A blast from the past—in code

Get ready to dot-dot your I’s and dash your T’s.

Today, the Boy Scouts of America released the Morse Code Interpreter Strip, an official patch for Scouts and Scouters who can demonstrate their ability to “speak” this special language.

Morse Code joins languages like Spanish, French, Italian, German, Japanese, Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Sign Language, and several others as interpreter strips available for wear on Scout uniforms (above the right pocket).

To get a typical interpreter strip, you must carry on a five-minute conversation, translate a two-minute speech, write a letter in the language, and translate 200 words from the written word.

But Morse Code, a vital communications tool during World War II, doesn’t really work with those requirements. So Jim Wilson and the BSA team crafted new ones:

Morse Code Interpreter Strip requirements

  • The patch design spells out “M-O-R-S-E”

    Carry on a five-minute conversation in Morse Code at a speed of at least five words per minute.

  • Copy correctly a two-minute message sent in Morse Code at a minimum of five words per minute. Copying means writing the message down as it is received.
  • Send a 25-word written document in Morse Code at a minimum of five words per minute.

How to order

Call BSA Supply toll-free at 800-323-0736 and ask for Supply No. 615120.

Official requirements

Find them here (PDF).

Decode this

In closing, I’ll leave you with my thoughts on this news:

—   ••••   ••   •••   /   ••   •••   /   —•—•   ———   ———   •—•• !

Can you read that?

What do you think?

Will you or one of your Scouts try to earn this interpreter strip? Do you wear any interpreter strips now? Leave a comment below.

65 thoughts on “A blast from the past—in code

  1. I believe that this new patch is absolutely wonderful! I’m anxious to see how many Scouts jump after this one! Way to go gang!

  2. This is great! I have been a counselor for the Radio MB and a proponent of interpreter strips in my council. 73 Marc WN2 RUJ

  3. First question – if I was a councilor for the Signaling merit badge (both during 2010 and back in the late 70s when signaling was still available) – do I get this for free? 😉 Next question – why do Sea Scouts require being capable of knowing Morse code. When would they use this skill. Morse is NOT used commercially anywhere anymore that I’m aware of. It’s only used amongst/between amateur radio operators anymore.

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  5. I’m glad we call this an “interpreter” strip and not a “language” strip. Strickly speaking, Morse Code is not a language but rather a form of communicating a language. And yes, if this is allowed then there should be a Semaphore strip, too. It’s the same thing but with flags.

      • As an Extra class ham before the code requirement was removed, who do I see to get this strip for my uniform? I still use the code on-air at about 20 WPM. Who is qualified to certify us who still use Morse?

  6. Actually Morse is still used in a number of environments beyond Amateur Radio. For example, it’s still commonly used by commercial vessels from the former Soviet Bloc, it’s still used to identify Nautical and aeronautical navigation beacons, and even many cell phones identity their SMS text messages by sending “SMS” in Morse code. The latter gets the attention of those who know it as we inevitably first hear “SOS” which is one dash longer. And it still a valuable survival skill.

    It is useful and unique among the interpreter strips as you can use it to interpret a message far beyond aural range, such as mirror flashes from a distant mountain or via wigwag flags sending Morse. That’s why an introduction to Morse was a First Class requirement for 62 years. So it very useful for a unit to “Be Prepared” to help others by having a few members maintain Morse proficiency and be readily identifiable with this strip to the Unit’s leaders.

    And a like all interpreter strips, it is only to be worn by those who can still actually interpret at the speeds required if called upon to do so today.

  7. Learning Morse Code is the Boy Scouts was a great help to me later when I joined the Coast Guard and became a Radioman. It is still a useful tool, radio navigations beacons are identified by a spifice sequence of letters in code, as well as the flashing light characteristics for the navications aids. I also remember seeing a captive POW being interview by internation press blinking the word “Torture” while appologizing for war crimes of the U.S. Not a bad skill to have and it is always easier to send than receive.

  8. As a Merchant Marine Deck Officer I need to be able to read Morse Code at 6 words per minute as part of my USCG Licensing requirements. Thank goodness I learned Morse Code in 1972.

  9. I just discovered this in the Sept/Oct ’12 Scouting.
    I never did well on this when I was a Scout
    During the early 50’s I ended up in the Navy and learned semaphore, international flags, blinking light, and then used Morse code as an Aviation Radioman.
    I was a Signaling Merit Badge Advisor vainly looking for candidates for many years before it was abolished for lack of interest.
    This strip is something I’ll promote and is now on my “Bucket List”.

    • Bill,
      As a Navy Signalman ’72-’94 I learned those also. In a unsecure environment Blinking light as a “line of sight” form of comms is way more secure then radio. While the navy and commercial shipping may be relying on radio its still good to know morse. The “International Code of Signals” does not require the knowledge of english or a foreign language. Some non navy/commercial sailors types may recognize “Q” codes before ICS. A battery operated light can help in emergencies when main power is down. And no radio available.

  10. I am brushing up on my code. I remember when Morse code or Semaphore was a First Class Requirement! (I’m an old “BALD” Eagle) I was the teacher as a youth leader. I’m rather old school in my outlook and I think this should be brought back.

  11. It has been over 55 years since I was an intermediate speed radio operator. The US Army provided my training. I can easily send the code but listening takes a bit of time. I’m looking forward to getting the strip. I still have, in the box, my Morse Code Key, which had sound, clicks and a light, plus my old key, WN0OKA was my amatuer license and DahDitDit DahDahDah DahDahDit DitDitDitDitDah DitDitDitDahDah BahDitDitDit DitDah DahDitDah Dit DDitDahDdit,That’s Dog97Baker, my old regimental call sign in HqHQ Company 33rd Infantry Division, Panama Canal Zone.Funny how you remember these things, just like your service number, US 55 406 871. Das ist Alles! Bring on the test! Don from Rising City, Nebraska

  12. Very cool! I’m going to get one as I love cw (conversing/rag chewing in morse on the ham bands). Hopefully it’ll get people interested in ham radio! 73, Larry, WB1DBY from Troop 32 in Springfield, MA

  13. Wonderful site you have here but I was wondering if you knew of
    any community forums that cover the same topics talked about here?
    I’d really like to be a part of group where I can get feed-back from other knowledgeable people that share
    the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

  14. After I originally commented I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added-
    checkbox and from now on each time a comment is added I receive four emails with the exact same comment.

    Is there a way you are able to remove me from that service?
    Thanks a lot!

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