Morse Code (and the phonetic alphabet) Could Save Your Life

Morse Code and the NATO phonetic alphabet may seem like outdated or useless knowledge, but they could save your life. Here’s why all outdoor enthusiasts should learn both:

Anyone who lives or plays in an extreme environment knows even simple problems can go from bad to worse quickly. Meg and Chris were kayaking across open water to a national barrier island park when a sudden storm brought 20-knot winds and seas of 3 to 4 feet, conditions that could quickly swamp a sit-on-top kayak. In the distance they saw the park service ferryboat, but they were too far away to be heard. Meg used her smartphone’s flashlight to flash the SOS signal and communicate that they were in trouble. They got a tow and a dry, safe ride back to the marina. If Meg hadn’t known SOS, or hadn’t had a way to send the signal, the boat captain could have easily assumed they were just two kayakers out for a wild ride.

Not Just for Submarines Any MoreSOS
Think of Morse Code as the original texting: It’s handy in situations where verbal communication isn’t possible and, when used visually, it’s a fast way to send short, important message over long distances. You don’t have to learn the entire code, but if you’re planning an outdoor adventure you should at least learn how to communicate the SOS distress signal (three dots, three dashes, three dots), and have a flashlight and mirror with you. If you’d like to learn the whole code, “The Morse Code Trainer” is a handy app that will have you dotting and dashing in no time. You can also download the “Morse Code Flashlight App” that uses your smartphone’s flashlight to run the SOS signal on a continuous loop.

I Said “G”!
The phonetic alphabet should also be in your intellectual arsenal. Technically called the “International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet” the phonetic alphabet facilitates clear communication in situations where two parties may not speak the same language or may have a bad connection. In any situation it eliminates confusion when speaking letters that sound the same such as B, C, E, D and G or F and S.

The phonetic alphabet isn’t random. It was carefully developed through hundreds of thousands of comprehension tests involving 31 nationalities. Here are the results:

  • A: Alpha
  • B: Bravo
  • C: Charlie
  • D: Delta
  • E :Echo
  • F: Foxtrot
  • G: Golf
  • H: Hotel
  • I: India
  • J: Juliette
  • K: Kilo
  • L: Lima
  • M: Mike
  • N: November
  • O: Oscar
  • P: Papa
  • Q: Quebec
  • R: Romeo
  • S: Sierra
  • T: Tango
  • U: Uniform
  • V: Victor
  • W: Whiskey
  • X: Xray
  • Y: Yankee
  • Z: Zulu

Take note that some of these words may not be pronounced the same as your own regional pronunciations. For example, “Quebec” is pronounced “Key-Beck”, not “Qui-Beck” and “Charlie” may be pronounced “Shar-Lee” by non-English speakers. The phonetic alphabet also includes numbers one through zero and they also may have a different pronunciation: “Three” is pronounced “Tree” and “Nine” is pronounced “Nine-er”—just like in the movies.