CQD CQD SOS DE MGY MGY - Titanic Sinking

Feb 17, 2006
Lancer 27PS MCB Camp Pendleton KF6BL
Back in 1912 when the Titanic sank, the main mode of communications was Morse Code. In order for the radio operators to send messages quickly, they had to master the code at a rate of 40 words per minute (wpm). There were no computers or electronic keyers available at the time, it was done all by hand.

Back then, radio operators were employees of a particular cruise line. They had no loyalty or comradery with other radio operators. As a result, a lot of ships within range took no action to the distress call. Some even harassed the operators of Titanic by heckling them in Morse Code. Imagine that happening today. No doubt it still does though.

The frequency of operation was 1 Megacycle, or what we call 1000 kHz, or 1 MHz. This is now the AM Broadcast Band as we know it. At night the range of the signal was about 1200 NM. The signal was picked up on the East Coast of the US and the West Coast of the British Isles. This is how the news organizations heard about the disaster. News organizations even tried to get survivor passenger lists from the Carpatia (Cunard Line), all done in Morse Code.

Here is the SOS message sent by Titanic at the speed of 40wpm. Imagine, if you will, being a radio operator on a ship and hearing this message blaring out of your headphones or speaker.

This is the message sent: "CQD CQD SOS DE MGY MGY REQUIR IMEDIAT ASISTANC POSITION 41.46 N 50.14 W"
CQD = Internationally recognized Distress Call at that time
SOS = New code for Distress Call, not yet fully recognized by shipboard operators
MGY = Call Sign for the White Star Line Titanic

Titanic Distress Call @ 40wpm
Feb 17, 2006
Lancer 27PS MCB Camp Pendleton KF6BL
This was a replication and may have been done with an electronic keyer, or computer. But you are right. Having a "good fist" meant having proper spacing between words and letters. Seeing the abbreviation for words helped keep message length and time to a minimum.
Jul 7, 2004
Hunter 30T Cheney, KS
We learned Morse and Semaphore in Boy Scouts along with survival skills. Could field strip an M1 Garand in HS ROTC blindfolded. Not sure kids today get the hands on experiences today that we did.
Last edited:
Jan 11, 2014
Sabre 362 113 Fair Haven, NY
When I was very young I would watch and listen to my father send code at some outrageous speed using a standard key. Then he got a bug (?) a spring loaded balanced key that increased the speed.

He tried to teach me, but I didn't inherit those genes from him. I did learn some of the shorthand, which allowed longer messages to be sent with fewer letters.

  • Like
Likes: jon hansen
Oct 19, 2017
O'Day 19 Littleton, NH
My father was an Air Crewman on a Navy Carrier in the 50s. He told me about a friend who worked in the radio room translating code on a type writer. The guy could translate and send code at 50 words per minute. The Old Man said that was impressive, but even more impressive was when he realized that, while they were talking and drinking coffee together, the guy was still translating and typing at 50 words per minute.