Celebrate 100 years of Ham Radio by knowing the Morse code the way our radio pioneers did!















Communication in Times of Disaster

Are you prepared for natural or man made disasters?

Morse code, simple method for communication could save your life or that of your loved ones in times of a natural or nuclear disaster.  Be one of the few who has thought ahead and prepared for the worst.  Some vital information is contained in the report below.


 Flashing Light Morse Code Crucial in Atlantic Rescue 

The following story was reported by a sailor on the USS Dahlgren on February 22, 1992.

“I was a sailor aboard a US Navy Guided Missile Destroyer, the USS Dahlgren (DDG43). The weather on that fateful morning was calm and pleasant as we prepared for our daily duty. Suddenly alarms sounded throughout the ship and dark, black smoke began to fill the inside air.  

Within minutes the typical hum of the steam engines silenced. The majority of the crew immediately gathered on the outside decks and watched as the ship slowed to a dead stop in the Atlantic Ocean. Smoke billowed from the forward exhaust stack! A fire had started in the front engine room and the fire team sprang into action. 

Seven hours later the fire had been extinguished and we turned back towards home and limped along on a single engine and propeller. The message of our distress had gone out via the electronic messaging systems onboard, but soon after a rescue tug appeared on the horizon. 

While voice communication was established, it was the flashing light stationed on the bridge wing that enabled rapid and constant communication with the tug as it pulled alongside. I had previously watched the signalmen pass along messages during underway replenishment and other activities, but it was during that time of extreme danger that I was extremely thankful for the coding skills of my ship's signalmen. They helped guide the rescue tug into position and allowed for our successful return home.” 

The Morse code invented more than one-hundred-fifty years ago, has long provided a means of simple but effective communication, rescue and rapid response.  Cryptically coded communications were encoded and de-coded by trained operators during two World wars often enabling covert operations.  World War II pilots and airmen regularly pounded out messages using keyers strapped to their legs, sending Morse code through headphones of their flight crews. Coast Guardsmen Worldwide rely on the code to help locate survivors from oceanic mishaps. Pilots use the code to identify their destinations and whether or not they are on their proper heading.  Of course, a main use today for the Morse code is in Radio, both amateur and commercial. Persons familiar with the code continue to believe that it is the surest way to “get through,” in the busy radio bands. 

Edited by Gerald R. Wheeler Ed. D.

“Pittsburgh” Misspelled in Flashing Light Morse Code

In 1927 the city of Pittsburgh built an office building designed by architect Henry Hornbostel.  It has 40 floors and was built of limestone and brick. It is called the Grant building and the most interesting feature is at the top of the building.  There is a beacon, which at the time was the largest in the world. This beacon spells out the name of the city – Pittsburgh – in flashing light Morse code. The beacon is so bright it can be seen for 100 miles.

Pittsburgh resident and HAM operator, Tom Stapleton N7JKJ, noticed a problem with the signal broadcast while casually watching the beacon. Tom realized that the beacon had broadcast the letter “K”.  There is no “K” in “Pittsburgh” so he de-coded the entire message and realized that it was actually spelling “Pitetsbkrrh.”  Tom contacted the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to inform them of the Morse code error and the story was run July 12, 2009. Owners of the tower have no idea how long it has been misspelled but without the expertise of someone who knows Morse code and flashing light Morse, the problem may never have been identified.  One can only wonder why no ham radio operators had discovered the problem earlier?

Flashing light Morse code has been used as a communication mode during hostilities, as a way to maintain radio silence.  Seasoned operators can copy up to 14 Words Per Minute while radiomen can decode at 25-35 auditory words per minute.  Although the speed of transmission in order to be deciphered must be slower than with sound, flashing light even from a source as small as a flashlight or a mirror can be read for great distances and requires no power grid.  Who knows how many rescues have take place from flashing car lights or flashlights in blizzard situations.  The author heard a story about a hunter lost from his party on a cold winter night who was rescued by flashing an SOS with his flashlight. 

In a “Dear Abby” column, Dots and Dashes in Tennessee states, “I’m a female in my mid-30s. One night a few years ago, my cousin and I were driving through Oklahoma on a lonely dark stretch of road.  When I ran out of gas, I turned on my emergency flashers, but nobody stopped.  After approximately an hour I flashed ‘SOS’  to several big trucks going by, and within 10 minutes, a state trooper pulled up.  He said several had called and reported seeing “SOS.’ (Nobody called about the emergency blinkers!)”   Her kind of preparation may also save your life.

Most radio operators have never learned to decipher flashing light, but the characters remain the same as for international Morse code.  With a little effort, a person adept at auditory code can often pick up enough flashing light to be able to send and receive in as little as a few days.  The secret to copying Flashing Light Morse code is to locate a consistently spaced signal and practice turning the flashes into code dahs and dits or sound-alikes in your mind.  Some amazing software is available for this purpose.  It is a skill well worth your time to master.

Edited by Gerald R. Wheeler Ed. D. 


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