2007 639.jpgText Box: The Radio Room On The American VictoryThis is the Shipís Radio Room, the communications center for the ship to contact other ships and land stations (coastal stations) to send message traffic, send and receive weather reports and bulletins, and details on cargo and convoys. The first thing that most visitors notice is the radio room clock. The unusual markings make the clock stand out. The size, location, marking, and design of the clock were laid out in government regulations pertaining to radiotelegraph operations on board ships. The red triangles at the 3 oíclock and 9 oíclock positions denote three minute silent periods. During these times all transmitting operations on 500 KHz (the international calling and distress frequency) would stop for a period of three minutes and all operators would listen for distress calls from ships. The dashed lines around the face of the clock cover every four seconds with a one second break. This was to help the Radio Operators (ROs) on board ships in distress to send the ďauto alarmĒ signal. This was a system to alert other ships automatically if an operator was not physically present in the radio room regarding emergency or distress messages. When the Titanic sank in 1912 there was a ship close by, but there was only one operator on board and he had gone to sleep for the night! If he had heard the distress calls from the sinking ship, he could have arrived on scene sooner and as a result many more people could have been saved. After the Titanic tragedy rules were implemented for all ships to carry radiotelegraph officers and have an auto alarm to alert the RO to ongoing distress or emergency situations. The way to set off the alarm bells was to send at least four dashes that are four seconds long. The markings on the clock face make it easier to time the signals. Sometime later equipment was added that automatically sent the auto alarm signal. This was a good idea because a radio operator who is standing ankle deep in water might tend to be a bit nervous and not send the auto alarm signal properly! The American Victory has equipment that will automatically send the auto alarm signal. In all the years of Morse code communication on ships, the radio room clock has become a symbol of the RO duties aboard ship and at coast stations.


The next major item of interest in the radio room is the device for sending the dots and dashes of the Morse code: The telegraph key. There are a lot of designs for telegraph keys, but the purpose is the same: the key is merely a switch to make and break the circuit in the patterns of Morse code.




In many situations at sea the RO was the only link between the ship in distress and emergency assistance from other ships or land based rescuers. Many ROs went down with their ships while they were sending SOS and giving position reports to guide ships trying to locate survivors. In Battery Park in New York is a monument to those radio officers who gave their lives in maritime distress emergencies. At the top of the list is the name of Jack Phillips, one of the radio operators on board the Titanic who died from hypothermia after the great ship sank. Operators like Phillips made the Radio Officer vocation one of honor and skill.


Morse code operation on ships at sea existed for almost 100 years. It was in use before the Titanic sank and continued here in the U.S.A. until July 12th, 1999. In other parts of the world there are still shipboard Morse code stations and coastal telegraph stations sending out messages in the staccato bursts of Morse code. Why did Morse code last for so many years despite advances in communication technology? For the answer to that, look in the box below.

Text Box:  
Advantages of CW/Radiotelegraph on Shortwave
(1) The equipment is simpler to construct: all you need is a way to turn the signal on and off.

(2) Morse code signals are narrow. They donít take up a lot of radio spectrum space. More signals can fit on the radio dial!

(3) Morse code signals get through noise and poor signals conditions better than many other modes of communication


















There is another advantage of Morse communications. Those who know how to use it will tell you ITíS FUN TO COMMUNICATE ON THE RADIO WITH MORSE CODE! That is why many amateur radio operators (hams) still use Morse code even though it is no longer required for a ham license.


Even on the commercial maritime frequencies there are still stations using Morse. On most Saturday afternoons the operators on the American Victory fire up the equipment to communicate with KSM, a coastal telegraph station in California. On the night of July 12th every year ships and coastal stations come on the air and broadcast messages on short wave in Morse code just like in the old days. Itís like a trip back in time when the frequencies again come alive with the sounds of Morse at sea!

Here is a chart showing you the letters, numbers, and punctuation in The International Morse Code.
















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