What does SOS mean?

What does SOS mean? This is obviously not a term rather an an acronym with more than one meaning to it. SOS can be referred to SOS children’s village and it is also used as a distress call in emergency situations. In Morse code the signals for distress ‘… - - - …’ are the alphabets SOS. It is common to see that an abbreviation has more than one meaning. The meaning of the terms keep on changing with reference to its use. In the same way the meaning of SOS also has different meaning and to find out what it means in any particular context the whole reference needs to be checked.

The meaning of SOS

The first meaning of what does SOS mean is the very commonly seen is SOS children’s village. It is a renowned organisation working for the benefit of children around the world. It gives shelter to those abandoned and orphaned. Takes responsibility of the children until they grow up to be able to take care of themselves.

It wasn’t always called the SOS village. There was a social club run by Hermann Gmeiner’s Societas Socialis who used to raise funds for the orphaned in Austria. This is how the name was put from the club for orphans.

Gmeiner and his supporters had started the organization and he termed SOS as Socially Responsible Society. The latin phrase Societas Socialis means ‘social service society’. The pioneer of the organisation believed that children all across the world deserve to have a mother, brother and sister and a family of his own with a community to support him. The organisation was founded in 1949 with a refined name SOS children’s village with one agenda to help and attend the children at risk worldwide.

SOS children’s village worked on the basic needs of the children which were made the principle of the organisation. Those were already mentioned as having a mother, brother, sister and a community to support them. Their network stated spreading to other countries as well and hey were readily fulfilling the need if children by giving them a protective environment

The present and future of SOS

There is a mistake that people assume the name of SOS to be ‘Save Our Ship’, ‘Save Our Succor’ or ‘Save Our Soul’. The history of the acronym dates back to 1908 when it was created for signalling in Morse code. The coding required three letter sequences which is sent for urgent messaging. This code SOS was a code made by the sailors to send out the signal for ship in distress meaning ‘Save Our Ship’. But here we are talking about SOS children’s village.

There are around 140 million children in the world who need access to food, water, shelter, and education. But they cannot get one because either one of their parent is not there to meet their needs. In worst case scenario this number is only increasing and so are the problems that are growing with them.

SOS has spread its wings to over 136 countries taking in the children who do mot have their parent to look after. Till now the number of needy children in SOS has reached 73000 and growing in 550 of their homes. The SOS children’s village assiciation are busy worldwide in helping these hundreds and thousands of needy children, many young people and numerous families in getting them their rights, providing them with care and giving them supportive community environment that will empower them to bring about a better society.

Since family is the basic unit of the society and by getting the healthiest environment from a family a child can said to have the best of education which will help him in becoming the useful part in the future. But those children deprived of having a family will never be able to get access to these facilities and in the end may not be as useful to the society. In worst case these children easily fall prey to drug intoxication and illegal activities. SOS children’s village takes in those children and give them the rightful care and education they deserve.

People who are working at the SOS children’s village are all responsible for the safety of the children and the entire organisational network makes sure that no child is harmed in any way. Therefore the workers are also liable to report any such kind of case which in any way is threatening the safety of the children. Their work worldwide has brought about positive change in many children’s lives snd this process is only getting better and better

Aims of SOS children’s village

  • Providing children with a loving and caring home

  • Strengthening the families

  • Promoting rights of the children

  • In emergency situations providing the necessary protection and help to children

Achievements of SOS children’s village

Ever since it laid foundation the SOS children’s village has gathered multitude of awards and recognitions which is all due to the enormous deal of work being done worldwide

In 1980 the president Hermann Gmeiner was awarded the Grand Cross and Star of the Papal Order of St. Gregory award.

The Netherland’s Waterler Peace Prize was awarded in to the president

The president was again awarded the Aristotle Prize by the Onassis Foundation in 1986

1986 was the year of peace. Since the SOS village had contributed in bringing peace in msny ways so they were awarded by the Secretary General of the United Nations as ‘Peace Messenger’.

The president of SOS children’s village in 1990 was Helmut Kutin who was awarded Germany’s Distinguished Service Cross of the Order of Merit Award.

In 1990 the president Helmut Kutin was awarded Vietnam’s Huan Chuong Huu Nghi (Friendship Order).

Luxembourg’s Commander of the Order of Merit award was given to the president in 1994

In 1997 Russia’s Award of Friendship Order was given to the president

Grand Cross and Star of the Papal Order of St. Gregory in 1999 was given to Helmut Kutin

Guatemala’s Honor al Merito Parlamento Centroamericano was awarded in 2001

In 2001 Austria’s Medal of Honour was awarded

Thailand’s Social Organisation of the year award in 2004

Spain’s Medalla de Honor Barcelona in 2004

China’s Ru Zi Nui Award in 2005

Women of the year award in 2005 to all those 5000 plus women who work as mothers or caregivers to the SOS children around the workday in all the organisations

India’s best non governmental organization award in 2006

Vietnam Friendship Medal in 2007

OPEC Fund for International Development Award in 2007

Mother Teresa Gold Medal in 2008

Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize which is the biggest prize with one million dollars awarded every year for best organisations giving humanitarian services

India’s PhD Chamber of Commerce Award in 2009

Save the World Award in 2009

Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2011

The UNESCO- Hamdan Prize in 2014

Zayed Future Energy Prize, African Global High School Awards in 2016

All of these awards were in recognition of their untiringly services for a better future ever since its beginning and continuing till date.

Guidelines for SOS children’s village

There are three international guidelines or frameworks which the organisation follows for working with children

The first one is the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child UNCRC which elaborates the rights of children culturally, politically, civil and related to health. It was adopted in 1989.

The 2009 adopted framework was the UN Guidelines for Alternative Care of Children. This was for the purpose of recognising those efforts which were meant for providing alternative care for children.

The UN Sustainable Development Goal adopted in 2015 and will be working till 2030 to provide help to children and families most at risk.

Campaigns by the SOS children’s village

Following are the campaigns run by the organisation

No Child Should Grow Up Alone

This campaign was set in 2017 upon the research statistics that one in every ten child is growing up alone. They do mot have enough parental care which makes them much vulnerable to children rights violations. This includes sex trafficking, violence and child labour. The aim is to ensure a better future for children by providing them with right kind of circumstances.

Care For Me

This campaign was launched in 2012 was to encourage the research work in the field of alternative child care. This had advocated that there is a dire need for protecting the children against numerous violation hapoening against them. The countries who had taken part in this campaign were suppose to assess if they were following the guidelines provided by the UN Guidelines for Alternative Care of Children.

I Matter

In 2009 this campaign was for the purpose to improve the legislation that will help those young adults who have aged out and have to live their life independently. It was of the aim to support them in the process.


There are certainly many non governmental organisations working today but few of them have such a global effect that covers 136 countries. This means all the children of these countries are safe in the hands of SOS children’s village. It is true that there are still many of children left behind away from the basic necessities but this organisations is doing their part really well by giving a hone to all the orphans and destitute they can reach. A small act if kindness can create ripples so imagine that these organisations will be having such an immense impact in their beneficiaries

What does SOS mean in distress?

Many people come up with the acronym Save Our Souls or Save Our Ship for meaning of what does SOS mean?. When there are big ships in the sea the conditions are always unpredictable and any kind of emergency can surface. In this scenario it is also no other help so distant call for assistance is yearned. This is why Morse code is being used. It is system of signals which are interpreted by the other party. Actually they are not letter rather they are symbols. This is why the idea behind SOS meaning some formation of letter is wrong. Infant the signal for Save Our Ship or Save Our Soul is a series of three dots three dashes and three dots, all without any space in them. The signal appears to be looking like SOS according to International Morse Code and thus the signal is termed as Save Our Ship or Save Our Soul. It was given a name for convenience. Plus many people use these letters written in the ground to be easily seen from above.

The dashes and dots are something that makes the job easy. It was in 20th century that the radiotelegraphic system was being introduced in the ships and the purpose was to send help to ships in distress or to combat the emergency situations. Since ships signalling wasn’t the only kind of telecommunication going on so a code had to be established which was easy to convey and unique enough not to be confused with others. Earlier the countries had the signals of their own. Like in US Navy NC was used to convey the signals. Another code was CQD which was established by the Marconi Company which actually supplied the telegraph operator and other equipment. In 1905 the ‘German Regulations for the Control of Spark Telegraphy’ gave ‘…- - -…’. The multiple signals only created confusion.

It wasn’t necessary the emergency had to occur in regional water. It could arise in international waters as well. So getting rescue would be difficult if the signals were all different then the potential help would be just impossible even with International Morse Code. This brought countries in a single platform to bring about the code for international regulations for telegraph communication. It was in 1906 that the International Wireless Telegraph Convention was held in Berlin. An international standard call for distress was established with ‘-.- - -.- - -,.’ and ‘…- - -…- - -…- - -…’ or alphabetically ‘SSSDDD’. This was too heavy or inconvenient for use as proposed by Italy. However the one used by Germany ‘…- - -…’ was much faster to send and convenient also. All the nations at the conference agreed and it was put into practice on July 1, 1908.

The use of SOS

It was year later that the first use if the distress call took place. When in August 1909 a ship named SS Arapahoe broke due to a disabled propellor had sent a wireless signal using this code.

It wasn’t easy for all the ships to use this code all of a sudden especially the Marconi Company did want to give up on their own code. Even when the titanic incident took place it was that time when help responded when they tried the new code SOS for distress call.

The reason for using SOS or ‘…- - -…’ was because of its simplicity which makes easy to adapt. In addition the code can be read backwards. It is so popular now that it is not just used as distress call in ships but the ones stranded on lands anywhere can also use it.

What is Morse code?

Morse code is a sequence of symbols like having dots, dashes or spaces which represent certain punctuations, numbers or alphabets. The codes are in the form of flashing lights visual signals, analogous mechanicals or varied lengths. It was invented by an American inventor and artist Samuel F. B. Morse in 1830 using electric telegraphy. Alfred Lewis Vail improved the system. As soon as the system was established across the Europe there were complications in having a unanimous coding system which would represent the letters. It was due to different in language in Europe that there were so many countries which were non English. Thus the International Morse Code was devised which is also called Continental Morse Code.

These two systems are similar and have some differences as well. There were dots and dashes being used in the original morse code which represented few letters. On the contrary they International Morse Code used various combinations of dots and dashes to represent all the letters. The lengths of dashes are also similar but in the International coding the dashes are of same size.

The morse code only had some minor changes in 1938 and after that there hadn’t been any changes made. The American Telegraph Industry used it for long till the 1920s and 30s until there were teleprinters. There had been wars in which the International Morse code was used especially in Vietnam war, Korean war and World War II. Many ships have been using it in travelling till the 1990s. There was some usage of radio as well in between with the morse code but that was short lived. Although military was still trained for it.

Following list will clarify what each alphabet’s Morse code is

Alphabets Morse Code

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 - - - - .
10 - - - - -

These may seem random morse coding for each alphabet and looks illogical as well. The reason behind such sequence is that the letters which are most commonly used have shorter sequences. This will keep the messages short and precise. The sequences now clearly show that letters like E, I or S have short sequences while Q, Y and J have longer sequences.

Is the Morse code still used today?

The ■■■■■■■ radio operators are still using morse code. Most commonly emergency signals are conveyed. There are different ways through which these signals can be conveyed. Devices that can be easily turned on and off like flashlights. The first signal was used in 1905 by Germany. It was a distress signal (…- - -…) and then was used by and large by the rest of the world.

The aviation system still uses morse code because their navigation aids NDB and VOR identify the morse code mode of communication. Coast guards and US navy use this system to send the signals.

Another important use is for people who have certain impairment or disabilities like paralysis, heart attack or stroke. Their communication is impaired due to their disabilities hence morse code is an effective form of communication. In several cases even eye blinks can be used to transmit the message. The long or quick blinks can be used as dots or dashes.

Morse Code is most prevalent in Aviation and Aeronautical fields since radio navigational aids such as VOR’s and NDB’s still identify in Morse Code. The US Navy and Coast Guard still use signal lamps to communicate via Morse Code.

How was Morse code beneficial?

In the past handwritten messages and telegraphs were used to as long distance communication which were carried at horse backs. Morse code brought the revolution in communication. It was the fastest way of conveying messages at the time of its invention. The biggest benefit it gave to was the ships sailing in the sea. It was difficult for the people travelling in ships to send messages to land in case of any emergency. Morse code gave a way to many of the ships to call for help when in need.

World war also witnessed the use of Morse code because in terms of long distance communication it increased the speed of transferring messages. At the time of war it is important that the messages are being conveyed quickly which would change the strategy of the war. These communication devices have shown their importance during war as they have changed the entire plan if the war.

Be it the naval ships or planes they all used morse code to facilitate in war. Messages like the location of enemy, their troops and bases were easily sent to the headquarters using the morse code.

What are the modern techniques used for communication in shipping?

The shipping business is all changed now. Mechanical propulsion and usage of steel in building the ships are few of the examples which has changed the face of shipping. Computerisation and use of modern communication tools has made the navigation even more easy. Globalisation, outsourcing, multi modulism and containerisation are all names used to modify the look. The industry is now ever growing due to the efficient transfer of data powerful computing method and variety of communication methods.

The main purpose of the communication equipment at the ship is efficient Search and Rescue (SAR) and for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). They are used for the business purposes as well but the above mentioned are the vital ones. The communication system on the ship is connected with their office onshore. For a hundred year almost Morse code was being used in conduction the messages. The ioniospheric proportion was used in transferring the messages which were medium range (500 miles for 405-525 kHz), high frequency and short wave (4, 6, 8, 12, 16, 22 and 25 MHz band).

In the past for almost ninety years the mode of calling for help was to contact the near by ships. The between the years 1992 and 1999 the strategy was changed and the onshore help was called for search and rescue purposes. This system was called Global Maritime Search and Rescue System (GMSRS). It uses terrestrial communication and satellite both to make a hybrid system for rescue. In this way the requirements of SOLAS and general communication needs are both satisfied for modern ships. This required skilled engineers to carry out preventive or routine maintenance or the breakdown maintenance. They will also install, update, commission or configure the devices.

Shipping industry dies not only carry out the trading hug also used in wars. In the present modern era however the vast majority of ships is used in trading and being the cost effective way of trading the economy of any country. The way morse code was adopted in the past in the same way now modern techniques are being utilised to make the mode of communication most efficient. However we cannot still surely say that either of these communication technologies are used by all the ship owners. Adaption in this business may be slow but many of the owners are bringing the computing system on board. This system is connected to the agencies or managers which on the land help them in navigation or if rescue is required.

Digital communication system has brought several changes that communication is no more a problem. Voice messages to long distance recipient are efficient and reliable. Facsimile documents can be transferred so easily. Emails are there to help in transmitting video clippings, pictures and documents. There is almost zero cost for the messages bulk is being sent and received. Be it at home sitting or travelling internet and mobile phones have eased the communication ever so much.

Its effects on the shipping business are also drastic. There is same platform being used for multiple clients or entities to communicate among themselves or others. The ships are also benefitted equally with these advancements.


We found out two meanings to what dies SOS mean. In this attempt there were two entirely different perspectives coming forward. The first one was the world’s leading organisation in giving shelter to orphans with the goal of hiving every child a home he deserves. All of these attempts are only to make our future better. And we cannot ignore the years of hard work they have been doing and the fruit they are bearing. Everything is in front of us and the global recognition speaks volume for it.

The second one describes the system which was efficiently used in communication. It was called the Morse code which was for the purpose of distant calling. Nevertheless the simplest for signalling was ‘…- - -…’ which was readily adapted by the ships especially for distress calls. Other messages were also transferred efficiently and it played a major role not only in day to day messaging but also in wars. Both of the meanings for what does SOS mean are hopefully clear by not sparing any confusion.

Both of the separate topics have different knowledge in them each beneficial. Especially for those who would travel long distance will now know how to make a call in case any of the breakdown happens. The emergencies can arise anywhere and preventing them is bot always possible so keeping oneself vigilant is most important. Learning mire about the codes and ways to approach people for help and rescue is always a good idea.

Frequently asked questions

1. What does each letter in SOS Stand for?

The letters in SOS are assumed to be a distress call for saving ships in seas. Save Our Ships or Save Our Souls. Actually S is for the morse code ‘…’ and O is for ‘- - -‘. The codes were created in 20th century for long distance communication and symbols being used for interpretation for non English fellows around the world. The acronym can be used for symbolising distress call but lets not confuse it with Save Our Soul or Save Our Ships

2. How to respond to SOS call?

Whenever a message over radio is received making a distress call or using SOS then a suitable response is to acknowledge the message and then see for what the distress message is about. Convey the message to the respective search and rescue authority.

3. How to use a flashlight for signalling SOS?

Use of flashlight is in the manner as pulses in morse code. Take flash light and make the SOS code with it. It will have three short flashes, three long flashes and three short flashes at the end. It is simple and easily recognisable.

4. What was used before SOS?

Before SOS the signal for a distress call used was CQD. It was there for calling help and in the signal CQ was used to call all the telegraphers and wireless operators at once.

Related Topics


A lot of people think that the distress signal is an abbreviation for “save our souls” or “save our ship.” But in reality, “save our souls” and “save our ship” are backronyms, and the letters don’t actually stand for anything. In fact, the signal isn’t even really supposed to be three individual letters. It’s just a continuous Morse code string of three dots, three dashes, and three dots all run together with no spaces or full stops . Since three dots form the letter “S” and three dashes form an “O” in International Morse code, though, the signal came to be called an “SOS” for the sake of convenience. That connection has led to the letters coming into their own as a visual distress signal divorced from Morse Code, and those in need of rescue sometimes spell them out on the ground to be seen from above. You could also break down the string into IJS, SMB and VTB if you wanted to.
The Logic Behind “SOS”:
So why use that specific string of dots and dashes if there’s no meaning to it? Because it was the best way to get the job done. When wireless radiotelegraph machines first made their way onto ships around the turn of the 20th century, seamen in danger needed a way to attract attention, signal distress, and ask for help - a unique signal that would transmit clearly and quickly and wouldn’t be confused for other communications. At first, different organizations and countries had their own “in-house” distress signals. The U.S. Navy used “NC,” which was the maritime flag signal for distress from the International Code of Signals. The Marconi Company, which leased its equipment and telegraph operators to various ships, used “CQD.” The “German Regulations for the Control of Spark Telegraphy” of 1905 mandated that all German operators use . Having these multiple distress signals was confusing and potentially dangerous. It meant that a ship in distress in foreign waters had a language barrier to overcome with would-be rescuers, even if using International Morse Code. Because of this and other issues, various countries decided to get together and discuss the idea of laying down some international regulations for radiotelegraph communications. In 1906, the International Wireless Telegraph Convention convened in Berlin, and delegates attempted to establish an international standard distress call. Marconi’s , and (“SSSDDD”), which Italy had proposed at a previous conference, were deemed too cumbersome. Germany’s , though, could be sent quickly and easily and was hard to misinterpret. It was chosen as the international distress signal for the nations who met at the conference, and went into effect on July 1, 1908.
Getting on Board with “SOS”:
The first recorded use of the “SOS” as a distress signal was just over a year later, in August, 1909. The wireless operators on the SS Arapahoe sent the signal when the ship was disabled by a broken propeller off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Not everyone got on board with the new standard as quickly, though. The Marconi Company was particularly reluctant to give up on “CQD.” The Marconi operators on board the Titanic initially just sent that signal after the ship struck an iceberg, until the other operator suggested they try the new “SOS” signal, too.
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