apple’s Emergency SOS via satellite service. This allows users of these iOS handsets to exchange messages with emergency services while outside of cellular and Wi-Fi coverage.
Getting a 2022 or 2023 iPhone in contact with a satellite isn’t complicated. But it’s something users should know before they need it.
Here’s how the process goes.
Never be out of touch with iPhone satellite SOS
Apple’s Emergency SOS via satellite service is for hikers, climbers, hunters, boaters and anyone traveling through remote areas. It has been credited with speeding the rescues of people stranded in the far reaches of Alaska and the Canadian wilderness.
It gives iPhone 14 and iPhone 15 users emergency access to help. And it has to be a real emergency — forgetting to record football game doesn’t qualify.
The satellite connection service will not activate when you can get a cellular connection. If you have bars, you should call or text for emergency help — use 911 or your local equivalent.
Get started with Apple’s Emergency SOS via satellite service
If you’re lost, stranded or injured in a location so remote there’s no other way to get help, start by going to an open area. Your handset can communicate with a satellite, but just barely. Trees and buildings interfere with the signal.
Squeeze the iPhone so that the power and volume up buttons are pressed at the same time. This opens a screen that, among other options, includes Emergency Call. Swipe to the right.
In the United States, an attempt to call 911 with no cell service will bring up the option to use satellite SOS.
It’s not a phone call
The iPhone 14 isn’t a true satellite phone so you can’t make an emergency voice call with a satellite in orbit. The iOS handset can only exchange messages… slowly.
The process is difficult enough that you’re not put into direct contact with emergency services. Instead, your iPhone will ask you a series of questions to determine what kind of help you need. Do you need a paramedic to be airlifted into the wilderness or simply a tow truck?
The information will go to centers staffed by Apple-trained specialists who call for help on your behalf. It’s these people that you will be exchanging text messages with, not police, hospital, park rangers, etc.
Now find a satellite
Once you’ve entered the details of your emergency, it’s time to send them via satellite.
Satellite phones traditionally require bulky external antennas, something the iPhone obviously does not have. Apple compensated by showing users where they need to point the handset in order to make a connection with the satellite in low-Earth orbit.
In my test of the system, my iPhone located a satellite in only a few seconds. On-screen prompts told me where to point the handset to make a connection, and then kept me pointed in exactly the right direction.
Only when the connection is made will your first text message go out. And you must keep the iPhone pointed at the satellite all through this process. Don’t worry, the app shows you where to point.
Test it for yourself
If you’re planning to head out to the back of beyond, I highly recommend you do a test of the service yourself. It’s not the sort of thing you want to figure out while you’re 15 miles into the desert and nursing a broken leg.
Just open the Settings app and go to Emergency SOS, scroll down to the Emergency SOS via Satellite section and tap on Try Demo. It’ll simulate the process so you
Who can use Apple’s Emergency SOS via satellite service
Any of the iPhone 14 and iPhone 15 models can connect to a satellite for emergency communication. The feature is not limited to the Pro versions.
The service debuted in autumn 2022 in the United States and Canada, then became available in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Ireland in December. And it came to Austria, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Portugal in March 2023, followed by Australia and New Zealand two months later.
The need for call centers staffed by Apple-trained specialists to handle communication between iPhone users and emergency services is why Emergency SOS via satellite isn’t already available everywhere on earth. Apple needs to set up these centers and hire a staff for every country where the service will be available.
If you need additional help, visit Apple’s support page for the service.