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.