Morse Code

How many here can still remember the Morse Code?:

It was officially “dismissed” when GMDSS became compulsory for most ships:

But are there still some reasons to learn and maintain knowledge of the morse code?

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Ingrained - an aside - I was an enlisted quartermaster in the Coast Guard - and was required to be able to read flashing light. When I got out and went to SUNY I could read 7-8 words a minute. I was very popular to sit next to during the flashing light tests - and I would write as big a I could.


I’m still ok at it with all the extra procedural bits and punctuation. Nobody to flash to these days.

Which reminds me of a joke about the signalman’s daughter.

She only dit dit because her dah dah dit dit

But she dit dit and dit dit and dit dit.


Not really. It’s still in STCW as a competence for officers in charge of a navigational watch.


As midshipmen of the watch aboard warships of the RAN in the late 60s early 70s it was our job to flash the passing merchantmen “What ship. Where bound” and record the replies.

Many simply ignored us even on boring nights with nothing else to do and no other ships for days. Some were good and quickly responded very professionally. Others just flashed back VHF or 16 but sadly our ships weren’t fitted with VHF until years later. Flashing light kept the conversations much shorter and to the point.

Flashing Light/Morse Code was one of my favorite parts of being a QM in the CG. Back then we were also the Signalman. I could probably relearn it pretty fast, it’s stuck in the “younger” brain cells.

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A morse palindrome for you.

Dah, 23 dits, Dah.

Almost, should keep you occupied for few minutes.

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I detested it. It was outdated when I had to do it in the 80s. When I upgraded to Chief Mate (was required every unlimited upgrade then) I tool the test at the NY RFEC. The room was set up with 2-seat tables, one of them had a typewriter on it (that’s holw long ago this was). When checking my answers, I noticed the first group was “QWERT” The next group looked like “YUIOP.” That sounded familiar. So I filled in the ones I wasn’t sure of by looking over at the typewriter next to me and got a 100%. Styill not sure if that test room arrangement was a coincidence or soeone in the REC shared my opinion of flashing light…


I tried to learn Morse for flashing light. I got to where I could remember the dots and dashes on my flash cards but I had zero ability to read the flashes fast enough while taking the actual flashing light test. Antiquated and outdated but for some reason it’s still required.

I think I may have been the last to take it at RCC Boston with my Ch Mate’s. They had to dig the tape deck and light box out of drawer. No one there knew how to use it except me, the test taker.

Imagine how we felt 25 years later!

it is just a rite of passage now !!

We got little flashlights with buttons… long and interesting conversations were had in dark bars when the signalman class went out together.

The best part was doing comms with Navy ships whose signalmen didn’t realize there were women signalman in the CG.

And yes, it was in the '80s as well.

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There are apparently 3 types of the Morse Code:

Source: What are the three versions of Morse code? | by Easonallen | Medium

I hope the type used in STCW’10 settings are the International version.

BTW; I sat in on STCW examination for Navigators for a few years after retirement, but can’t remember any actual Morse Code test (sending or receiving) being part of it.
Yes, there were some questions regarding morse code for “SOS” and about the single letter code by flags etc. but nothing like I went through sitting for Nav II exam in 1963, and Nav I in 1964.
(It was not part of curriculum for Master, which I took in 1969)

Maybe I’m screwed up… I like Morse. Still 22 wpm by ear and 10+ wpm visual.

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You freak - time for therapy

I learnt Morse 3 times. If you don’t use it you lose it.

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I also was QM (CG) and went through the Navy Signalman school. I took the 3 mate exam about 10 years later. I practiced the light some but was still rusty.

After passing the written exam I was too wiped out to study anymore so I decided to just take flashing light every day till I passed.

I was slowly getting better but on the third day I was sure I’d failed but the examiner must have been tired of seeing my face. He told me I’d passed and then stuck my sheet in the shredder.


I have 27 years in Search and Rescue (SAR) and the rest of my career has been as a mariner, also responding to distress.

Morse code offers great advantages over speech. There are no difficult accents or insurmountable language barriers when using Morse code. The International Code of Signals provides a vocabulary that provides for nearly every conceivable exigency. So many times I have listened to anglophone operators patiently (and often impatiently) repeat themselves and ask for the other to repeat himself in an effort to convey or understand the simplest message. I have often been a responder to distress situations where spoken communication is simply not available but the subject couldn’t even flash a simple SOS.

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This is purely fictional –

Scene - Dark bridge on a Coast Guard 378 in the Bearing Sea - a touch after midnight

From the radio “ mayday mayday mayday this is the fishing vessel ---------- we have a fire on board”

The trusty and efficient QMOW grabs the checklist and the radio from the JO

“what is your position”
They answer
“how many people are on board”
They answer
“is anyone injured”
They answer
“what is the nature of your distress”
They answer this and a bunch more questions until this one
“what is the color of your vessel”

They come back why do you need that
“to help identify you Captain”
He come back
Identify me !!! Identify me !! I am the only fucking fishing vessel out here on fire

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