HF R/T in Passenger Ships

20th August 2008, 07:48
Whilst I was in the big Union-Castle ships, it was still possible to book R/T calls so that, at the appointed hour, the passenger would be ready & waiting. Just about the time I left the big ships, bookings were no longer possible & I wonder how they managed. Getting a turn at Portishead could mean anything from a few minutes to several hours wait. Putting broadcasts out for passengers in the Castles was not encouraged & we had to rely on Bell Boys for message delivery. Passengers could be very hard to find among 800 or more. If passengers had phones in their cabins, we also found that they would clear off if the call didn't materialise "on the dot."
In the ST. HELENA, it didn't matter, because we only had 76 passengers & I could broadcast for them any time during the days & as we were a very small ship (3,150 gross tons), they would appeare very quickly.

I really disliked the "hit & miss" situation of HF R/T after the booking system was dispensed with by Portishead - how did the big ships cope? Cape Town radio, on the other hand, took bookings right to the end!


Ron Stringer
20th August 2008, 08:39
Sorry Bob, not an answer to your question but a note of support for the 'open access' approach to HF R/T.

When carrying out installations or major repairs on ships overseas, the need to book HF R/T calls through Rugby/Brent/Baldock by making arrangements (by Morse) with Portishead at least 24 hours in advance, could be a major headache. On occasions it added a new dimension of pressure to get everything finished by the booked time so as to be able to keep the sked and make the call for the Master back to his office. Only then would some Masters (or Owners) be satisfied that the job had been successful. If you missed the deadline, you had to repeat the process and suffer the delay - difficult if she was sailing that day.

Of course it was possible to make multiple bookings but there was a reluctance at the shore end to reserve several slots (they allocated a minumum of 30-minute slots, even for a brief test link call to show the gear was working OK) and lose the potential revenue from other ships. Some operators were more restrictive than others.

Of course there was always WWV with its on-demand calling service but I always seemed to get the people that wanted to make their calls to London via Rugby and not the States. Almost as bad as the Greek Masters/Owners who insisted that unless SVA answered immediately to the first call, the transmitter wasn't working properly!

When things got a little more modern and on-demand R/T calls were the norm at Portishead/Somerton, the pressure was off and you could make calls when you were ready, and not with half the panels off the equipment of the deckheads down and stacked around you.

20th August 2008, 09:02
For a while, they maintained some "booking channels" whilst having the "on demand" as well, but when it became "on demand only, it could be a nightmare. On one occasion, I got turn one in the morning with only DON GIOVANNI (tanker) before me. They had call after call, some over an hour long & it was six hours later that I finally got through!

But even bookings should not really affect a "test" call. If I wished to do a test, I would simply wait until a booked call was over & jump in. They would usually answer quick enough even if it was only to get rid of me, but if there was ten minutes or more of the slot left, they would usually co-operate.

Sometimes I would go through on HF telex and ask for the "lowest turn on whatever band was suitable." Often Portishead would go along with this, but there were also "shirty" ones who would say "contact us correctly on R/T bands!"

Another problem aboard REINA DEL MAR was that often Portishead would say "go to SSB or we can't take the call" When we said we hadn't got SSB (Main Tx was Globespan & secondary was Oceanspan), it was usually OK, but sometimes we just got a refusal.

Disliked HF R/T on the big ships, but didn't mind on the ST. HELENA.



20th August 2008, 09:44
If I remember correctly Ron, WWV was the US time signal service (along with WWVH in Hawaii). They would radiate time sigs on 10, 15 and 20 mc/s exactly, probably on 5 and 25 mc/s too but can't remember for sure.

The station I remember for phone calls to the States was Oceangate/WOO in New Jersey. The procedure was to call him on your H/F R/T freq using tone keying, that is to say using morse, keying an A/F tone on the carrier. Once a QSO was established it was over to voice. A3 only, SSB not an option, so wide open to QRM.

WOO could be a bit of a nightmare as for some reason they appeared not to like Cunard. I think the reason was to do with the commercial structure of coast stations in the States, normally RCA or Mackay. Cunard were largely IMR and we were expected to work the Mackay stations, for example off the eastern seaboard WSL and not WCC, off the Pacific seaboard KFS and KOK and not KPH or KTK. So, what would happen time and time again is that we would hear WOO working other passenger ships at a good strength and when the time came to work us his QSA would drop appreciably. My chief used to swear blind that they had switched their rhombics to beam away from us deliberately and he used to go spare. After a few heated words from the chief they would change aerials again and all would be well. But the feeling was it was deliberate rather than accidental. Guess they weren't Mackay!

20th August 2008, 10:01
It wasn't the service offered that I was talking about, but the fact that if you were on a large passenger ship & couldn't book calls, how did you manage? Passengers generally don't like hanging around for hours and hours & for some reason a lot of them got it into their heads that we could put them straight thorugh. When we had a booking, it was usually quite straightforward, but how did you deal with impatient passengers and long turn numbers when bookings ceased?

When satellite came along & a passenger phoned up wanting an immediate phone call to UK for instance, I would take the number & tell them it was 6 a minute (at that time). They would generally then object & say, but I don't want a satellite call, put me through on the cheaper one, but they could never grasp the fact that it could take ages to get through. A very common bleat was "they never had any trouble in other passenger ships I sailed in!"

I have even had a passenger claiming that the purser told him to ask for a VHF call as they were cheaper (We were in mid ocean at the time). I know for a fact that the purser would never have suggested such a thing!


20th August 2008, 10:24

I think as time went on people's expectations grew (as they always do). At the time I am talking about (early '60's) most passengers seemed to be happy that they could make a phone call from mid-Atlantic, even if they were told to come back at 10 or 11 o'clock next morning. I don't ever remember anybody getting upset about it. I can't remember how many R/T skeds we would have in a single day but I would suggest no more than a couple and most days only one. This was on a couple of the smaller liners (Ivernia and Saxonia) and not the Queens, which I am sure would have been a lot busier. Oceangate/WOO, despite his apparent antipathy to Cunard was much easier to work than going through the rigmarole of sending a SVC to GKS to arrange a sked with Rugby, sometimes hours in the future. Passengers just did not expect immediate phone calls on demand. They would often come to the radio room in the first couple of days after leaving Southampton to book calls for a day or so before arriving in Montreal so they could let their families know their ETA etc., but a "must have immediately" attitude I do not remember.

You, of course, were at sea much longer than me so you will have far more first hand knowledge of how expectations and perceptions changed over the years in line with advancing technology, so it's only reasonable to expect that your mileage may vary compared to mine.

20th August 2008, 12:34
Morning all,

I joined GKA in 1970 and at that time all RT calls were booked by SVC and handled by Baldock. I cannot remember the exact date we took over but it must have been around then. Initially of course we were still in the DSB age but this soon vanished and became SSB. We initially had 3 fully manned RT consoles and a standby for heavy traffic periods. This soon became fully manned so then we were up to 4. Then we had additional consoles at Somerton when the new station was being built and by then we were running up to 16 channels during the day. If we had high traffic ships on turn in 99% of cases - as they usually had the best gear - we would move them to alternate channels away from the main calling/working freqs. Obviously this was not always possible but we always tried to keep the customers satisfied as the song goes. There is a picture in my gallery of the RT room when we took over think that is around 1971.


20th August 2008, 14:58
The passengers were generally fine if they could book a call in advance and when the appointed hour came, get through relatively quickly. I am wondering what hapenned on the big ships when calls could no longer be booked.
If a passenger came up & wanted a call, if it couldn't be booked, you really didn't know how long it would take. Even a turn 2 could be an hour or more if it was a tanker before you with one of their interminable calls that went on and on.

Even on the ST. HELENA, passengers would come up saying "I would like to book a call for tomorrow etc," & I had to say, we can't book them anymore, just come up at that time & I will put you through as soon as possible. Being a small ship with no rules about public address broadcasts, I could get them easy enough when I got through. Even on bookings, I have found that sometimes when I dialled their cabin after about ten minutes wait or so, they had got tired of waiting & cleared off, only to phone up hours later demanding to know what happened to their phone call.

The problem would be even worse at Christmas without the booking facility.


20th August 2008, 15:30
I was still in P&O passenger ships at that time I have afeeling I was on the Oriana when the changeover happened because I remember we were still booking sked times when I was on the Canberra , As far as I remember the changeover was a great improvement and Portishead always tried their very best to accomodate heavy traffic times such as the day before docking at SOTON etc , I am pretty sure we told the Passengers we would get their call through asap and if they wanted to stay around the Radio Room until we got our turn that was fine , I also seem to remember that broadcst on the sre was generally frowned upon but for things like that it was permitted but it was limited to one announcement and of course if there were things like entertainment or dinner etc that was banned

Ron Stringer
20th August 2008, 15:44
If I remember correctly Ron, WWV was the US time signal service (along with WWVH in Hawaii). The station I remember for phone calls to the States was Oceangate/WOO in New Jersey.

You are absolutely correct about all that - don't know why my brain made me put the WWV callsign down. Had no bother passing traffic via WOO but was never too impressed with the tone calling arrangements - seemed to get through about 3 calls in every 10 attempts. Maybe it was the Globespan's fault. Once connected, found them slick and helpful.

21st August 2008, 09:58
On the Cunard cruise ships of the 70's and 80's, Cunard Adventurer, Ambassador, Countess and Princess, both WOO and WOM (Miami) were our major gateways for R/T traffic. They were always great stations to work, with the guys being utterly professional and efficient. I recall one hapless [U.S.] pax describing the itinerary for the following day in the Caribbean - "We're going for a trip around Venezuela Island" - oh happy days...!

Alan Marsden

22nd August 2008, 01:25
I remember booking RT calls via GKA using ATELs, then tuning in to the callband "This is the British Post Office long range radiotelephone service from Portishead Radio" - or something like that. Didn't the Australians have something the same through VIS? (not sure if VIP did).
Also, Cape Town Radio had a good service. On the Akaroa, we couldn't read them well, so the operator asked us to standby for a few minutes, then we heard another transmitter come on line and the circuit was excellent. When it was over, we asked and the operator said he had been able to use the Radio South Africa broadcast transmitters at Oliphantsfonstein.
There's no romance with satcoms. I read an old (1930s?) advert about radio components with the refrain "what are the wild waves saying....?" Exactly how it felt.