CQD (transmitted in Morse code as   ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄▄▄ ▄   ▄▄▄ ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄▄▄   ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄ ) is one of the first distress signals adopted for radio use. On 7 January 1904 the Marconi International Marine Communication Company issued "Circular 57", which specified that, for the company's installations, beginning 1 February 1904 "the call to be given by ships in distress or in any way requiring assistance shall be 'C Q D' ".[1]


Landline and submarine telegraphers telegraphs had adopted the convention of using the station code "CQ" to all stations along a telegraph line. As the first wireless operators were taken from the already trained landline telegraphers, the current practices carried forward and CQ had then been adopted in maritime radiotelegraphy as a "general call" to any ship or land station.[2]

The Marconi company added a "D" ("distress") to CQ in order to create a distress call. Thus, "CQD" was understood by wireless operators to mean All stations: Distress.[a] Although used worldwide by Marconi operators, CQD was never adopted as an international standard, since it can easily be mistaken for a mere general call "CQ" when reception is poor.[4]

CQD supplanted by SOS

At the first International Radiotelegraphic Convention, held in Berlin in 1906, Germany's Notzeichen distress signal of three-dots three-dashes three-dots (  ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄▄▄ ▄▄▄ ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ) was adopted as the international Morse code distress signal.[5]

This distress signal soon became known as "SOS" because it has the same dash-dot sequence as the letters S O S with the gaps between the letters removed, and in fact is properly written SOS, with an overbar, to distinguish it from the three individual letters. In contrast, CQD is transmitted as three distinct letters with a short gap between each, like regular text. The SOS distress code is also easier to hear as it is nine symbols long, while no other character or sign is longer than six symbols. Germany had first adopted this distress signal in regulations effective 1 April 1905.[6][7]

History of wireless distress rescues

From 1899 to 1908, nine documented rescues were made by the use of wireless. The earliest of these was a distress call from the East Goodwin lightship. However, for the earliest of these, there was no standardized distress signal. The first US ship to send a wireless distress call in 1905 simply sent HELP (in both International Morse and American Morse code).[3]: 218 

On 7 December 1903, Ludwig Arnson was a wireless operator aboard the liner SS Kroonland when the ship lost a propeller off the Irish coast. His call of CQD brought aid from a British cruiser. In 1944 Arnson received the Marconi Memorial Medal of Achievement in recognition of his sending the first wireless distress signal.[8] By February 1904, the Marconi Wireless Company required all its operators to use CQD for a ship in distress or for requiring URGENT assistance.[1] In the early morning of 23 January 1909, whilst sailing into New York from Liverpool, RMS Republic collided with the Italian liner SS Florida in fog off the Massachusetts island of Nantucket. Radio Operator Jack Binns sent the CQD distress signal by wireless transmission.[9][10]

On 15 April 1912, RMS Titanic radio operator Jack Phillips initially sent "CQD", which was still commonly used by British ships. Harold Bride, the junior radio operator, suggested using SOS, saying half-jokingly that it might be his last chance to use the new code. Phillips thereafter began to alternate between the two.[3]: 1911  Although Bride survived, Phillips perished in the sinking.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Contrary to popular belief, CQD does not stand for "Come Quick, Danger", "Come Quickly: Distress", "Come Quick – Drowning!", or "C Q Danger" ("Seek You, Danger"); these are backronyms.[3]: 218 


  1. ^ a b Turnbull, G.E. (1913). "Distress Signalling". The Year-book of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony. pp. 318–322. Archived from the original on 5 January 2021. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  2. ^ E. Blake (January 1916). "Stranger Than Fiction". Wireless World: 689–693. hdl:2027/mdp.39015076479271.
  3. ^ a b c Campbell, Ballard C. (2008). Disasters, Accidents, and Crises in American History. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 978-1438130125.
  4. ^ Frederick A. Talbot (1912). Steamship Conquest of the World. Conquests of science. J. B. Lippincott company. p. 280.
  5. ^ "Service Regulation XVI". 1906 International Wireless Telegraph Convention. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 38. Archived from the original on 5 January 2021. Retrieved 5 January 2021.
  6. ^ "Regelung der Funkentelegraphie im Deutschen Reich". Elektrotechnische Zeitschrift: 413–414. 27 April 1905. Archived from the original on 5 January 2021. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  7. ^ "German Regulations for the Control of Spark Telegraphy". The Electrician: 94–95. 5 May 1905. Archived from the original on 5 January 2021. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  8. ^ "Ludwig Arnson". obituary. New York Times. 13 April 1958. page 83, column 6. Retrieved 7 January 2021 – via Times Machine.
  9. ^ Caddell, Alfred M. (April 1924). "C Q D". Radio Broadcast. pp. 449–455.
  10. ^ "Jack Binns: Hero". JackBinns.org. Archived from the original on 5 January 2021. Retrieved 25 October 2009.
  11. ^ Bride, Harold (19 April 1912). "Thrilling story by Titanic's surviving wireless man". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 5 January 2021. Retrieved 29 September 2018.