We can all benefit from knowing how to use Apple's Emergency SOS feature on iPhones and Apple Watches. It's one of those features you never expect to need to use, but it could be the difference between life and death.
It's also a feature that you might trigger in error, so we'll explain what to do if you accidentally press emergency SOS on iPhone or Apple Watch.
What is the emergency option on iPhone?
If you need to make an emergency call on your iPhone and you can't access your screen to dial - and even if it's locked - you can call emergency services just by pressing the side button five times.
Rapidly press the side button five times
Note that a countdown sound will play when you trigger this feature. This is to stop you from triggering it accidentally. However, if you were in a situation where you didn't want to alert someone to the SOS call you would be better off dialling 999 or 911 as usual (or what ever code works for your emergency services). You can turn off the Countdown Sound though, we'll explain how to do that below.
How to turn on emergency SOS on iPhone
This should be set up on your iPhone by default, but you would be wise to check.
- Go to Settings.
- Emergency SOS.
- Check that Call with Side Button is selected.
How to turn off countdown sound on iPhone
When you trigger the Emergency SOS feature the phone will play a Countdown Sound to warn you audibly that the SOS mode has been activated and is about to contact the emergency services, just in case it was an accident.
As we said above this could be a problem if you were in a situation where you didn't want to make a sound. In that situation, assuming you have access to the iPhone screen, you could do the following:
- Go to Settings.
- Emergency SOS.
- Change the slider beside Countdown Sound to off.
While it may be tempting to turn off the Countdown Sound feature it should stop you accidentally making emergency calls.
What is the emergency option on Apple Watch?
There is a similar feature on Apple Watch and this will be even easier to access if you are wearing one, so it's well worth knowing.
Press and hold the side button until the Apple Watch beeps
Note that if you use this method the Watch will make a beep. If you want to make the call silently then you can do the following:
Press and hold the side button until the sliders appear and drag the Emergency SOS slider to the right
How to turn on emergency SOS on Apple Watch
As with the iPhone this feature will be set by default, but if you want to check:
- Open Settings on the Apple Watch
- Tap SOS
- Tap Hold Side Button
- Make sure Hold Side Button is selected
You can also turn off the Hold Side Button option here if you are finding you are accidentally triggering it. You will still be able to make emergency calls using the slider, as per the second method above.
How to turn on Apple Watch Fall Detection
The Apple Watch has another feature that is worth mentioning her: Fall Detection. As we explain here: How to use fall detection on Apple Watch Apple Watch Fall Detection is a potentially life saving feature (in Apple Watch 4 and beyond) that will offer to make an emergency call if you fall.
If you fall a message will appear on screen asking if you are OK. It will offer to call an ambulance.
If you remain still for a minute or more, it will call the ambulance automatically.
You'll find the settings for the feature in the Watch app on the iPhone. If the owner of the Watch is over 65 the feature will be switched on by default.
- Open the Watch app.
- Tap Emergency SOS.
- Turn on fall detection.
Do I need a contract to make emergency calls on Apple Watch?
If you don't have a cellular contract for your Apple Watch you may be thinking that you won't be able to make an emergency call unless your iPhone is nearby or your Apple Watch connected to a known Wi-Fi network. That is the case with non-cellular Apple Watch models.
However, if your Apple Watch is a cellular model - even if you don't have a contract - it should still be able to make an emergency call, even if your iPhone isn't nearby. This applies to the cellular models of the Apple Watch 3, 4, 5, SE and 6.
How to set up emergency contacts on iPhone
Another useful aspect of the Emergency SOS feature is that it can alert your emergency contacts.
To add your emergency contact follow these steps:
- Go to Settings.
- Emergency SOS.
- Click on Set Up (or Edit) Emergency Contacts in Health.
Alternatively you can go straight to the Health app to add your Emergency Contacts:
- Open Health app.
- Tap your profile icon.
- Tap Medical ID.
- Tap Edit.
- In the Emergency Contacts section tap on +.
- Select your emergency contact from your Contacts list.
- Add their relationship to you.
- Tap Done.
You can add the contact details for your next of kin or spouse here.
When you use the Emergency SOS feature to call the emergency services it will also send a message - including details of your current location - to your emergency contact.
How to set up emergency contacts on Apple watch
The Apple Watch can also alert your emergency contacts via a text message including your current location (as long as you do have a cellular contract or it's connected to your iPhone/WiFi). It will also update your contact when or if your location changes.
Add your emergency contacts in the Health app on the iPhone following the instructions above.
What to do if you accidentally press emergency call
You may be inclined to test out the SOS mode before your life depends on it, or you might trigger the feature accidentally. Luckily it is possible to try the feature without actually calling the emergency services - you just have to be quick.
If you have the Countdown Sound enabled, then you might get a bit of a shock when you press the side button five times in quick succession (by accident or on purpose), as the klaxon sound it produces is quite loud. This might draw some attention, but at least it should stop you making the call accidentally.
- A countdown will appear on the screen, starting at three.
- Press the Stop button underneath if you don't want to make the call.
- Confirm that you don't want to call the emergency services by pressing the Stop Calling option.
The same will apply if you accidentally trigger the SOS call on your Apple Watch. You will hear a beep and see a countdown. Just stop the call being made before you waste anyone's time.
What else does SOS Mode do?
As well as letting you easily contact the emergency services, SOS mode also disables the Touch ID fingerprint scanner on your iPhone. This is handy if you're being mugged or arrested and don't want to be compelled to unlock your device.
If you press the power/side button five times to bring up the emergency services option and then press cancel - or indeed if you go ahead and call the emergency services from that screen - then iOS will automatically lock Touch ID so that it cannot be used to open the phone. You will need to enter a passcode to unlock it, after which Touch ID will work normally.
There you are. Now if you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation, and we sincerely hope that isn't the case, then you have a quick way to call for help.