How to enable & use Apple Watch fall detection

Apple Watch fall detection - hero image

Apple Watch Series 4 brought a new fall detection feature, enabled automatically if you’re 65+ years old. With Apple Watch fall detection, if you remain immobile or unresponsive for a minute as a result of a hard impact fall, the watch places a potentially life-saving call to emergency services and messages your emergency contacts. Follow the steps in this tutorial to learn how to turn on and use Apple Watch fall detection.

A feature we hope you never need

“Fall detection is a feature that we hope you never need, but is really nice to know it’s there,” Jeff Williams, Apple’s Chief Operating Officer, said at the September 2018 “Gather round” event.


  • Apple Watch Series 4 detects hard falls and checks in on you.
  • On for users aged 65+, fall detection can be also turned on manually.
  • Fall detection kicks into action when onboard sensors detect a hard impact fall.
  • Your watch sounds an alarm and displays an alert.
  • If you don’t respond, the watch contacts emergency services.

Apple sums it up best:

With the new accelerometer and gyroscope, Apple Watch Series 4 can detect that you’ve fallen. When an incident like this occurs, a hard-fall alert is delivered and you can easily initiate a call to emergency services or dismiss the alert. If you’re unresponsive after 60 seconds, the emergency call will be placed automatically and a message with your location will be sent to your emergency contacts.

Follow along with iDB to learn how to enable and use Apple Watch fall detection.

Apple Watch fall detection requirements

This is what you’ll need before you can take advantage of this feature:

  • Apple Watch Series 4 or later
  • watchOS 5 or newer
  • Wrist detection must be on

Because Apple Watch fall detection requires more sensitive accelerometer and gyroscope sensors than in older models, the feature is exclusive to Series 4 watches. For starters, the gyro and accelerometer sensors in Apple Watch Series 4 are capable of detecting twice the dynamic range and up to 32 g-forces.

Apple Watch fall detection - September 2018 event slide

Paired with the faster Apple S4 chip, your Series 4 watch can read motion data up to eight times faster than older models which allows it to realize features such as fall detection. Data from these sensors is fed to Apple’s machine learning algorithm to analyze your wrist trajectory and impact acceleration and determine whether a hard fall has occurred.

How to enable Apple Watch fall detection

Apple Watch fall detection can be enabled manually at any time.

1) Launch the Watch app on your paired iPhone.

2) Select the My Watch tab.

3) Tap Emergency SOS,

4) Slide the switch labeled Fall Detection to the ON position.

Doing so enables the fall detection feature on this watch.

Apple Watch fall detection shown as manually enabled in the Watch app on iPhone

With fall detection set up, it’s time to enter your age (unless you’ve already entered it when setting up the watch or in the Health app), as well as edit your Medical ID and add emergency contacts so that the Emergency SOS feature is able to message your chosen people with a location after you’ve fallen.

5) Open the Health app on your iPhone.

6) Tap the Medical ID tab.

7) Tap Edit if you already have Medical ID or Create Medical ID to start from scratch.

8) Enter your date of birth so the watch knows your age. You’re recommended to fill in other health information, too, like the medications you take, whether you’re an organ donor etc.

Apple Watch fall detection - editing birth date in the Watch app on iPhone

Alternatively, enter your age in the Health section of iOS 12’s Watch app

You can also set your age in the Health app on your paired iPhone: select the My Watch tab, then choose Health from the list, tap Edit and fill in your information.

8) To add an emergency contact, tap the green plus icon under Emergency Contacts, then choose a desired contact from your address book and optionally add their relationship.

TUTORIAL: How to set up Medical ID

You can add multiple emergency contacts, if you like, but you cannot set emergency services as your emergency contact. To remove an emergency contact, tap the Remove icon next to the contact and hit Delete.

Apple Watch fall detection - Medical ID in the Health app on iPhone with the option Show When Locked selected

Feel free to toggle on Show When Locked which will make Medical ID available from the Lock screen. This lets people assist you in an emergency situation by holding the Side button on your watch until the Medical ID slider appears, then dragging it to the right.

Apple Watch fall detection - the Medical ID screen on Series 4 watch

9) Tap Done to save the changes to your Medical ID.

As the last step, ensure that wrist detection has been turned on. This is required, among other things, so the watch can automatically call emergency services upon a hard fall.

10) Open Settings on the watch or the Watch app on iPhone.

11) Tap Passcode.

12) Slide the toggle Wrist Detection to the ON position.

Apple Watch fall detection - the Watch app on iPhone with the Wrist Detection feature shown as toggled on

Wrist detection locks your watch automatically when not worn so that your information stays secure (you cannot use wrist detection without a passcode).

TUTORIAL: How to sync the Health database across multiple iOS devices

Now that you’re all set, how precisely does one use fall detection?

How to use Apple Watch fall detection

This is what the watch does after detecting you’ve fallen, tripped or slipped while wearing it:

  • Taps you on the wrist.
  • Sounds an alarm.
  • Displays a hard-fall alert.

The alert offers three options:

  • Emergency SOS: Call for help, alert your emergency contacts and record the fall in the Health app.
  • I fell, but I’m OK: Dismiss the alert, let the watch know you’re OK and record the fall in the Health app.
  • I did not fall: Dismiss the alert and let the watch know it misread data.

Tapping either “I fell, but I’m OK” or “I did not fall” dismisses the alert without calling emergency services (bonus: it helps improve the fall-detection algorithm over time).

Apple Watch fall detection - a hard-fall alert shown on Series 4

If you’d like to call emergency services anyway, drag the Emergency SOS slider in the alert. If there are multiple emergency service numbers in your country, the watch will call the number associated with ambulance services. The watch won’t auto-call 911 as long as you’re moving after a fall, in which case it’ll simply wait for you to respond to the alert.

This is the order of things that happen should your watch sense little or no motion, or total immobility for 60 seconds after the notification, or you don’t dismiss the alert on time.

  • SOS countdown: A 15-second Emergency SOS countdown begins.
  • Haptic feedback: The watch taps your wrist for 15 seconds.
  • Sound alert: An alert is sounded, gets louder so you or someone nearby can hear it.
  • Emergency SOS: When the countdown ends, the watch automatically contacts emergency services. Additionally, it messages the emergency contacts in your Medical ID with your location, informing them you’ve experienced a serious fall and your watch has dialed emergency services.

If the watch starts calling emergency services, you can still tap Cancel to abort the action.

Apple Watch fall detection - countdown timer

If the watch does call emergency services, you can end it if you no longer need emergency care by tapping the End Call button, then confirm the operation by tapping Yes.

TUTORIAL: How to set up and use Emergency SOS on Apple Watch

Having wrist detection disabled prevents the watch from auto-calling emergency services.

Fall detection and false alarms

Fall detection certainly isn’t perfect. According to Apple itself, the more physically active you are, the more likely you’re to trigger false fall detection alarms.

Apple Watch cannot detect all falls. The more physically active you are, the more likely you are to trigger fall detection due to high impact activity that can appear to be a fall.

Apple designed fall detection to identify the kinds of hard falls that could pose a serious threat to injury or knock you unconscious. As evidenced by the video embedded below, some reviewers have tried—and failed—to trigger the feature by throwing themselves onto foam and other soft surfaces.

Joanna Stern of The Wall Street Journal has written up probably the best Series 4 review. Not only did she test other aspects of the watch but hired a professional Hollywood stunt double to trip, slip and flip through some serious testing in an effort to trigger fall detection.

Apple Watch fall detection - animation showing a professional stunt woman performing a fall in an effort to trigger fall detection

Check out this relevant excerpt from her review:

During my two weeks of use, the watch never issued a false positive. No matter how hard I tried to slam my hand on the desk or fall onto my couch, I couldn’t trigger it. So we hired Evelyn Osorio Vaccaro, a professional stunt actor who falls—hard—for a living.

During a series of at least 20 slips, trips and backward falls, the watch detected them all—with the exception of a forward tumble down a hill. In each case, it buzzed with an alert and an option to call emergency services. When Evelyn remained immobile for about a minute, it began a 15-second countdown to calling 911.

Best thing you watch Joanna’s Series 4 video review yourself.

Apple Watch fall detection isn’t just for older people.

As a matter of fact, we suggest that all Series 4 owners immediately fill out their Medical ID information and turn fall detection on, just in case.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional athlete, a 20-something on a skateboard looking down at his phone or a senior enjoying your retirement—these are all risk factors that contribute to slip, trip and fall injuries.

How to check your fall history

This is easy because any detected falls are automatically recorded in the Health app on the paired iPhone unless you told the watch you didn’t fall when prompted.

To check your fall history, follow these steps:

1) Open the Health app on your iPhone.

2) Tap the Health Data tab.

3) Choose Results from the list.

4) Tap the entry labeled Number of Times Fallen.

Apple Watch fall detection - the Health app on iPhone showing the number of times fallen

I haven’t experienced any significant falls lately, and that’s an encouraging sign

5) Tap DW, M or Y at the top to see all falls recorded today, in the past week, month or year.

And that’s the way the cookie crumbles, boys and girls!

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Image top of post courtesy of The Wall Street Journal