On November 3rd, 1906, an international conference approved S.O.S. as the radio telegraph distress call for ships at sea.
With just three short dots. three long dashes, and another three short dots, S.O.S. was designed to grab attention.
But with multiple distress calls already in use, it took years for S.O.S. to become THE standard, helped along by the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.
As depicted in the 1958 film "A Night to Remember," the Titanic initially sent out the earlier British distress call CQD, only to switch midstream, at the urging of the character played by future "NCIS" co-star David McCallum: "Try sending S.O.S. That's the new call. It may be the only chance you'll ever have."
For decades afterward, S.O.S. ruled the seas as the universally-recognized emergency call, only to be replaced in 1999 by a new technology called the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System.
Still, for anyone whose life those three letters saved, or anyone who loves tales of the sea, nothing's guaranteed to quicken the pulse quite like the · · · – – – · · · of S.O.S.
For more info:
- First recorded use of "S.O.S." distress call by American ship (North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources)
- First International Radiotelegraph Convention (1906)
Story produced by Charis Satchell.