Need help understanding ship to shore communications - Ships Nostalgia
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Need help understanding ship to shore communications

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  #1  
Old 8th June 2017, 11:06
novelist novelist is offline  
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Need help understanding ship to shore communications

The reason for this post is to let you know that I am in the throes of writing a mystery novel (Iím retired and itís something Iíve always said I would do someday). The novel takes place primarily on Cunardís MV Georgic in 1953.
1953 happens to be the year that the family emigrated from Liverpool to the States when was 10 years old and the Georgic happens to be the vessel we sailed on.
I am posting my first ďplea for helpĒ in this forum because one thing I am missing is an understanding of ship to shore communications in the 1950ís on a vessel such as Georgic.
Because of a murder that has taken place (two actually, but thatís beside the point) my novel requires a fair amount of communication between the ship and Cunard as well as Scotland Yard and the RCMP. How would that be done? Would it be with morse code? Could they communicate directly or would messages have to be relayed somehow? Would they use special frequencies? Any and all such information would be helpful.
They say the worst thing an author can do is get your facts wrong and right now, Iím sure I will get a lot of details about ship to shore communications wrong.
So far, I have made educated guesses about how this would take place but I would love to have more specific detail and Iíll bet thereís someone out there who would be willing to help this struggling landlubber.
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  #2  
Old 8th June 2017, 16:47
Robert Hilton Robert Hilton is offline  
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Surely some of you sparkies can give a full and comprehensive answer to this. When ship to shore was by WT I was well away from it all. Later I only had to deal with VHF and medium frequency by voice. I did learn a few dodges such as booking a link call with a British coast station in an agitated foreign voice so as to get quick service.
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  #3  
Old 8th June 2017, 16:59
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I think this will give you the right information:

Marine radio history
Early days
Marine radio was first installed on ships around the turn of the 20th century.
In those early days, radio (or "wireless" as it was known) was used primarily for transmission and reception of passenger telegrams.
Radio watchkeeping hours were not standardised, and and there was no regulatory requirement for carriage of radio by ships.* Indeed, there was a general lack of regulation of the radio spectrum.*
Amateur/experimental stations often interfered with commercial stations and vice-versa.*
All that changed one clear and cold April night in 1912...
The most modern passenger liner of the time, RMS Titanic, sank on her maiden voyage after a collision with an iceberg.*

Some 1500 people perished in the disaster.* Fortunately, 700 odd people were saved, thanks mainly to the efforts of the Titanic's two radio officers, who managed to summon help from nearby vessels.

The only known photo of the Titanic's radio room
However, the vessel closest to the disaster (the Leyland liner Californian) could not be summoned, as her Radio Officer had just gone off watch after 12 hours on duty. The Californian managed to establish communications with other searching vessels after the Titanic had sunk.
But by then, it was too late - one thousand five hundred people, including the cream of American and European society, had frozen to death in the North Atlantic.

The Titanic disaster brought about a number of fundamental changes to marine radio:

*- carriage requirements and radio watchkeeping hours were standardised;
*- message priorities were standardised - i.e.: distress and safety traffic always has priority;*******
*- distress frequencies were standardised; and
*- radio silence periods were introduced.

The Titanic disaster also served as the catalyst for the introduction of the International Convention for the Safety of Life At Sea (the SOLAS Convention).* The introduction of the first SOLAS Convention was delayed by WW1 - the Convention came into force in the 1920's.
For more detailed information on the radio aspects of the Titanic, have a look at the RMS Titanic Radio Page.
1920s-today
During the 1920's, 30's and 40's, marine radio advanced with the technology of the day - radiotelephone operation was introduced, and most importantly, High Frequency (HF) came into widespread use, thereby allowing communications over ever-increasing distances.

Radio room - RMS Queen Mary
Of course, marine radio played a vital role in WW2 - the war provided a great boost to radio technology in general.* Amongst other things, WW2 introduced direct bridge to bridge communications, through the use of what was to become the marine VHF radio band - known during the war years as "talk between ships"
(TBS).

After the war, Marine Radio incorporated the latest achievements in electronics - solid state (i.e.: transistorised) equipment and Marine Radar became commonplace.

However by the late 1970's, despite tremendous general advances in communications, Morse Code still ruled the marine radio waves.
After some 80 odd years of development, marine distress alerting still relied on a human being sitting in front of a receiver.

Ship's Radio Officers sent a distress message using Morse Code (or radiotelephone) in the hope that another ship or shore station would hear the call and respond.

Typical merchant ship radio room - mid 1980's..note the morse key

The main Marine Radio distress frequency of 500 kHz had remained unchanged since the Titanic had sent her plaintive calls for help that April night in 1912...
The stage was set for some significant change....
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Old 8th June 2017, 19:22
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Novelist, here are few points for you to start and get your teeth stuck in to. Georgic was under the British flag and therefore all communications from roughly 10 degrees west back to the Cunard office, or other UK addresses, would be via Portishead Radio. This was the primary contact point for all British ships via what was called H/F or high frequency communications in Morse code. This allowed you to communicate from distances of about 500 miles to, with luck, the other side of the world. Closer than 500 miles the communications protocol was different. Presuming you are in mid Atlantic somewhere the R/O would be communicating with Portishead Radio (in SW England) on varying frequencies dependant on the time of day. Virtually all of these communications at that time would be in Morse code. Radio Telephone calls did exist at the time but were comparatively rare. You would not be wrong to include a telephone call if it fits your story but it would not be the primary source of communication.
Communicating with Canada would be via the same technology (H/F MORSE) via Halifax Radio. This would continue until the vessel arrived within about 500 miles of the Canadian coast line when the ship would switch the shorter range Medium Frequency (M/F) method of communicating.
Is this enough for what you need? If you want something more specific please ask.
Tony
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Old 8th June 2017, 20:13
Naytikos Naytikos is offline  
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To amplify Tony Selman's remarks, it is important to understand that there would be no direct communication between any one person on the ship with either Scotland Yard or the Cunard office. Whatever message needed to be conveyed would be written out on a telegram form and handed to the Radio Officer. He would call Portishead or Halifax or Amagansett (New York) on whatever he thought was a suitable frequency for the time of day and transmit the telegram to the operator at the shore station who would type it on another telegram form.
This would then be passed to someone else at the station who would type out the message on a teleprinter linked to the national telegraph system so that it eventually arrived at the required destination. Telegraphic addresses were generally two words, e.g. 'Cunard London'. What the address for Scotland Yard would have been, I don't know.
Any reply would follow the same route in reverse, except that when the shore station received the message, the ship's callsign would be included in the next 'traffic list' broadcast 4-hourly on special frequencies. Ships commonly monitored these lists and, when his callsign was included, the R/O called the relevant station to pick up his message(s). It was not quick.

There's a lot more, but perhaps you now have enough to ask questions.
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  #6  
Old 8th June 2017, 21:09
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Gentlemen,
All I can say is THANKS, THANKS, THANKS! This is exactly the information I have been looking for. I will absorb it all and am sure I will have a few more specific questions as I move along with the story.
I'm close to finishing my first draft (more work than I ever thought), but this is the information I need as I get ready to start on my revisions.
I will definitely take advantage of your offers to ask more questions as needed.
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  #7  
Old 8th June 2017, 21:16
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I hope novelist you're not going to follow one of Alistair MacLean's favourite tricks and kill off the sparks in the first chapter ...
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Old 8th June 2017, 21:46
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Do you live in the UK? if so I can give you some practical help.
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  #9  
Old 8th June 2017, 22:03
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Hadn't planned on it... but I can always add another murder! Thanks for the idea.
David
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Old 8th June 2017, 22:04
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No. Was born in Liverpool but now live in Fort Wayne, Indiana... but thanks for the offer.
David
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  #11  
Old 9th June 2017, 07:41
R651400 R651400 is offline  
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Welcome aboard novelist.
The mv Georgic (photographs in SN gallery) was sister ship to the very last White Star liner mv Brittanic..
Unlike the rest of the White Star Line ship's officers, Radio Officers and radio equipment at this time would have been supplied by one of the major radio companies. IMR (International Marine Radio), MIMCo (Marconi International Marine Co) or Siemens.
Had a friend (with whom I've lost contact) who was a Junior R/O on Brittanic and I'm sure he was employed by MIMCo but would suggest a confirmation on this.
Further to previous postings. The radio equipment on board trans Atlantic liners of this period covered the LW (long wave) 210 metre (143 kc/s) band with a high percentage if not all the Georgic to UK (morse) traffic with Portishead radio from mid Atlantic onwards conducted on this waveband..
Interestingly both mv Brittanic and Georgic radio offices were situated inside the forward (dummy) funnel..
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  #12  
Old 9th June 2017, 11:08
jimg0nxx jimg0nxx is offline  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BobClay View Post
I hope novelist you're not going to follow one of Alistair MacLean's favourite tricks and kill off the sparks in the first chapter ...
You would need to kill off more than one R/O on a ship like Georgic. As late as 1968 I was 4th R/O of 6 on Empress of Canada. At that time and for some years following morse was the main method of ship-shore communications.
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  #13  
Old 9th June 2017, 11:14
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I was a wiper on the Empress of Canada in 1967. Nobody tried to kill me either ...
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Old 9th June 2017, 11:59
R651400 R651400 is offline  
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#12 sparked a bit of memory..
Am sure my afore-mentioned (#11) pal was also RO on Empress of Britain and thus employed by Marconi.
Perhaps White Star from Titanic all the way through to Brittanic maintained the same MIMCo status quo.
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Old 9th June 2017, 12:09
jimg0nxx jimg0nxx is offline  
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At that time all CP ships were MIMCo, I sailed on three of them. I think they started to go direct employed in the early 70s.
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Old 9th June 2017, 13:01
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I direct employed with them in 76 as REO and found them good employers.
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Old 9th June 2017, 13:13
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Guys... thanks for all the good info. Keep it coming. Now I'm seriously thinking that maybe I should kill off an R/O or two.
A couple of you have mentioned Empress of Canada. You might be interested to know that, as a kid in Liverpool, I rode the Liverpool Overhead Railway the morning after the original Empress of Canada burned and capsized in Gladstone Dock. The railway (no longer in existence) went right past the dock at a pretty good elevation so I had a great view. I was 10 years old and still have a vivid image of that huge liner laying on its side. Until you mentioned the name, I was not aware that a new Empress of Canada had been built.
David
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Old 9th June 2017, 13:46
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Quote:
Originally Posted by novelist View Post
Guys... thanks for all the good info. Keep it coming. Now I'm seriously thinking that maybe I should kill off an R/O or two.

I knew I should have kept my gob shut .....
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Old 9th June 2017, 18:22
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Bloody hell Bob, now look what you've done. We are trying to keep R/Os alive at our age, not kill them off.
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Old 9th June 2017, 18:36
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Hangs head in shame. I shall retire to the radio room, there will be the sound of a pistol shot. (Then I'll probably have to spend a couple of hours fixing that bloody big hole in the Main Transmitter.)

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Old 9th June 2017, 18:39
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Aw tomtit... You missed!
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Old 9th June 2017, 18:40
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I've been thinking about out the possibilities. I think a guy named Bob from Cornwall would be an ideal candidate to get bumped off.
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Old 9th June 2017, 18:48
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This book sounds interesting. Let's hope I make it past Chapter 1 before I hear sinister footsteps down the alleyway in the dark of the night (not that it's ever dark onboard ship, unless it's a blackout, but engineers insist there's no such thing as a blackout.)
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Old 9th June 2017, 19:53
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Georgic Call sign GRLJ Twin screw motor ship 27469 gross tons. Built Harland & Wolff 1931. According to Lloyds List for 1951-52 she was at that time running for Ministry of Transport by the Cunard Line. She was listed as having gyro compass, radar & DF. She would have probably carried 4 radio officers. IMR employed. Cheers, Roger
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Old 9th June 2017, 20:27
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I did a Gallery search for the Georgic. Seems to have had quite a history ...
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