These 20 easy-to-memorize Scout mnemonics could save a life

Lightning_Safety_SignIn a life-threatening situation outdoors, a Scout’s skills are only as good as his memory.

That’s why mnemonic devices — popular for schoolchildren memorizing the order of the planets, the metric system, or the colors of the rainbow — are also useful when the pressure’s on you to react to a health or safety emergency.

Boost your emergency preparedness with the 20 mnemonics below. Most come courtesy of Scouting magazine’s friends on Facebook and Twitter. Have one we missed? Leave a comment at the end of the post. 

1 – Treating shock

“Face is red, raise the head; face is pale, raise the tail.”

— Nancy R.

2 – Warning signs of a stroke

Think FAST:

Face – One side of smile droops.
Arms – Do they have equal strength?
Speech – Is it slurred?
Time – If you observe these, get them to a hospital quick.

— Sarah P.

3 – Hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia

“Hot and dry, sugar high; cold and clammy, need some candy.”

— Matt D.

4 – Dehydration

If you’re drinking enough water, your urine should be “Clear and Copious.” (Lots more user-submitted hydration mnemonics here.)

Stephanie H. 

5 – Poisonous plants

“Leaves of three, let it be.” Also, for the non-leafed seasons of the year, “Don’t touch the hairy vines!”

Tom H.

6 – Treating diarrhea

Switch to the BRAT or BRATTY diet:


Some like to add T and Y to get BRATTY:

Meg M. and Carrie M.

7 – Using a fire extinguisher

Cool things off with the PASS technique:

Pull the pin
Aim at the base of the fire
Squeeze the trigger
Sweep across the fire

Stan W.

8 – Proper winter camping attire

Stay warm, but not too warm, by getting COLD:

Clean – dirty clothes lose their loft and get you cold.
Overheat – never get sweaty; strip off layers to stay warm but no too hot.
Layers – dress in synthetic layers for easy temperature control.
Dry – wet clothes (and sleeping bags) also lose their insulation.

Phil S.

9 – Diagnosing hypothermia

Look for the “umble” family. Does the person fumble, mumble, stumble, and grumble?

Sammy C.

10 – Identifying poisonous snakes

Looking at the color of bands works for some varieties of snakes. Remember “red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, friend of Jack.”

Seana D.

11 – Treating strains

It’s all about RICE, RICE, baby:

Rest: The patient should rest the injured area. Have him or her avoid movement that causes pain.
Immobilize the injured area. Immobilization can lessen pain and prevent further damage.
Cold: Apply cold to the injured area. Applying ice or a cold pack can help reduce swelling and ease pain.
Elevate the injured area above heart level to reduce swelling. Serious injuries to the limbs may preclude this.

Bob F.

12 – When you’re on fire

Just as we learned as kids: “stop, drop, and roll.”

Heidi H.

13 – The ABCs of CPR

ABC in its original form stood for “Airway, Breathing, Circulation.” But as this Wiki page explains, there are now several variations recommended by different groups.

Nearly all groups still use ABC in some form, but others add D for defibrillation using an AED.

14 – Determining a person’s medical history

This one is usually for the pros, but when interviewing a patient, take a SAMPLE:

Signs and Symptoms
Past medical history
Last oral intake
Events leading up to the injury and/or illness

Mike A.

15 – Signs of a fracture


Loss of function
Irregularities on the bone surface, such as depressions or lumps
Unnatural movement
Crepitus, a sound similar to scrunching a bag of frozen peas heard/felt when the two ends of a broken bone grate together

Mandy M.

16 – Saving someone from drowning

We’ve always learned this order: “reach, throw, row, go.” But Bob K. suggests starting with “talk.” “Always try to talk them back first,” he says.

17 – Conditions that could cause unconsciousness

They’re summarized in the longest mnemonic of the day: FISH SHAPED.

Infantile convulsions
Head injury
Heart attack

18 – Identifying edible berries

Lifehacker offers this one:

White and yellow, kill a fellow.
Purple and blue, good for you.
Red … could be good, could be dead.

19 – Boating mnemonics

This page has a nice collection of them.

20 – An essential rule of camping

And finally, one that made me laugh: “Dark sky at night, you’re up too late; Dark sky in the morning, you are up too early.”

— Leon V.

21 to ?? – Your turn

Share your mnemonic in the comments section below.

Photo from Flickr:  Some rights reserved by steven n fettig


    • No 3 is dangerously false. First, it doesn’t state that this is related to diabetics. For kids it’s usually type 1 insulin dependent and the camp leaders should be notified. There should be someone trained in the troop to recognize what causes hypos or hypers. And how to respond in emergencies. If a passerby finds a diabetic having trouble, check their medical bracelet which they should have. Every diabetic has different symtoms. If the diabetic is able to speak, they can tell U about taking their blood sugar. 911 should be called in meantime bc a hypo event can cause unconsciousness where an injection of glucagon needs to be given. If u give.candy to someone who u assume is low but they r actually high, it could put them into diabetic keacidosis.

      Someone who is hyperglycemic and hasn’t been diagnosed yet, they will not be hot and red, but they always will have frequent urination, unquencable thirst, constant hunger and rapid weight loss and needs emergency treatment at hospital.

      Obviously, this is close to my heart since my son was recently diagnosed, so going back to summer camp will be very scary. In heneral, there is little awareness of type 1. It can’t be prevented and is really nothing like type 2. It’s hard for kids at school bc training required by law really isn’t done well and I hope soon there will be a campaign for awareness since so many kids r getting it. Sorry for length!

      • I’m sorry for the thumbs down. I’m supposed to click thumbs up but I guess my fingers are too thick for my screen. I really find your comment helpful. I’m one of those who thinks like no. 3. This really helps as a teacher and some times need to see why my students are not feeling well. Tysm.

  1. Are there exceptions to any of the dangerous things above?
    For example, are all yellow/black snakes okay?
    Does one always raise the head if it’s red for shock? This one is new to me.

    • Seems like that always been used to differentiate between king and coral snakes, being they both have red/yellow/black markings. Coral (venomous) have red and yellow touching, where king (non-venomous) have red and black touching. Note that this only applies to N. American coral snakes.

    • Face is red, raise the head is not for shock. This would be used for high blood pressure. However, the other part is correct:: Face is pale, raise the tail is for shock. Not sure why they included them together. Very misleading.

      • Actually, when I was a scout (many years ago) – we understood that “face is red” meant bleeding from the head. Raising the head is akin to “elevate” for extremity wounds.

        • The context that I’ve always herd it was heat exhaustion and heat stroke. With the first your face is pale, but with heat stroke the skin turns redder.

  2. Are you sure Number 6 is right as applesauce has a lubricate factor. Applesauce effect is worse than real apples. I think it should read this: BRaT diet — Bananas, Rice, and Toast.

  3. For #1, There are many types of shock, best practice is to place patient supine unless cervical trauma is suspected, then protect neck and back from permanenet damage.

    For #13, As of 2010 American Heart Association, in regards to CPR, it is now C-A-B. Please refer to proper training manuals with updated material.

    • From what I read on their Web site, AHA does recommend the sequence should be C-A-B (Compressions-Airway-Breathing). But, for whatever reason, the Red Cross still teaches A-B-C (Airway-Breathing-Circulation) – at least, that’s what they taught my son during the First Aid/CPR/AED class he took about 2 months ago.

      • The AHA is normally in the lead on the changes with the Red Cross usually being much farther behind. Circulation is first now. Studies have shown that “Compressions-Only” CPR is much more effective with success rates as high as 50+%. Before, those rates were as low as less than 1%. The reason is that the circulatory system holds oxygen cells even when a person is not breathing. With the circulation by compressions, you are keeping them alive. You are also introducing “new” oxygen through the person’s mouth with each compression, thus keeping the normal respiratory process in place almost like it was the person breathing on their own. HOWEVER, one time when you would want to check the airway FIRST is if you suspect that the victim had choked on something. If the foreign object is still in place the respiratory system will not work as designed with the “Compressions-Only” CPR until the foreign object is removed.

      • I think there’s two levels of training now. When I took CPR for the Professional, it was A-B-C because one is more “highly” trained. For the average 2-3 hour session, they’ve begun to teach the C-A-B method to get the heart moving immediately even before checking on a pulse, etc.
        My guess is they’re still ironing out these new procedures amongst the organizations.

        • The CAB is for professionals as well. Two minutes of good CPR before any other interventions. As stated above, compressions only CPR gets the blood moving. It is also better than doing nothing at all. Remember, nobody is certified in CPR, your cards all say you successfully completed a course. The AHA is the main organization that the professionals use. The Red Cross always simplifies everything and takes a while to catch up. The AHA actually does the research and puts the science behind what they teach.

    • Sounds like a take off on the old, “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”

  4. Thanks for using my “leaves of three/hairy vines”! 🙂 One I forgot: if you get lost (or “a mite mis-directed”) – STOP!

    S = Stop – don’t get more lost. Hug a tree. Don’t panic! Waiting for someone to find you is usually the best course of action.
    T = Think – when did I first realize I was lost? what options do I need to consider to help others find me, or get myself un-lost? What do I have with me that can help? (map, compass, survival gear, water, energy bars/candy, etc.)
    O = Observe – use all senses. What dangers or assets can I detect? Can I smell smoke or hear voices or traffic noises (possible human habitation)? What is around me that I can use to survive/make myself comfortable until help comes? Did I leave tracks I can retrace (carefully) to get back to my group/familiar territory?
    P = Plan – whether you intend to try to un-lose yourself or wait for help, formulate a plan and stick to it.

    Consider the Rule of Three: when making your priority list, remember that an average human in reasonable physical condition can survive at least

    3 minutes without air (only an issue if you’re underwater!)
    3 hours (+/-) without some kind of shelter, depending on weather conditions (appropriate clothing counts as “shelter”)
    3 days without water (make sure it’s purified in some fashion!), and
    3 weeks without food (although in cold situations, food can also serve as “shelter” by restocking our inner “furnace,” which burns calories)

    Don’t waste time and energy on low-priority issues!

    • For STOP I used a simpler word for the the S.
      Sit (You ain’t moving if your butt is on the ground)

    • I also learned Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, when I was growing up. But, the Red Cross currently teaches Rest, Immobilize, Cold, Elevate (the order given in #11). Considering that Ice = Cold, and Compression = Immobilize, if probably doesn’t matter which words you remember, as long as you remember what the treatment is.

  5. The coral snake rhyme is wrong, because a snake with red and black rings touching is not “safe for Jack”. A non-venomous snake bite is still a puncture wound. The rhyme I learned was “venom lack”.

    But … I prefer “red and black, leave the danged snake alone!” I have this image of a Tenderfoot getting down for a closer look at the snake to see if it is safe or not. Yikes!

    Finally, there are venomous coral snakes in Mexico that have red and black neighboring rings.

    We don’t really need a mnemonic for poisonous berries in North America. All the poisonous berries taste bad. Take a tiny taste of a berry and if it tastes bad, spit it out.

    • Agreed on the snake thing. That’s why I was worried. Maybe it’s a good mnemonic for “learning” the snakes (in general), but should never be permission to reach down and play with the thing.
      I always say, “Know how to prevent snake bites? LEAVE IT ALONE!”

      • Here’s one I teach my kids…

        “Every Snake Can Harm People”

        Note: It’s “can” harm–whether by venomous bite or infection from regular non-venomous bite.

        Eyes – Venomous snakes in the US all have elliptical (slit) pupils like a cat’s eye. Non-venomous snakes have round pupils. There’s always an exception to the rule though, and Coral snakes do not have slit pupils!

        Swimming – If a snake is swimming with just its head above water, it’s most likely to be a non-venomous water snake. Nearly all venomous swimming snakes swim with their lungs fully inflated causing their bodies to float on the surface of the water.

        Color – Most venomous snakes in the US tend to have bodies with varying colors. Snakes that are one solid color are usually harmless. The exception here is the Cottonmouth, so this spotting technique on it’s own is not foolproof

        Head – Most venomous snakes tend to have a triangular shaped head due to the venom glands. Non-venomous snakes have spoon shaped heads. The Coral snake, being so small, makes this hard to spot.

        Pits – Some venomous snake in the US will have a small depression on their faces between their nostrils and their eyes called a ‘pit’ which is used to sense the heat of their prey. These snakes are known as pit vipers.

  6. The new standards of CPR is now CAB, Circulation, Airway and Breathing. Compressions are the primary response, especially for lay providers and Airway and Breathing are secondary. This is why Compression only CPR is becoming the standard, not only is more effective, it also avoids the “yuck” factor on mouth to mouth.

  7. And two useless ones:
    – If you hear the thunder, then the lightning missed (that time).
    – If you can see the stars from your sleeping bag, someone stole the tent.

  8. The boys get a kick out of PDQBALLS for Safe Swim: Physical fitness, Discipline, Qualified supervision, Buddy system, Ability groups, Lifeguard, Lookout, Safe swim area

    I can brook a little snickering if it keeps them from drowning.

    • Except your order doesn’t work. Supervision MUST be first and Discipline is at the end, like two pieces of bread that hold the sandwich together. Use SPALLBAD (Spell bad but badly spelled) for Safe Swim. Yes, all must be there for it to be a safe swim, but Supervision and Discipline are the two most important for boys.

  9. Safe swim Defense-
    P- physical fitness
    A(Q)- Qualified Adult Supervision
    D- Discipline
    B- Buddy System
    A- ability Groups
    L- lifeguard
    L- lookout
    S- safe swim area

    Quincy Played Soccer Peacefully By Some People Every Day (Safety Afloat)

    Q- Qualified adult Supervision
    P- physical fitness
    S- Skill proficiency
    P- PFD
    B- Buddy system
    S- swimming ability
    P- Plan
    E- equipment
    D- discipline

    • We learned Saftey Afloat as 3 sheets (Supervision, Qualified Adult; Skill proficiency; Swimming ability), 3 pillows (Physical fitness, PFD, Plan), and a bed (Buddy system, Equipment, Discipline).

    • We use PDQBEAPPS for Safety Afloat.
      P- Physical Fitness
      D – Discipline
      Q – Qualified Supervision
      B – Buddy System
      E – Equipment
      A – Ability Levels or swim Ability
      P – PFD
      P – Planning
      S- Skill Proficiency

    • My high school physiology teacher put it this way (that I still remember many years later!): big seeds (prunes, etc.) clean you out and small seeds (bananas, etc.) plug you up.

  10. 3 – Hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia

    “Hot and dry, sugar high; cold and clammy, need some candy.”

    Isn’t this listed backwards? Hypo is low.

    • I don’t think it was intended to say that hypo is the first part of the rhyme but rather as a way to differentiate between hypo and hyper.

  11. DRS ABCD (Doctors ABCD) with respect to having a first aid plan.
    Danger – Check for danger to yourself and others
    Response – Check for response from patient
    Send – Send for help, call an ambulance
    Airway – Check airway is clear
    Breathing – Check for breathing, look, listen and feel
    CPR – Start CPR Compressions
    Defibrillation – Apply defibrillator if available

  12. “1 minute, 10 minutes, 1 hour.” As it relates to cold water immersion. We need to control our breathing and survive the first minute. Then we have 10 minutes to move carefully and thoughtfully, and an hour before we become gravely hypothermic. Knowing this, while we still need to promptly treat hypothermia, we don’t need to panic.

  13. As an ODS instructor, I teach a lot of wilderness survival. The first of the seven priorities in the book is…

    Stop- where you are
    Think- thin about your situation
    Observe- what is around you in the field and on the map
    Plan- your next actions according to the priorities

    Before discussing the priorities I always mention an old one which was PMA or positive mental attitude. Never forget the rule of three either.

    3 seconds without clear thought
    3 minutes without fresh breaths of air
    3 hours without shelter from harsh elements
    3 days without water
    3 weeks without food

    And then three also appears in signaling such as three fires or loud, rhythmic noises to attract attention, or even with SOS (. . . _ _ _ . . .)

  14. Nice job on all the easy ways to remember. But for the poisinous plants say “If its hairy, its a berry.” Do you agree
    By the way, do I have permission to share and print this page for my troop. Is there any copyright concern.
    Looking forward to your feedback.

    • Living in California where there is no poison ivy, we also use the rhyme “Leaves of three let it be. If it’s hairy, it’s a berry.” The “hairy” part meaning the thorns on the stems, not the hair of a poison ivy vine.

  15. Having just survived the Jambo 2013 – I remembered IDAHO for the non-stop lightning alerts:
    Away from windows, trees or other people,
    Help victims of lightning-strikes
    Online training on Weather Hazards is available at

  16. Red in the Morning, Sailor take Warning.
    Red at Night, Sailor Delight.

    A red sky in the morning is due to an approaching weather system. A red sky at night means the same but the weather system will usually pass during the night so the morning is clear.

  17. “If you hear it, fear it. If you see it, flee it” This is the one I remember for Thunder and Lightning.

  18. #1 is no longer used in the wilderness. So many of the injuries that happen, according to our own accident data and statistics, involve an endangered spine, that we don’t move the head OR tail without first being sure that the patient is A+OX2 at least, has feeling in the extremeties, and we have performed a focus spinal assessment.

    You’d probably save lives by removing that old advice.

  19. I have to disagree with #18. Not all blue/purple berries are good to eat (such as, for example, deadly nightshade). Never eat any wild berry, or anything else gathered in the wild, unless you can positively identify it as okay.

  20. Red Cross Lifeguard manual says
    RICE rest, immobilize, cold, elevate 
    However; both acronyms say the same thing, just in a different order!

  21. I’m looking for the acronym about the signs of a heart attack. All I can remember is the S-sweating (usually occurring a few hours before the heart attack. I can’t remember the rest. I’m not sure if it’s PULSE (I can’t remember what this stand for too) or something else. It would really help me and people who have heart problems or knows someone who has. I suddenly remembered this when my father was rushed to the hospital when he complains he is sweating (he is literally bathing in sweat even if he is just seating), he can’t breath properly. He has high blood pressure before we rushed him to the hospital and in the emergency room his blood pressure drops to almost no BP at all.
    Hope to find it here (PULSE) too. Tysm.

  22. If he’s red, raise his head (hypertension, heat stroke)

    If he’s pale, raise his tail (shock)

    If he’s blue, you have some breathing to do

  23. Massive hemorrhage-

    Strap it, Pack it, Wrap it

    Always consider a commercial tourniquet compred to an improvised tourniquet.

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