The history of maritime distress calls can be traced back to the 20th century, when ships were not equipped with modern communication devices. At that time, sailors and seafarers relied on different methods to signal a distress call and seek help from nearby ships or stations onshore. One of the earliest distress call signals was the Morse code. However, in the early 1900s, Morse code was losing its popularity, and seafarers were looking for a new and more efficient system to send out calls for help.
In the year 1905, the German Telefunken Company introduced a new wireless telegraphy system that included the use of three initials as a distress call. The three letters were easy to remember and widely understood by seafarers worldwide. These three initials were not arbitrary but had a specific meaning. They were taken from the German phrase “Notzeichen Vorläufiger Funkdienst” that translates to “emergency signal provisional wireless service.”
The three initials were NAA, which were sent in Morse code using long dashes and dots. Whenever a ship or a sailor was in distress, they would send out the signal NAA three times in succession, followed by their ship’s call sign and a brief message explaining their situation. The distress signal was designed to capture the attention of any nearby ships or wireless stations and urge them to provide assistance promptly.
In 1908, the International Radio Telegraph Convention held in Berlin adopted the NAA signal as the standard maritime distress call. However, it was only used for a short period, as it was replaced in 1912 by a more explicit and efficient distress signal known as SOS (Save our Souls). The new signal was easier to recognize and understand by everyone, regardless of the language they spoke.
The SOS signal consisted of three dots, three dashes, and three dots with no spaces between them. The new signal quickly became popular, and it was included in maritime regulations worldwide. The first recorded use of the SOS signal was on April 14, 1912, when the Titanic ship hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic Ocean.
In conclusion, the three initials that comprised the distress call prior to SOS were NAA, and they were in use from 1905 to 1912. They were replaced by the more efficient and widely recognized SOS signal.
Fun Facts and Trivia:
1. The term “Mayday” got its inspiration from the French word “M’aidez,” which means “Help me”.
2. The first modern radio distress signal was sent in 1909 by the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi.
3. The international distress frequency is 121.5 MHz in the VHF band, and 406 MHz in the satellite band.
4. The SOS signal can also be written as a visual signal using bright flashes of light, smoke, or other means of visual communication.
5. The acronym for the SOS signal was often referred to as “Save Our Ship” or “Save Our Souls” by sailors.
6. The Morse code distress signal NAA was also used in World War I by the German Navy for its communication with its submarines.