“I was born on the day Lincoln was shot and the Titanic sank.”~ Pete Rose
Earlier this evening, I was watching a television program about distress calls and signals.
It was heavily documenting the distress signals of the Titanic when it went down in 1912. But it was referring to a different distress signal than what we know so well.
So did the Titanic use SOS or CQD?
The answer: BOTH.
Jack Phillips, senior wireless operator aboard Titanic, was the person who had sent out the majority of the distress signals as the operations room was taking on water and the ship was sinking.
Around 9:30 PM, the Titanic had received its first warning of ice in the area by the steamship Mesaba. But it was ignored.
Around 11:00 PM, members in the operations room failed again to heed any of the warnings that came to the Titanic. This time, from the SS Californian to warn them of the threat of icebergs ahead.
Tragically, Phillips would return messages back to the SS Californian, telling them to “Shut up! Shut up! I’m busy working Cape Race!” which caused the Californian to switch off their boards.
Titanic struck ice at 11:40 PM. Shortly after midnight, Jack Phillips was given orders to send out a distress signal by Captain Edward Smith. Phillips would do so almost immediately. After the entire operating room was busy sending messages on behalf of the passengers to loved ones and family about how they were enjoying themselves and having a good time. They failed to see any of the warnings that came to the Titanic from the SS Californian to warn them of the threat of icebergs ahead.
But once Jack Phillips began sending the distress signals, he did so until the very end. His last transmission being “CQD, CQD, CQ” which is assumed at that point the power failed.
The horrible irony of the situation in the operations room was the fact that the nearest vessel to the Titanic was the SS Californian which now had shut off their machines and therefore did not receive any of the distress signals. And who knows what would have happened if the SS Californian would have received the signals coming from the Titanic?
Jack Phillips would die on board the Titanic as he heroically sent distress signal after distress signal until the power went out. By then the operations room was already taking on so much water and flooding and the ship was sinking faster and faster.
The S.O.S. distress signal was fairly new and Phillips decided that he would use both signals to reach help for the failing ship because he may not be able to have another chance to use it.
So knowing what “S.O.S.” stands for, but what does “C.Q.D.” stand for?
Land telegraphs had traditionally used “CQ” (“sécu,” from the French word sécurité) to identify alert or precautionary messages of interest to all stations along a telegraph line, and CQ had also been adopted as a “general call” for maritime radio use.
However, in landline usage there was no general emergency signal, so the Marconi company added a “D” for “distress” to CQ in order to create its distress call. Thus, “CQD” is understood by wireless operators to mean, “All stations: distress.” Contrary to popular belief, CQD does not stand for “Come Quick, Danger”, “Come Quickly Distress”, or “Come Quick — Drowning!”.
It is transmitted in Morse code as — · — · — — · — — · ·
It was announced on the 7th of January, 1904, by “Circular 57″of the Marconi International Marine Communication Company, and became effective, beginning on the first day of February, 1904 for Marconi installations. Marconi being the transmitters on board Titanic as well.
Although used worldwide by Marconi operators, CQD was never adopted as an international standard since it could be mistaken for a general call “CQ” if the reception was poor.
At the second International Radiotelegraphic Convention, held in Berlin in 1906, Germany’s Notzeichen distress signal of three-dots/three-dashes/three-dots (· · · — — — · · · ) was adopted as the international Morse code distress signal. This distress signal soon became known as “SOS”. Germany had first adopted this distress signal in regulations effective on the first day of April, 1905.
The first recorded use of SOS as a distress signal was by the steamer SS Arapahoe on the 11th of August, 1909.
The first distress call was simply ‘HELP’. By February 1904, the Marconi Wireless Company required all of its operators to use ‘CQD’ for a ship in distress, or requiring URGENT assistance. In the early morning of the 23rd of January, 1909, whilst sailing into New York from Liverpool, RMS Republic collided with the Italian liner SS Florida in fog off the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts.