How to Read Morse Code: A Guide to Dashes & Dots That Make Up Morse Code

How to Read Morse Code: A Guide to Dashes & Dots That Make Up Morse Code
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All of us want our messages and conversations to be secret, at least from the general public view. This is easy to achieve when we are talking personally but what about the situations when we transmit messages over distance using any medium, be it electronic pulses, radio waves, mechanical devices, or simply voice. I mean what would you do if you are standing on one end of a busy street and want to tell something secret to a person standing on the other corner. You can shout but use a code language which (hopefully) only both of you understand.

This can be extended to other forms of communication and in the earlier days say around 170 years ago, a language was invented for this very purpose. Remember those days there were no computers on ships (though this applies to land also but we are mainly discussing here in context of various types of ships), and electronics was in its early stages of development. So a code was developed which could be transmitted over radio waves and electronic pulses and it was named after Samuel Morse, inventor of the electric telegraph. This is known as the Morse code and though it is not in much popular commercial use, it is still a popular hobby and used amongst amateur radio operators. In this article you will learn how to read Morse code and its use on board ships.

How to read Morse Code

Basically the Morse code is nothing but a combination of small and long signals which are known as dot and dash, or dit and dah. It may remind you of the binary format used in computers where everything is represented in 0 and 1. In a way, therefore Morse code can be said to be binary though technically speaking it is not binary in the exact sense but I will not go into those details here.

The Morse code was extensively used on ships by Radio Officers, a post which has almost become obsolete now at least in the modern commercial ships with the advent of GMDSS and related equipment, and the job role of the Radio Officer has been taken over by navigating officers such as the Junior officers, Chief mate or Master. In the list you can see the Alphabets from A to Z, numbers from 0 to 9 and special characters which are represented in Morse code. The symbol of a “period” represents a dot or dit; while the symbol of “underscore” represents a dash or dah. If you have difficulty reading this code given below is an image which shows the code for all alphabets in a more legible form (Courtesy: A.G. Reinhold, Cambridge)

A ·– B –··· C –·–· D –·· E · F ··–· G – –· H ···· I ·· J ·– – – K –·– L ·–·· M – – N –· O – – – P ·– –· Q – –·– R ·–· S ··· T – U ··– V ···– W ·– – X –··– Y –·– – Z – –·· 1 ·– – – – 2 ··– – – 3 ···– – 4 ····– 5 ····· 6 –···· 7 – –··· 8 – – –·· 9 – – – –· 0 – – – – – Period ·–·–·– Comma – –··– – Slash –··–· Plus ·–·–· Equal –···– Question ··– –·· Open Paren –·– –· Close Paren –·– –·– Dash –····– Quote ·–··–· Underscore ··– –·– Single Quote ·– – – –· Colon – – –··· Semicolon –·–·–· Dollar Sign ···–··– Warning ·–··– Error ········ Repetition(ii ii) ·· ··

A-Z Morse Code Pronunciation

Morse Code Generator

The adjoining diagram shows the very simple arrangement used to generate morse code which consists of two parts as shown namely the transmitter and the receiver section. This shows a wired arrangement where a transmission key is used to make or break a circuit which in turn energizes an electromagnet at the other end. A pen is connected to the piece of iron which gets depressed and makes a mark of a piece of paper roll which continuously flows along the path as shown. So when a key is pressed for longer duration it makes a long dash ‘–’ on the paper, while when it is pressed for shorter duration it makes a shorter ‘-’ symbol which represents dit symbol.

Simple Morse Code Generating Machine

The same arrangement can also work for wireless and radio systems with the only difference that radio waves are used to carry the signal from the transmitter to the receiver instead of wires.

Advantages of Morse Code

There can be a long list of advantages of Morse Code such as its ease of use and simplicity and a relatively inexpensive device can be used for morse code communications. A main advantage from the navigation point of view (though it is less relevant for modern ships) is that people who only have elementary knowledge of English can communicate and this is important especially in emergency situations. For example the code for SOS is di-di-dit-dah-dah-dah-di-di–dit. Anyone listening to this code can instantly recognize that some ship, boat or yatch is in distress.

Techniques to Learn Morse Code

Learning Morse code is similar to learning a new language and it depends on the individual as well as to how fast he can grasp the code. If you want you can simply memorize the above given codes but there are certain methods which will help you

Farnsworth Method – this method makes use of delaying the intermittent time between letters and words so as to give more time for a person to think and get used to the code and the time is decreased slowly as learning curve is progressed.

Koch Method – this method uses the standard speed of transmission both for the actual letters/symbols as well as for the intermittent gaps but uses only two characters for a start

These methods were techniques developed to aid learning, and you can choose whatever you are comfortable with, and once you know how to read morse code and vice versa, your speed with increase with practice.

So next time to want to write a talk to someone without letting anyone understand, just go dah dit dit dah.

Image of Morse Code Generator by Norbert Pieper (Ham Radio Software Website)