What does SOS mean? The Universal Distress Signal Explained in 2023!

Even young children at play know that the proper way to alert others to a life-threatening situation is to wave their arms and repeatedly yell the three simple letters SOS.

Perhaps you need to be rescued from an island surrounded by lava and home to human-eating crabs.

If you have a pen, you may write them on your hand and flash them at people. You can also write them on the beach or send them via Morse code.

It goes without saying that the best chance of being rescued is to send out an SOS signal.

What does SOS mean, then? Something significant must be sent by an SOS message, right?

Sorry. SOS is an acronym that represents nothing. “Save Our Ship,” “Save Our Souls”—it wasn’t even intended to be a series of letters in the English alphabet at first.

However, most individuals are familiar with this conventional distress signal.

The Development of Morse Code

Despite having no meaning, the letter sequence “SOS” was initially used to substitute a visual distress signal. Morse code, created to transmit messages using electrical signals along with the wireless telegraph machine, is that somewhere.

The first telegraph was sent by none other than Samuel Morse, who wrote, “What hath God wrought?” He transmitted the message from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland, through an experimental connection, using Morse code.

Dots and dashes are arranged in various combinations to form the alphabet’s letters in Morse code.

In this sense, radio equipment might be used to send wireless messages anywhere in the world, including from ships.

This was helpful as, until the turn of the 20th century, ships had very few options if they needed to deliver a message to land. There had not yet been a Morse code.

Distress signals, however, were widely used as ships started to carry telegraph equipment. They worked best when the ship transmitting the signal and the operator receiving it spoke the same distress language.

However, initially, different nations utilized distinct codes for emergencies, which was obviously not the best practice.

The SOS as a Global Alert System

what does sos mean

In 1905, however, the German government released the “German Regulations for the Control of Spark Telegraphy.” It required German wireless operators to indicate an emergency with “… —…” (three dots, three dashes, and three dots).

Although it was quick and simple to type and hard to mistake for anything else, this had nothing to do with alphabet letters.

In addition, it happened to spell “SOS” in Morse sequence.

It was universally acknowledged as being far superior to “SD,” the proposal put out by the Italians during the November 1906 International Radiotelegraph Convention.

On July 1, 1908, SOS was approved as the recognized worldwide distress signal.

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The SOS Distress Signal Takes Root

what does sos mean

The SOS distress call did not catch on right away.

The British Marconi International Marine Communication Company, for example, continued to use the distress code “CQD,” or “-.-. –.- -..” in Morse code sequence long after the SOS call became the accepted global standard.

The company outfitted ships with telegraph equipment. Actually, even though they subsequently also used the SOS signal, it was the first distress code that the Titanic’s telegraph operators sent out after the ship struck the iceberg.

Theodore Haubner of the steamer SS Arapahoe sent out the first known SOS call for assistance in America on August 11, 1909, off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

The spoken signal “Mayday” took the place of the Morse code SOS call, which was initially meant for use in maritime situations, during the 1927 International Radiotelegraphic Convention.

The word “mayday” comes from the French “m’ aider,” which translates as “help me.” SOS, however, was not so readily replaced: Mayday, the distress signal for voice communication, is still in use today, while SOS is still used in the telecommunications industry.

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