The meaning behind CQD and SOS

Mar 3, 1998
'CQD' was standardised as a maritime distress call by the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company in 1904. 'CQ' had been used by British landline operators as a general call-up ("All stations attend") for quite some time, so most shipboard operators were familiar with it. However, Guglielmo Marconi felt that it did not convey the proper sense of emergency, so he appended the letter 'D' to the call and required all Marconi-equipped stations (which included most ships and shore stations of the period) to use 'CQD' as a standardised distress signal. It has since been claimed that 'CQD' stands for "Come Quickly, Danger/Dammit", but it really was meant only to convey "All stations attend: Distress" from a Marconi station.

'SOS,' on the other hand, does not stand for anything at all, especially not "Save Our Souls/Ship". The signal was selected by the second International Radio Telegraphic Convention of 1906 as an international standard. During the convention, the Germans had suggested the use of their general inquiry signal of 'SOE,' but it was argued that the final 'E', being only a dot in Morse code, might be lost if not received properly. The delgates, therefore, decided upon 'SOS,' based solely on its distinctive pattern of easily-recognisable sounds (dit-dit-dit, dah-dah-dah, dit-dit-dit).

Titanic was not the first ship to use the 'SOS' call, as is popularly believed. She was, however, one of the first British vessels to use the signal. Even though 'SOS' was ratified as an international standard in 1908, British operators were loathe to abandon the traditional 'CQD' for a signal that was essentially a variation of a German proposal. The first recorded use of 'SOS' by an American vessel, the S.S. Arapahoe, occurred in 1909 and there were two or three further incidents where the signal was used between that time and April 1912.

Despite some claims, there was no confusion among the receiving ships caused by Titanic's mixed use of 'CQD' and 'SOS.' What confusion there was stemmed from a lack of appreciation for the severity of Titanic's situation.