You never know what strange situations you’ll find yourself in one day nor what unusual and seemingly worthless skills could help you in those situations.
You never know what skills could one day save your life.
But is Morse code of those obscure skills, and is there any benefit to learning it?
Morse code is pretty much obsolete throughout the world and for the most part, isn’t even used in the modern military. However, it still has some fantastic benefits that no other technology nor means of communication can match.
So let’s look at how Morse code fits into the modern world and then touch on some of the benefits and drawbacks of learning it in 2020 and beyond.
What is Morse Code Used For Today?
The earliest version of Morse code was developed by Samuel Morse in the 1830s to be used for telegraphs. However, this technology soon proved to be one of the greatest innovations in human history as it paved the path for all means of electrical communication to come.
The technology that we all take from granted today – such as the telephone, texting, and even the internet – are all a result of Morse code and the telegraph.
But because we now have this more advanced technology, why is morse code important today?
Even though Morse code isn’t as prominent as it once was, it still used around the world in many ways.
Aviation Navigation Aids
In the early days of aviation, aircraft would carry radio operators whose sole purpose was to communicate with ground-based operations – such as towers – through Morse code.
However, using Morse code to communicate in today’s aviation industry would be not only stupid but also very deadly.
The sky’s today are very congested, and without quick communication from ground-based operations, such as air traffic control, aircraft separation would be impossible.
While Morse code is no longer used to communicate in Aviation, it is still used for identifying ground-based navigation aids such as VOR’s and NDB’s.
A continuous signal is transmitted from these navigation stations that a pilot can use to verify that they are accepting the correct navigation aid and that the navigation aid is still in service.
For example, a VOR navigation aid based in Denver International Airport broadcasts the airport’s identifier DEN in Morse code. Any pilot that tunes into that VOR will hear a continuous “−·· · −· ”
For the most part, Morse code is pretty dead throughout the military as it’s not the most effective means of communication nor the most secure.
This being said, many branches of the military still train sections of their personnel in Morse code.
The US Navy, in particular, still uses signal lamps to send morse code using flashing light. This allows ships to message each other during moments of radio silence (EMCON) and is very secure as it requires a line of sight to communicate.
Alternate Forms of Communication
Another remarkable modern use of Morse code is its use an alternative form of communication for people who have disabilities that affect their ability to communicate—such as those impaired by a stroke, heart attack, or paralysis.
An amazing story of somebody who uses Morse code in their everyday life is Tinia Finlayson.
Born with cerebral palsy, Tinia is fully paralyzed and unable to talk and, from a very early age, used a communication word board to communicate.
However, she strived for more! Tinia and her husband created her own device that uses two head paddles to communicate dots and dashes. These dots and dashes and translated by a computer into verbalized words so that she can communicate just as effectively as you or I.
For more on her incredible story, check out the video below.
Why Should You Learn Morse Code?
Alright, now that we know some ways in which Morse code is used around the world today, let’s look at some of the awesome benefits of Morse code as a technology and as a skill!
1. Secretive Communication
One of the great benefits of morse code is that it isn’t a very well known language. However, this gives tremendous power.
When fewer people know a particular language or coded system, the more likely you are to use it without anybody being able to interpret it.
I’m sure we’ve all seen that movie or TV show in which the hero communicates his mission-critical information in some ridiculous way, like making bird chirping dots and dashes.
“Coo click click coo.”
This may sound like Hollywood BS, but it is actually based more in reality than you may think.
In 1966, prisoner of war and Navy pilot Jeremiah Denton used morse code to communicate to the US that the North Vietnamese were torturing him.
However, he communicated in writing nor speaking — he communicated it by blinking the morse code symbols for T-O-R-T-U-R-E.
2. It’s Adaptive
Another very unique trait of Morse code is that it can be a very adaptive and versatile way to communicate.
What do I mean by this?
If you take our daily language and look at the ways in which we can use it to communicate, there truly is only writing, reading, and speaking—that’s about the extent of how we can communicate.
However, Morse code has more ways and more versatility in which it can be used.
Just like English, it can be written, read, and spoken. But, it can also be communicated through light, tapping, or as we saw above, blinking.
You could even teach an animal to repeat it.
There are so many ways in which Morse code can be used to communicate that go beyond traditional language.
3. Low Bandwidth
When it comes to sending radio waves, the more bandwidth that you are trying to send through the air, the more power it requires to send it.
But what is bandwidth?
When we speak, we use different tones for different parts of speech, such as high pitched and low pitched sounds—both of which are different frequencies. The bandwidth is simply the length between the low frequency and the high frequency.
However, Morse code doesn’t have these tonalities that language does, and this gives it the awesome benefit of using less bandwidth and requiring less power to transmit.
This is why Morse code is so powerful during emergency situations. Signals can be sent very far with very little power.
Believe it or not, many Ham radio and Morse code enthusiasts cram mini ham radios inside Altoids tins that are powerful enough to transmit a morse code signal hundreds—and sometimes thousands—of miles.
Remember, you never know what strange situations you’ll find yourself in one day nor what unusual, and seemingly worthless skills could help you in those situations. Having the ability to communicate hundreds of miles using nothing but a small radio and a couple of batteries might someday prove its worth.
Disadvantages of Morse Code
So we have covered some of the amazing benefits of morse code, however, nothing is without its flaws.
So let’s cover a few of the more significant drawbacks of morse code.
By far, the greatest drawback of Morse code and why it’s not as popular today is how much time it takes to transmit and decode a message.
Where I can spout out a sentence in a second or two, conveying the same information via Morse code takes significantly longer—even for someone fluent.
In addition to this, the person that you are trying to communicate with needs to know Morse code, which very few people do.
Much like writing, it is also very difficult to convey emotions as there is no tonality to the message.
2. Not Bilingual
Each symbol in Morse code represents either a letter of the alphabet, a number, or some form of punctuation.
Now Morse code works fantastic when communicating between two people speaking the same language, however, just like when trying to speak English to someone who only speaks Mandarin—they’re not going to know what the hell you’re saying.
While Morse code is technically an international language, it can only be used between those speaking the same language.
3. Learning Morse Code
Just like any language, learning Morse code is not an easy task. It requires research, patience, practice, and a ton of time.
Furthermore, it’s not even that commonly used, so practicing Morse code and actually interacting with people using it is a challenge by itself.
It may require you to spend a good chunk of money getting a Ham radio just to find someone to practice with. But then again, owning and learning how to use a Ham radio is never a bad thing.
However, if you’d like to get started and try your hand in Morse code, be sure to check out our beginner’s guide to learning Morse code.
Wrapping It Up
Morse code is still used throughout the world for very select tasks and has even in this modern-day and technology-packed world had the power to significantly impact the lives of many who use it as their only source of communication.
Even beyond these common day uses there are still tons of reasons and benefits of learning Morse code such as a survival skill or even a hobby.
Because you never quite know what the future holds. You never know if the difference between life and death is a tiny ham radio in your Altoids tin and the ability to use it to communicate.
I hope this little article helped explain how Morse code fits into the modern world and gives you a little direction on whether or not you should invest the time to learn it. And regardless of its dying nature, it’s still a skill I’d much rather know than not know.