5 amazing facts about the SOS distress signal – Contrary to popular belief, SOS does not stand for ‘save our souls’ or ‘save our ship’. Nor does it mean ‘send out succour’. SOS actually stands for nothing at all.

The SOS distress signal has been a staple for emergency communication for 110 years, and although communications technology is very different now to the days of Morse Code, the term is still widely used today.

The SOS distress signal was the work of the British Marconi Society and the German Telefunk, who established it at the Berlin Radio Society on October 3, 1906 – although it wasn’t properly introduced until July 1, 1908.

To celebrate this landmark occasion, we take a look at some of the interesting SOS facts from across the last 110 years:

SOS does not stand for anything

Contrary to popular belief, SOS does not stand for ‘save our souls’ or ‘save our ship’. Nor does it mean ‘send out succour’. SOS actually stands for nothing at all.

SOS was selected purely because it could be very easily transmitted in Morse code during distress · · · – – – · · · (dot-dot-dot, dash-dash-dash, dot-dot-dot). Only later did the likes of ‘save our souls’ emerge.

The SOS signal was first used in 1909

SOS was formally introduced on July 1, 1908 and almost a year later it was used by the Cunard liner SS Slavonia on July 10, 1909 during a shipwreck off the Azores, Portugal.

All on board were rescued, and some of the cargo – which included 400 bags of coffee, 1,000 ingots of copper and 200 casks of oil – were salvaged from the wreckage before it was completely abandoned.

SOS took a while to be adopted

Even though the SOS distress signal was made official in 1908, it took some time to be widely adopted. So much so that in 1912, the radio operator aboard the striken Titanic used the old CQD distress signal first before he joked that they may as well do the new SOS distress signal too as they may never get a chance to try it again.

Think you know Morse code? Try their quiz.

Courtesy of Jamie Harris on BT.com

 

 

Makara – What’s In A Name?

When we bought our catamaran, she came with the name Makara. We could, of course, change the name of the boat. Even though it is considered by some as terribly bad luck, there is a delightfully elaborate ceremony that you can perform (as we did to change Tadd’s original sailboat from Praxithea to Third Aye) to appease the gods of the elements and the great Neptune. But as Makara didn’t pose the difficulty of having to constantly spell the name out to all the world over the radio, and because we liked it, we chose to keep the name (and just change to home port to Key West).

Sailing Key West

 

So What Does Makara Mean?

Makara, chosen by the previous owners, means ‘sea dragon’ or ‘aquatic-monster,’ in Sanskrit (मकर). Long thought to be a mythical creature in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, paintings and sculptures of this fantastical creature are found in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan — practically everywhere in Asia.

Ganga being carried by Makara
Ganga being carried by Makara

In India Makara  is known to be the vahana (vehicle) of Ganga-devi – the goddess of the river Ganges and the vahana of the god of the sea, Varuna. And in Hindu astrology the Makara is also the astrological sign of Capricorn. A little research reveals this strange mythical creature to have been very popular both in ancient times and in our present day.

The Makara is often depicted with the head of a crocodile, horns of a goat, the body of an antelope and a snake, the tail of a fish or peacock and the feet of a panther. Varuna is said to be the only one who can control the Makara and does not fear them.

Makara are considered guardians of gateways and thresholds, protecting throne rooms as well as entryways to temples; it is the most commonly recurring creature in Hindu and Buddhist temple iconography, and also frequently appears as a gargoyle or as a spout attached to a natural spring. Makara ornaments are a popular traditional wedding gift for the bride; these makara-shaped earrings called Makarakundalas are sometimes worn by the Hindu gods, for example Shiva, the Destroyer, or the Preserver-god Vishnu, the Sun god Surya, and the Mother Goddess Chandi. Makara is also the insignia of the love god Kamadeva, who has no dedicated temples and is also known as Makaradhvaja, “one whose flag depicts a makara”.

Varuna riding Makara
The Sea God Varuna

The leading Hindu temple architect and builder Ganapati Sthapati describes Makara as a mythical animal with the body of a fish, trunk of an elephant, feet of a lion, eyes of a monkey, ears of a pig, and the tail of a peacock. A more succinct explanation is provided: “An ancient mythological symbol, the hybrid creature is formed from a number of animals such that collectively possess the nature of a crocodile. It has the lower jaw of a crocodile, the snout or trunk of an elephant, the tusks and ears of a wild boar, the darting eyes of a monkey, the scales and the flexible body of a fish, and the swirling tailing feathers of a peacock.”

All in all a pretty cool name for a boat… so we’ll keep it!