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Thread: Radio Officers on Ships

  1. #21
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    Default Re: Radio Officers on Ships

    Quote Originally Posted by j.sabourn View Post
    Looking at my records the last R/O I sailed with was in 1982 and this was on a vessel on a MOD charter. The only other one was on a Russian ship in 1998. The Russian vessel was only because the Russian crew were allowed to stay onboard on agreement twix Russian /Australian governments and the Charterer. The Australian crew consisted
    of 9 including myself , the Russian crew 22 including 3 female staff . It was like going back in time, There were also about 15 surveyors on board , as the medicine locker was all labelled in Russian I insisted on taking our own medical man with us who I had to produce. The Russian sparks I never saw much off dont know what he did .
    Surely today Passenger ships carry Radio people or do they ?
    I have done all types of voyages up until 2002 and never saw a sparks only what I have said , Have always had
    the Radio Telephone certificates only. Cheers JS
    Sailed with a fair few Radio Officers in 60s 70s

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  3. #22
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    Default Re: Radio Officers on Ships

    Sailed with a few radio Officer in the 60s70s found a lot of them eccentrically funny.

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  5. #23
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    Default Re: Radio Officers on Ships

    Interesting to read all the memories of being a R/O. I trained in 1968 at Wray Castle and after a stint with various UK Companies Joined Maersk in 1971 and left the sea in 1981 having seen the writing on the wall. Became a Sound Recordist freelancing mainly for the BBC. With Maersk the R/O also did a lot of the accounts work/customs clearance on board but the pay with Maersk (in those days of low value of Sterling) was pretty good. Moved to Australia a few years ago and now amuse myself working part time in a Primary School looking after all the network systems.
    Interestingly Harry, I have got several of your books and have just finished reading "The Best of Days" it certainly brought back memories, well done and thanks!

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  7. #24
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    Default Re: Radio Officers on Ships

    R/O's had a reputation for being odd. I sailed with one who was almost totally deaf but never missed a Morse message, when asked if he could have a look at the Marconi lodestar radar as it was making terrible grinding noises, he put his ear to it and said "it's fine,I cannot hear a thing". One hour later it exploded in a shower of sparks.
    The first encounter I ever had with a R/O was when, at age 15, I did a coastal trip on a blue star ship offered to me by blue star to see if I fancied having a career with them. The R/O was a real odd ball, often having long conversations with the lifeboats. Every day in port he would take his bicycle down the gangway and pedal off, returning an hour or so later with the daily newspapers. The bicycle would then be stripped down, every part cleaned and then the parts and frame would be put up on pegboard that lined his cabin. One day I found him carrying buckets of hot water from the bathroom across the alleyway opposite his cabin, to fill the tin bath in his cabin, when I asked him why he didn't just use the bathroom instead his reply was " that used to be a passenger bathroom, so I cannot use it".
    By the late 80's most R/O's had become E.T.O.'s looking after the automation on board and paperwork.
    When GMDSS came in the job of keeping a radio watch fell to the bridge officer in addition to navigation, collision avoidance they now have to deal with radio alarms going off from vessels the other side of the world along with the many other alarms that go off regularly on today's wheelhouses. Additionally they are required to keep an accurate radio log book.
    Rgds
    J.A.

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  9. #25
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    Default Re: Radio Officers on Ships

    Hello, Barry Evans re 23. Writing is a solitary business, so it's great to hear from a reader. I'm over half way through the next book - goodness knows where it will end - there's no grand plan, I just feel my way. Here is a snip captured at random from my current efforts: I keep trying to capture some of the atmosphere of those long gone days:

    After Calcutta: Snip> I rattle the heavy Post Office-pattern telegraph key. I've not touched it for three weeks and my wrist feels stiff. The key's long brass arm needs a polish and, while I'm about it, I might as well burnish the contacts. Meanwhile, with transmitters switched off, I tap out Morse for the phrase 'best bent wire'. The rhythmic stream of characters makes a chirpy ditty:
    Dah dit dit dit, dit, dit dit dit, dah,
    Dah dit dit dit, dit, dah dit, dah,
    Dit dah dah, dit dit, dit dah dit, dit.
    My boss stamps into the wireless room. 'What are you up to now?'
    'Not much, Don. Just giving the key a rattle. My fingers are stiff from three weeks in dock. Shall I send a TR to VWC?'
    'Do it and make sure to catch his forecast for the Bay, it's peak of the cyclone season. I'll wait while you do it, then I'm off to the radar hut to check those grid currents again. Don't want to lose any more EF50s.' He lifts out the radar log from its secure rack. It records faults and how they were fixed, plus**our measurements of valve currents. Waxed carbon paper makes duplicates to be pored over by head office. We get through a deal of foolscap carbons.
    I slide the starting arm of the rotary converter and watch the voltmeter needle climb as the machine gathers speed. Our engine room sends 110 volts DC around the ship, hence we must convert the direct current to alternating current (AC) to feed equipment power supplies. Machines with rotating armatures such as inductor alternators and rotary transformers are a simple way to generate the voltages our gear demands.
    I enjoy a subdued chorus each time I work the key. It's the song of magneto-striction, of laminated iron plates wound with copper --- changing shape under load. They sob and hum through shrouds of waxed insulation. The whine of the rotary transformer rises and falls, valves flicker, and the receiver mutes as I key out 120 watts into the main aerial wire strung between funnel and mast. It all brings comfort and meaning to lonely watches.
    On the international calling frequency of 500 kc/s I send: VWC VWC VWC DE GWWZ GWWZ GWWZ TR K (Calcutta radio from Mawana, movement report, over).
    After a few repeats, he takes notice and responds with: GWWZ DE VWC UP 434. (Mawana from Calcutta Radio, move to 434 kilocycles working frequency).
    We meet on 434 and I key: VWC de GWWZ MAWANA DEPT CALCUTTA 0950 BND VISAKH ETA 1500 23RD. WX BAY BENGAL? (I've been cheeky enough to ask for a weather report instead of waiting for his scheduled broadcast due in ninety minutes.)
    He comes back: GWWZ DEEP LOW ANDAMAN SEA VA.
    I reply: R TU VA (Understood. Thank you. End of transmission.)
    I'd unplugged my headphones so my boss could hear the traffic. He yields up a grunt. 'That could be a bugger. We need the proper forecast at 11.30.'
    At 1140, I open the chartroom hatch and hand over the weather report from VWC: Depression over Andaman Sea and Nicobars moving north-west. Winds anticyclonic 40 knots. Central Bay of Bengal winds N to NE 20 knots, occasional precipitation, visibility 1 mile, heavy swell. Northern Bay of Bengal and coastal waters Sandheads to Madras precipitation nil, visibility 10 miles, moderate swell.
    The apprentice hands it to the mate. His response carries through from the wheelhouse. 'Shifting our way, is it? Not to worry. Those things feed off warm water, so it could yet wander west. So let's not get our Nicobars in a twist.'


    I may well stand corrected over some technical matters - so please feel free to comment.
    Last edited by Harry Nicholson; 29th June 2022 at 01:17 PM.
    Harry Nicholson

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  11. #26
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    Default Re: Radio Officers on Ships

    Hello All,

    Nice to hear from former ROs. I am a former RO having left the MN in 1979. My last vessel was the MV Amphiopé owned by London Greeks and managed out of Finsbury Square in London. My post applies largely to cargo and not to passenger ships.

    Formerly, the primary duty of an RO was SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea); safety of mariners, be they your crew or others as sea. In respect of the safety of other ships we had to undertake 8 hours of radio watch per day when at sea. And when we weren't on watch we'd turn on the automatic distress call (SOS) receiver (auto alarm).

    An important addition to the primary duty described above was maintenance of our radio stations. Generally we maintained 3 radio stations:

    The main station which we used for daily watch and ship-to-shore communications;
    The emergency station which was there as back-up in case of power failure;
    The lifeboat station, should we ever have to abandon ship.

    When it came to secondary duties there were several:

    1. Ship-to-shore communications on behalf of the company and crew using telegraphy and telephony. Occasionally we would, at our own discretion, relay ship-to-shore telegraphy communications for other ships in our vicinity if they asked for help on 500kHz. The reason was usually because they had weak radio equipment and couldn't get in radio contact with distant coast stations. In theory, they could use nearby commercial coast stations but relay costs were often exorbitant.

    2. Bridge electronic equipment maintenance - mainly Radars, Direction Finders, Echo Sounders, Bridge VHF Radios, Weather Fax Machines, etc.

    3. Other informal maintenance duties included bar entertainment equipment, personal transistor radios, etc.

    4. There were probably other duties such as helping the captain or the purser with administrative tasks but I have no such experience.

    So it is easy to see that once the SOLAS function is removed there's little justification for an RO. This is exactly what happened with advances in global satellite communications which are vastly more reliable and comparatively cheap to run. Because there is no need to know morse code you can just communicate through telephony with the most minimal of training. Shipping companies were not sad to see the back of us either. There had always been a resentment of ROs in shipping companies. They saw as unwelcome additional operating costs.

    Irony of ironies, of course, is that the role of RO was made redundant through the use of technology that he himself would have understood well. The person most qualified in electronics was the first to be made redundant by advances in radio communication once satellite communications really took off.

    By the 70s an RO could undertake a 6 month college-based course in Marine Electronics and become a Radio Electronics Officer (REO). I undertook such a course myself in 1976 at Southampton College of Technology. We were supposed to maintain deck and engine room electronic equipment which were beginning to appear as automation of tasks increased. However, at the time, that new role as electronics officer was little appreciated and I often met with resistance or ignorance, mostly from the engine-room guys. They distrusted electronic automation even if they could see some of its benefits. They would certainly never seek the advice or opinion of a sparky on engine-room issues.

    So, by the 70s increasing automation required someone with extensive knowledge of electronics. I felt that the future for an RO was to become an REO and thus provide more value to the company. Afterall, automation has cost benefits which could only be sustained by having qualified electronics experts onboard. Getting an REO to perform these duties, rather than the electrician, made sense.

    Ship-borne electronic technology has probably expanded significantly over the decades since I left the MN. I have gone online to investigate the role of the successor to the RO. However, I've not come across anything definitive. It seems that there is now someone who is successor to both the electrician and the RO. There is no way the electrician of old could handle the volume and complexity of modern automation equipment.

    In addition we've now got computerised systems. So, the successor would need significant expertise in computer systems and networks. On the positive side, onshore help can now be more easily accessed through satellite communications that was not possible in my day. Back then you were a one-man department. You were isolated and had to know everything. Now, I imagine, you can just get on to a video call with onshore experts. Indeed, I suspect some remote monitoring and maintenance work is now possible through the use of 'always on' satellite communications. Nevertheless you still need someone onboard who is expert in telemetry.

    Regards,

    Gerry Fisher
    REOU No. 29305
    Discharge Book No. UK 010746

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  13. #27
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    Default Re: Radio Officers on Ships

    I started my career as a Radio Officer with Cable & Wireless in 1971 after training and qualifying with a 1st Class PMG certificate and radar manintenance. I later did further studying to obtain my advanced Marine Electronics Certificate. I continued to serve on a variety of ships with different companies as RO or ETO. In 1993 I joined Holland America Line and worked on cruise ships as a Chief Radio Officer until 1997 when the Radio Officer function was phased out due to GMDSS and we were renamed Communication Officers. We were then still involved in some Radio communications but became fully involved with the MTN satellite systems as well as re-training into onboard computer systems. In 2003 we became IT Officers and in charge of all the onboard computer systems as well as satellite systems. I retired in 2011 but HAL still employs IT Officers with the department increasing in size as the IT systems have evolved and become critical to the running of the vessels.
    Robin Merriott

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    Default Re: Radio Officers on Ships

    Robin,

    Very interesting post. It seems to me that you've just described one particular evolutionary career path from RO to something more modern. A company like HAL appear to have worked out what type of electronic/computer professional they need. Perhaps in time their career structure will get adopted by others in the industry because from other articles I've read online there seems to be no defined structure out there and some of the shipping companies are no better than cowboy outfits.

    I congratulate you on your longevity in the industry. On the one hand I'd love to have stayed beyond 1979 and risen to the challenges faced by ROs in transitioning to the emerging career opportunities. On the other hand I'm not sure I'd cope with some of the modern monstrosities out there, such as half million ton container vessels. I can't see where the adventure and romance of going to sea is with those ones with their fast turn-rounds and very limited number of berthable ports in the world. More so for those of us who've worked on trampers where two or more weeks in a decent port was not that unusual.

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  16. #29
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    Default Re: Radio Officers on Ships

    Most R/O's I sailed with were Irish, good lads and always someone in the bar to have a beer with when coming off the 8/12. I wonder was the Irish accent and the fact they spoke at 100 MPH they had no bother at rattling out the morse code?

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  18. #30
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    Default Re: Radio Officers on Ships

    #29 Another thing with the upbringing of the farming side of the Irish life according to a Sparks I sailed with, and I must say in our cups at the time was that in the usual large families , the farm and all the monies went to their eldest son. Which left the siblings looking for work. A lot as you say went into Radio at sea, the girls looked for richer husbands , the boys were always later in getting married as couldn’t afford a wife until had accrued enough money to support one. The beneficiary of the fathers death , being the elder son , could then afford to get married who was usually a much younger girl.Saying that however that could also apply to anyone in Britain also. Morals were different then , and I know myself I was brought up to believe that the man supported his wife monetary , and was his privilege to do so. Looking at some of the females today if you still held those views all the money would be spent in the tattoo parlour. Ugh ! JS
    R575129

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