On this day in 1909, the liner Arapahoe, became the first ship to ever use the distress call S.O.S. These letters, expressed in Morse Code, are three dots, three dashes and three dots. The phrase was created during the International Radiotelegraphic Convention held in Berlin in 1906. Contrary to popular belief, these letters do not express any particular words, but were simply determined to be easy to remember and transmit.
In the case of the Arapahoe, the ship had broken a propeller and was disabled while traveling north from Jacksonville, Florida. Despite bad weather, the Captain of the Arapahoe gambled that the sister ship, Apache, should be in the vacinity. He attempted to call the Apache wirelessly using the S.O.S. distress call. The gamble paid off and the Arapahoe was rescued and taken to port.
In the United States, the distress call S.O.S. has fallen out of use. While the meaning of the phrase is common knowledge, the Coast Guard no longer monitors Morse code transmissions. Generally, satellite relays are used to transmit a distress call. Another method is using radiotelephony to transmit MAY DAY. So keep this in mind next time your ship is sinking!