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An early report on "The International Radio-Telegraphic Convention" in the January 12, 1907, Electrical World stated that "Vessels in distress use the special signal, SOS, repeated at short intervals." (In American Morse code, which was used by many coastal ships in the United States through the first part of the twentieth century, three dashes stood for the numeral "5", so in a few cases the distress signal was informally referred to as "S5S".) In contrast to CQD, which was sent as three separate letters with spaces between each letter, the SOS distress call has always been transmitted as a continuous sequence of dits and dahs, and not as individual letters.There was no problem as long as operators were aware that "SOS" was technically just a convenient way for remembering the proper sequence of the distress signal's total of nine dits and dahs.However, in International Morse, three dots comprise the letter S, and three dashes the letter O.It therefore soon became common to refer to the distress signal as "SOS".This was triggered by the operator of the ship in distress transmitting twelve long dashes of four seconds duration each.
All of these codes later switched from three repeats of the letter to four repeats, e.g., "RRRR". Sending SOS as well as other warning signals (TTT, XXX etc.) used similar procedures for effectiveness. Here is an example of an SOS signal; the portions in parentheses are an explanation only.The SOS distress signal is a continuous spaceless sequence of three dots, three dashes, and three dots.In International Morse Code, three dots form the letter S, and three dashes make the letter O, so "SOS" became an easy way to remember the order of the dots and dashes.With the development of audio radio transmitters, there was a need for a spoken distress phrase, and "Mayday" was adopted by the 1927 International Radio Convention as the equivalent of SOS.For TTT, the equivalent audio signal is "Sécurité" for navigational safety.