Marine radiotelegraphy

I followed an interesting thread started by windjammer concerning flashing lights, a subject (one of many, here) I know nothing about. I was wondering, what is the situation regarding morse with current radio officer requirements? Looking on the internet about amateur requirements, I see that the speed for the x-tra class license is only 5 wpm. As I recall, twenty or thirty years ago it was 15 for code groups, 20 plain language. Has something similar happened in radio officer requirements? Am I so out of it that I live in an imaginary world, now? What, anyway, DO radio officers do now? How do you become one? How old can you be? Some of you mates and skippers, maybe Chief Cavo, should know the answer to this. Thanks.

Requirements for all FCC licenses have changed drastically in the past few years. Years ago, I believe the code speed requirements for First, Second and Third class telegraph licenses were 25, 18, and 15 wpm. It’s now 25, 20 and 16. Also there is no Ist or 2nd class radiotelephone exam for the tech part of the license. Now, there is a General Radiotelephone tech exam, GMDSS Maintainer exam and 70 hr GMDSS Operator course and exam and Radar. There also may be some new STCW requirements for Maintainer, I haven’t kept up with recent changes.

Each vessel now has to carry a minimum of 2 GMDSS operators in lieu of a radio officer. The equipment has to be maintained and checked at regular intervals by shore support contract or carry a GMDSS Maintainer. Depending on the area of deployment and the frequency of returning to civilization, redundant equipment may be required on board or carry a Maintainer.

I think the only radio officers left are on a few MSC ships.

Also, the code requirements for Ham Radio was 20 for Extra, 13 for Advanced and General and 5 for Tech and Novice. They lowered the requirement to 5wpm for all classes and later dropped it.

Any speed requirements are set by the FCC, all that the Coast Guard looks at is if you have the FCC license. So my knowledge is limited to the flashing light exam/course some deck officers take.

RO’s are rare as hen’s teeth these days. There are still a few on MSC Civmar ships and a few MSC time contract ships. They are actually called ETO (electronic technician officers) and work on the ship’s electronics. I am sure there is some MSC message traffic (via sats only) as well. The USCG has determined that GMDSS operators are all that is required. I know that there were originally supposed to be 2 GMDSS operators on board, but the current COI on my ship requires 4 (the Captain and all three mates).

Telegraphy, while still a part of the RO testing requirements, is nearly non-existant on the airwaves except for some communist countries (North Korea and Cuba are notable examples). I should say that the SITOR stations still ID with morse at about 3 wpm.

Morse was eliminated from the US ham bands after most other countries dropped it. There is still quite a following on their bands however and it is about the only place you are going to find morse code being used except for land mobile station ID’s.

Radio telegraph officer code tests for T2 and T3 are 16 wpm code groups and then 20 wpm plain text. T1 requires 20 wpm groups and 26 wpm plain texts. The big issue now is trying to find anyone to give these exams (plus the two written elements). The FCC no longer gives exams, so finding a commercial testing group to give them is difficult at best. Once the FCC ticket is obtained, you then have to get all of the USCG things out of the way. I am not all that versed with what those are for an RO these days since everything is changing.


injunear, chief cavo, anabasis, thanks much. I get the picture. I’m older than I thought I was. Now let’s see, where was I, something about an albatross.

Second Class Radiotelegraph calls for 16 WPM of Code Groups and 20 WPM Plain Text.

That means one minute of error-free transcription in each Element.

First Class Radiotelegraph is 20 WPM Code Groups and 25 WPM Plain Text.

First Class also has some sea time requirements.

Despite the relaxation of the CW requirements in Amateur Radio, the Commercial Test is the same-old same-old.

A potted geranium can send/receive 10-15 WPM, but consistent, accurate CW at 20 WPM and above requires some natural ability…you either have it, or you don’t.

FYI, I hold or have held EVERY class of FCC Operator license EXCEPT Aircraft Radiotelegraph Operator (now defunct), and of First Class Radiotelegraph.

I have to say, having taken the flashing light test at 6 wpm (I think), I can’t imagine doing it at 20 wpm. Might as well throw a strobe light in front of my face.

Blinker light is tougher than copying CW by ear. I can do about 10 WPM on the blinker, but 25 WPM (copy), and 30 WPM (ear) on the phones.

Morse Code by ear is Music. Same cluster of little cells in yer brain does it. Some folks got it, some don’t.