Thursday 30 January 2020

How the S.O.S. Call Originated

CAPE TIMES - 1924, May 27
The origin of the distress signal of ships at sea, now familiar to most people, has always caused considerable curiosity. The first suggestion of a distress call for ships was made by the Italian delegates at an early conference on wireless telegraphy, held in Berlin in 1903. These delegates urged the adoption of a universal signal, “SSSDDD,” to be sent by ships in distress. Shore stations and other ships, upon picking up such a signal would then stand by for further messages and suspend other communication immediately.
The final decision to adopt such a signal, however, was left to a special conference, but before anything came of it the Marconi Company, recognizing the need for a distress call, instituted on February 1, 1904, by general order, the famous call, “CQD,” on all their ships. This signal was a combination of the general call “CQ” coupled with the letter “D” to signify distress.
Only by the order of the captain of a ship in distress could it be used, or by a station retransmitting the signal. All stations were to recognize the urgency of the call and make every effort to establish satisfactory communication without delay. Several countries, including the United States, adopted “CQD,” and used it until the Berlin regulations were ratified.

At the Radio Telegraph Conference held in Berlin in 1906, the German government submitted a suggestion “that the ships in distressed will make use of the following special danger signal: . . . ― ― ― . . . (SOS).
Previously, German ships desiring to communicate with all vessels in their proximity, without knowing the names of calls, would send an inquiry signal, “SOE.” Germany planned to suggest this signal as the international signal, but as the last letter “E” represented in Morse by a single dot, was not believed sufficiently characteristic, the delegates in 1906 suggested the final letter as “S,” thereby having the honour to define what became the universal signal.
Whilst interpretations such as “Save Our Souls” and “Save Our Ship” should be accepted with reserve, there is this about it, that if these interpretations are not true, they are cleverly invented. In a similar manner the literal translations offered for “CQD” were
Come Quickly, Do,” and “Come Quick! Danger!”
The distress signal “SOS” was adopted officially and put into effect by the International Radiotelegraphic Convention of Berlin in July, 1908.
It was naturally a matter of keen regret to the Marconi operation that their old signal “CQD” was not adopted, and many continued to send “CQD” as well as “SOS” when accidents occurred. “CQD,” however, was gradually forgotten. In 1912 the USA adopted “SOS” when the international agreement was accepted.
It is pointed out that the signal today is “SOS” without space. The Morse man will readily understand the difference. 

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