Did SOS really stand for ‘save our souls’? 5 amazing facts about the SOS distress signal
We look back at the history of the famous SOS distress signal as we celebrate 110 years since it was established.
The SOS distress signal has been a staple for emergency communication for 110 years, and although communications technology is very different now to the days of Morse Code, the term is still widely used today.
The SOS distress signal was the work of the British Marconi Society and the German Telefunk, who established it at the Berlin Radio Society on October 3, 1906 – although it wasn’t properly introduced until July 1, 1908.
To celebrate this landmark occasion, we take a look at some of the interesting SOS facts from across the last 110 years:
SOS does not stand for anything
Contrary to popular belief, SOS does not stand for ‘save our souls’ or ‘save our ship’. SOS actually stands for nothing at all.
SOS was selected purely because it could be very easily transmitted in Morse code during distress · · · – – – · · · (dot-dot-dot, dash-dash-dash, dot-dot-dot). Only later did the likes of ‘save our souls’ emerge.
The SOS signal was first used in 1909
SOS was formally introduced on July 1, 1908, and almost a year later it was used by the Cunard liner SS Slavonia on July 10, 1909, during a shipwreck off the Azores, Portugal.
All on board were rescued, and some of the cargo – which included 400 bags of coffee, 1,000 ingots of copper and 200 casks of oil – were salvaged from the wreckage before it was completely abandoned.
SOS took a while to be adopted
Even though the SOS distress signal was made official in 1908, it took some time to be widely adopted. So much so that in 1912, the radio operator aboard the stricken Titanic used the old CQD distress signal first before he joked that they may as well do the new SOS distress signal too as they may never get a chance to try it again.
Video of RMS Titanic SOS:
SOS was almost SOE
At the conference in Berlin to establish a universal distress, signal countries clubbed together to pitch their ideas. While the UK used CQD, the Italians used SSSDDD, while the Germans had SOE. However, the final E represented one dot, and many agreed it could be easily missed. And so, the E was replaced with an S.
- SOS was replaced in 1999
Countries began decommissioning Morse equipment onboard ships from 1992, and in 1999 a new satellite-based system (known as the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System) for sending distress signals at sea was fully introduced.