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Wednesday, December 31, 1997 Published at 15:59 GMT


The end of the line for Morse Code
image: [ Seafarers are now to rely on technology when things get rough ]
Seafarers are now to rely on technology when things get rough

Morse Code, the language which has saved countless sailors' lives over the decades, is being consigned to history, a victim of technology.

George Allen, Secretary, Morse enthusiasts group comments on the decline of morse code on BBC Radio's Today (2'37")
The combination of dots and dashes -- including the internationally recognised mayday signal 'dot-dot-dot dash-dash-dash dot-dot-dot' -- is a beautifully simple system. But from Wednesday, it is being superseded by satellites, global positioning systems, and two-way radios.

Steve Huxley, of Falmouth Coastguards, said using the advanced technology would make life on the seas much safer.

[ image: Computers taking another role in life]
Computers taking another role in life
"It's much quicker, the ships themselves are alerting us very much quicker, we can get back to the ships much quicker and we're alerting other ships much quicker as well to encounter the situation of distress," he said.

But the Code's passing, 165 years after its invention by American painter Samuel Morse, is not welcomed by all.

Code "efficient and effective"

Round-the-world yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston said: "I think it's sad. It's efficient, it's effective, it's very positive. It's not difficult to learn, and at the end of the day when all the fuses blow, when all the electrics break down, provided you have got a few batteries left, you can still send an SOS."

Four monitoring stations around the British Isles are to stop listening for Morse Code signals, following similar moves by German, French and American maritime monitors.

[ image: Tony Bullimore in the safe hands of his rescuers]
Tony Bullimore in the safe hands of his rescuers
The Titanic famously used Morse to call for help when faced with its watery grave. But the fate of yachtsman Tony Bullimore, who was saved from his capsized boat in the Pacific Ocean earlier this year perhaps paint a happier picture.

His hi-tech distress signal was picked up via satellite by monitors on the other side of the world, and his rescuers knew a change in the signal could only have been made by hand -- showing he was still alive.

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Internet Links

"The Morsifier" -- converts text to Morse Code

Morse Enthusiasts Group Scotland

Movies that use Morse Code

A brief history of Morse telegraphy

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.
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