SOS is the commonly used description for the International Morse code distress signal (· · · - - - · · ·). This distress signal was first adopted by the German government in 1905, and became the worldwide standard when it was included in the second International Radiotelegraphic Convention, and became effective on July 1, 1908.
Royal Mail marks this centenary with a set of 6 stamps highlighting the actions of the crews of Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and the Maritime and Coast Guard Agency (MCA) who regularly risk their own lives attempting to save those of others.
About the stamps
These dramatic stamps take a look at the work of the RNLI lifeboats and Coastguard helicopters from right around the UK coastline that head out in quite atrocious weather to help those in trouble at sea.
Every year hundreds of incidents offshore put life at risk. These may come from international commercial shipping, fishing vessels or leisure sailors - from ocean racing enthusiasts to windsurfers, and may include the incautious swimmer. Response to signals of distress is the responsibility of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which co-ordinates a rapid and proportional response based upon the information it receives and the resources at its disposal. Among these are the lifeboats of the Royal and National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), MCA or military helicopters, or other ships and vessels close to the casualty. Most such emergency rescues at sea are initiated by a Mayday call, an internationally recognized request for help derived from the French "m'aider" - help me.
The MCA have a network of 19 command and control centres to co-ordinate Search and Rescue activities around the coast of the United Kingdom. The RNLI operates a variety of different lifeboats depending upon the response required. Comprehensively equipped to deal with all forms of survival problems, both solid hull and inflatable boats are used.
The Tamar-class, shown at Tenby on the 78p stamp, is the most modern lifeboat in service. Displacing 31.5 tonnes the Tamar is a fast, slip-way launched, all-weather boat with a sophisticated control system. With a fibre reinforced composite hull and twin diesel engines the Tamar can reach 25 knots and has a range of 250 nautical miles. The Tamar will eventually replace the older Tyne-class lifeboat, shown at Appledore on the 46p stamp (displacement 25 tonnes).
The Severn-class, shown at Barra on the 1st class stamp, is the largest in the fleet with a displacement of 41 tonnes. It shares its hull shape with the smaller, but basically similar Trent-class (displacement 27.5 tonnes).
The Mersey-class (not shown on the stamps*) is the smallest solid hulled lifeboat and the first designed to launched from a carriage.
Designed for inshore, estuary and river rescue the rigid inflatable lifeboats (RIB) include the 8.5 metre B-class and the 5 metre D-class, shown at St Ives on the 54p stamp. The small and highly manoeuvrable D-Class can be trailer mounted.
The Coastguard's Sikorsky S61N helicopters, are operated from four MCA bases and the MCA can call on additional support from two Royal Navy and six Royal Air Force helicopter bases ensuring UK wide search and rescue cover. The Portland based Coastguard Helicopter 'Whiskey Bravo' (on the 48p stamp) became operational on 1 October 1995. The Lee-on-Solent based Coastguard Helicopter 'India Juliet' (on the 69p stamp) became operational on 15th May 1988.
Designed by hat trick, the stamps are printed in lithography by Walsall Security Printing. The stamps are 30mm x 41mm. In a unique innovation to help mark the centenary of the SOS signal the stamps is a special dot-dash type perforation to represent the morse code SOS signal.
All images are by kind permission of Royal Mail, Copyright 2007/8. This website is copyright Norvic Philatelics 2007.
Photography credits: 1st Barra Lifeboat, 46p Appledore Lifeboat, 48p Portland Coastguard Helicopter winchman with casualty, 54p St Ives Rigid Inflatable Lifeboat - all by Nigel Millard; 69p Lee-on-Solent Coastguard Helicopter - John Periam/RNLI; 78p Tenby (Dinbych-Y-Pysgod) Lifeboat - Eleanor Driscoll/RNLI.
Royal Mail FDCs
Set of 6 Stamp Cards unused.
Postmarks available for the day of issue are shown here these may not be to scale. These postmarks cannot be obtained after the date of issue.
| Ref FD809
Philatelic Bureau Official Postmark
| Ref FD810
Poole Official Postmark
| Ref FD810N
Poole Official non-pictorial Postmark
| Ref L10889
Mayday Rescue at Sea, Poole, Dorset
| Ref M10894
SOS Rescue at Sea, Portland Road, Birmingham, RMS Titanic
| Ref S10907
Royal National Lifeboat Institution The Charity that saves Lives at Sea, Isle of Barra, Outer Hebrides
| Ref W10912
Royal National Lifeboat Institution The Charity that saves Lives at Sea, Appledore, Devon
| Ref L10888
Maritime & Coastguard Agency, Safer Lives, Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas Air Sea Rescue, Portland, Dorset
| Ref W10911
Mayday Rescue at Sea, Devonport Royal Dockyard, Plymouth
| Ref S10908
Port William Inshore Rescue Service, Dumfries and Galloway
| Ref W10910
Royal National Lifeboat Institution The Charity that saves Lives at Sea, St Ives Cornwall
| Ref L10884
Mayday, Rescue at Sea, Southampton
| Ref W10909
Royal National Lifeboat Institution The Charity that saves Lives at Sea, Tenby Pembrokeshire
| Ref N10897
... --- ...
... --- ...
|Ref N10898 Rescue at Sea, Lifeboat Inn, Blackpool Public House|
| Ref L10886
May Day Gardens, London SW3
| Ref N10896
Sea Rescue 'HELP' Seaham (Co Durham)
| Ref N10899
Rescue at Sea, Wincham (Cheshire)
| Ref L10887
|Apologies for the poor quality of some of these images which are as received from Royal Mail. The actual postmarks will be much better, we're sure!|
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This page updated 16 March 2008
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