May Day, May Day, May Day........

Mystery, intrigue as well as misinformation surrounds the origin and use of maritime distress calls.

The general populace believes that "SOS" signifies "Save Our Ship." Casual students of radio history are aware that "CQD" preceded the use of "SOS." Why were these signals adopted? When were they used? Why did one replace the other? What is one likely to find by digging a little deeper?

The practical use of wireless telegraphy was made possible by Guglielmo Marconi in the closing years of the 19th century. Until then, ships at sea out of visual range were very much isolated from shore and other ships. A ship could vanish from the high seas, and no one would know until that vessel failed to make a port connection.

Marconi, seeing that wireless would not compete with wire telegraphy for land based communication, concentrated his efforts on ship to shore communications. Ships equipped with wireless were no longer isolated.

The first use of wireless in communicating the need for assistance came in March of 1899. The East Goodwin Lightship, marking the southeastern English coast, was rammed in a fog in the early morning hours by the SS R. F. Matthews. A distress call was transmitted to a shore station at South Foreland and help was dispatched.

CQ...SOS...CQD. CQ used by Hams


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