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A Case for Morse Code

February 1, 2012

Communications, Ham Radio, Skills

using morse code with a telegraph machine

In 1965, Jeremiah Denton was the Commanding Officer of an attack squadron aboard an aircraft carrier positioned off the coast of Vietnam. One fateful day in July of that year, Denton and his Bombardier/Navigator took off from their floating fortress on a bombing mission over the Vietnamese city of Thanh Hoa. Their trip wasn’t what they’d hoped. Their plane was shot down by enemy forces and they were captured and held as Prisoners of War for nearly eight years.

At one point during his imprisonment, Denton was forced to appear on Vietnamese television where he defied his captors and stood loyally and bravely by his country, saying “I don’t know what is happening, but whatever the position of my government is, I support it fully. Whatever the position of my government, I believe in it, yes sir. I am a member of that government, and it is my job to support it, and I will as long as I live.”

Unbeknownst to his captors, Denton also delivered another message that day. While being interviewed Denton blinked out a message that he hoped would reach his government. The message: torture. Denton and his fellow prisoners were being brutally beaten and tortured at the hands of the North Vietnamese captors.

Morse Code, a skill learned by fighter pilots, allowed Denton to covertly communicate with his countrymen. It allowed him to sneak a message to his superiors thousands of miles away with the blink of an eye.

A Skill Worth Knowing

Fortunately, not many of us will be held prisoner by a foreign force. So how would knowing Morse Code ever be beneficial to the rest of us?

Emergency Communications

Well, most of use are aware of the international call for distress: SOS. This can be tapped out when our voices cannot be used. Many a survivor have pounded out SOS on pipes or other debris in hopes that a searcher would hear their call. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to communicate more information than simply a call for help? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to communicate your condition and the condition of those with you, your location, and your specific needs?

Long Range Amateur Radio

Communicating via Ham Radios is highly dependent on a number of factors including signal strength, atmospheric conditions, and solar activity, to name but a few. Voice communications, while convenient, are susceptible to interference and require adequate signal strength to get the message across. Morse Code, also referred to as CW (Continuous Wave) in Ham Radio vernacular, travels farther and is less susceptible to disruptive interference than trying to communicate via voice. You can extend your reach with Morse Code.

Communications Without a Grid

When, and if, we ever find ourselves in a situation where modern-day communication devices are unavailable (perhaps due to an EMP or a natural disaster), we can revert back to a more primitive yet robust form of communications. Flashlights, signal mirrors, raps on a metal object can be seen or heard over far greater distances than shouting. A message can be delivered from an outpost to a command center using a series of dots and dashes far faster and far more accurately than other forms of communication.

Resources for Learning Morse Code

At first blush, learning Morse Code is an arduous undertaking. Just looking at the chart of dashes and dots associated with each letter makes the task seem insurmountable.

Learn Morse Code

Fortunately, there are many good resources available to help you learn Morse Code. LearnMorseCode.com has a nice chart that makes navigating the sequence of dashes and dots much more manageable.

Learn Morse Code Chart

Additionally, as you might expect, there is an iPhone app for learning Morse Code. The Ham Morse app offers a number of ways to help you learn the code. I’ve found that the Koch Method combined with the above chart has been helpful for me.

I’m still learning the code so I’m no expert. But I’m getting there.

What about you? Do you know Morse Code? Have you found it useful? 

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13 Comments on “A Case for Morse Code”

  1. Tess Dunkel-McKnight Says:

    I like that chart. I am a visual learner.

    Reply

    • Joe Says:

      Yes, it’s a great chart. Helps me a lot.

      Reply

    • Hugo Ahlquist Says:

      The visual chart is interesting, but to communicate most effectively, you need to associate the actual sound of the character with the letter/number/punctuation. Having to visualize will severely limit your ability to copy code at any reasonable speed. I am a ham radio operator for over 50 years now and can copy code in my head while driving down the highway. It does take some practice, but it’s very do-able. I’ve used my little CW station that completely fits in a camera bag, including the antenna, to “talk” from the Midwest to Europe and South America on many occasions.

      Reply

      • Bill Says:

        Good point, Hugo. I’ve been a ham for 45 years, and QRP CW (low powered code operation) has always been my favorite pasttime on radio. You’re right about learning it….you need to learn it by ear, not by a chart that shows “dots and dashes”. Hams don’t refer to CW in “dots and dashes”, we say “dits and dahs”. CW means “continuous wave”, which is what a code or code signal is: a pure carrier wave turned on and off by a key.

        Reply

  2. millenniumfly Says:

    I never considered morse code as something I needed to know. Thanks for the thought.

    Reply

  3. Jonas Parker Says:

    Here’s a good resource:
    http://www.justlearnmorsecode.com/

    Reply

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