The Beginner's Guide

SOS Morse Code

When danger is near and every second becomes crucial, it's important to have a quick and clear way to call for help.

Quick Answer

SOS is a Morse code distress signal consisting of three short taps, three long taps, and three short taps again. 

• • • – – – • • •

People all around the world use it when they need help fast. It started with ships talking to each other at sea.

Morse code is a system of dots and dashes that was invented by Samuel Morse in the 1830s. It's a simple yet ingenious way to communicate over long distances, especially without the need for electricity.

The "SOS" signal, which stands for "Save Our Souls" or "Save Our Ship," was introduced as a distress signal in 1908 and has since become a universal symbol for emergencies.

In this article, we'll explore the history and evolution of SOS Morse code, its significance in various contexts, and its enduring relevance in today's world.

Text 'What is SOS in Morse Code' with Morse sequence below and a vintage telegraph key on the left

History of Morse Code

Morse code was invented by American inventor and artist Samuel F.B. Morse, who is also known for his contributions to the telegraph. Morse code was initially used to transmit text messages over the telegraph lines, which were a revolutionary communication technology at the time. The code consists of a series of dots and dashes that correspond to letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. Each character is represented by a unique sequence of these basic elements.

The original Morse code was designed to be easy to learn and use, with short sequences for common letters and longer sequences for less common ones. This design principle ensured that the code could be transmitted and received quickly and accurately, even by operators who were not highly trained.

Radio operator on ship sending SOS signal with Morse code machine, anxious crew watching

Morse code quickly became the standard for long-distance communication, and it was used by telegraph operators around the world. The code was also adapted for use in other contexts, such as maritime communication, where it was used to signal between ships and shore stations.

The introduction of the SOS signal in 1908 was a significant development in the history of Morse code. The SOS signal was designed to be simple to send in a distress situation, with its repetitive pattern of three dots, three dashes, and three dots (• • • – – – • • •) making it easy to recognize and remember. The SOS signal was adopted internationally, and it became the standard distress signal for maritime and aeronautical communication.

History of Morse Code SOS

The SOS distress signal, consisting of three dots, three dashes, and three dots (• • • – – – • • •), was introduced in 1908 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as the international standard for maritime distress signaling. The origins of the SOS signal can be traced back to the earlier use of the "CQD" signal, which was also used as a distress call but was found to be less effective due to its complexity and the difficulty in distinguishing its sound from other signals.

What Does SOS Stand For?

The term "SOS" is an abbreviation for "Save Our Souls" or "Save Our Ship," although there is some debate about the origin of the term. Some believe it was chosen for its simplicity and ease of transmission, while others claim it was selected because the letters do not have a direct meaning, making it less likely to be misinterpreted.

The SOS signal was designed to be a clear and unmistakable call for help. Its repetitive pattern of dots and dashes was chosen to be easily recognizable, even under difficult conditions. The signal was adopted internationally due to its simplicity and effectiveness, and it quickly became the universal distress signal for maritime communication.

The first widely recognized use of the SOS signal was during the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. The Titanic's wireless operators sent out an SOS signal, which alerted nearby ships and led to the rescue of many survivors. This event highlighted the importance of the SOS signal and helped to establish it as the standard distress call for maritime emergencies.

During World Wars I and II, the SOS signal was also used for military communications, particularly in situations where other forms of communication were compromised or where immediate attention was required. The signal's reliability and simplicity made it an essential tool for signaling in times of crisis.

Campers at night, one sending an SOS with a smartphone's flashlight under a starry sky

In the decades following its introduction, the SOS signal remained the primary means of signaling distress at sea. However, with the advent of new technologies, such as radio and satellite communication, the use of Morse code has declined. Nevertheless, the SOS signal and Morse code in general retain a special place in history as a symbol of hope and a testament to the human need for reliable communication in times of need.

What is SOS in Morse Code?

SOS in Morse code is a distress signal that consists of three dots (.), three dashes (—), and three dots (.) arranged in a specific pattern: (…----…). This sequence of dots and dashes is internationally recognized as a call for help in situations of extreme danger or distress.

Understanding Morse Code

Close-up of a hand pointing at a detailed grid representing Morse code's dots and dashes

Basic Components of Morse Code

Morse code is a way to send messages using a series of dots, dashes, and spaces.

It can represent letters, numbers, and some special characters. The main parts of Morse code are the symbols it uses and the gaps or spaces between them.

Dots and Dashes

Each letter or number in Morse code is made of a unique pattern of dots and dashes.

For example, the letter 'A' is represented by a dot-dash, while 'N' is a dash-dot.

Timing and Spacing

To understand and send Morse code correctly, you need to get the timing right. A dot lasts one-time unit.

A dash lasts three units.

The gap between symbols in the same letter is a one-time unit. The gap between letters is three time units, and the gap between words is seven time units.

How To Do SOS in Morse Code

People in a room signaling SOS with whistles, flashlights, and tapping

Morse Code for SOS

The Morse code for SOS is three dots, three dashes, and three dots again, arranged in a specific pattern: • • • – – – • • •.


To send an SOS using sound, use a whistle, horn, or even your voice:

  1. Make three short beeps or whistles for 'S'.
  2. Follow with three long beeps or whistles for 'O'.
  3. Finish with three short beeps or whistles for 'S'.


For sending an SOS with light, like a flashlight or your phone's torch:

  1. Flash three times quickly for 'S'.
  2. Then, flash three times slowly for 'O'.
  3. End with three quick flashes for 'S'.

SOS Morse Code Tapping

If you're in a situation where you can't be heard or seen, SOS with tapping can be a lifesaver:

  • Tap quickly three times for 'S'.
  • Tap slowly and deliberately three times for 'O'.
  • Finish with three quick taps for 'S'.

Common Mistakes To Avoid

  • Mixing up the sequence: Ensure you always start with the dots and not the dashes.
  • Not keeping a clear rhythm: The short and long signals must be distinct.
  • Sending the signals too close together: Remember the importance of the gaps and spaces.

Real-life Applications and Stories

A Flash from the Darkness

Kelli Worst found herself in danger on a beach late at night. A man attacked her. But she used her iPhone's SOS feature to call 911 without the attacker knowing.

Help arrived soon after, thanks to this modern take on the SOS signal.

Source: Tribune

The POW Blinking Torture

During a challenging period in the Vietnam War, forces captured an American named Jeremiah Denton. They forced him to appear on TV, claiming he was treated kindly.

But Denton blinked his eyes in a special pattern. In Morse Code, this pattern translates to “TORTURE.” He carefully used this to convey to the world that his captors were torturing him.

Source: Wikipedia


The SOS Morse Code is easy to understand, but it means a lot. Starting in 1905, it has been a big part of events like the Titanic sinking.

People all over the world know this code as a way to ask for help. Today, we can find it in different places, even on our phones.

It's a special way to get help when in trouble. Sharing this information is important because someone might need to use the SOS signal one day.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to do SOS in Morse code?

SOS in Morse code is three short taps followed by three long taps, and then three short taps again.

This is a well-known distress signal that can be used to communicate an emergency situation to anyone who knows Morse code.

What are the dots and dashes for SOS?

The dots and dashes for SOS in Morse code are: ( … --- … ).

This is a sequence of three dots, three dashes, and three dots. It is easy to transmit and recognize, even in difficult conditions.

What does SOS stand for in Morse code?

SOS in Morse code is not an acronym. It is a sequence of three dots, three dashes, and three dots. This sequence was chosen because it is easy to transmit and recognize in an emergency situation.

What is the full form of SOS?

SOS does not have a full form. It was originally just a distinctive Morse code sequence used as an international distress signal. Later, it became associated with mnemonic phrases such as "Save Our Souls" and "Save Our Ship."

Who invented SOS?

SOS was invented by the International Radio Telegraphic Convention in 1906.

Is Morse code still used?

Yes, despite being over a century old, the SOS Morse Code is still relevant and used today. It's trusted as a reliable signal in emergencies, even in our modern tech age.