On the Job

Guide to Onboard Radio Etiquette

29 October 2021By Patrick Levitzke
marine transceiver radio
iStock/travenian

Written by

Patrick Levitzke

Patrick Levitzke is from Port Macquarie, Australia. He left in 2019 to begin yachting, and found his first job on a private 82-foot Horizon, cruising the U.S. East Coast, with just the captain. Currently, he’s a deckhand on a 210-foot private yacht and has plans to complete his 200-ton license this year.

The radio is perhaps one of the most valuable and often overlooked tools in every crewmember’s toolkit. It’s a highway for communication and information across the vessel. Knowing how best to use it will serve you and your crewmembers well and ensure peak guest experience.

Proper radio etiquette can be broken down into two parts: Ensuring proper radio function and maintenance and the communication being delivered and received.

Ensuring Proper Radio Function: You and your trusty radio may often find yourselves in inclement climates. Check for corrosion, bent antennas, and water in the speaker. If it has suffered a salty tender ride, remember to rinse it afterwards with freshwater — otherwise it may not see the end of charter.

When transmitting, remember you’re on loudspeaker throughout the vessel. If in a leadership position or head of department, as the saying goes, “Praise in public and give discipline/feedback in private; never over the radio.” 

As you go about your day (and night), be aware of your battery, volume, and channel. If any of these three are out, you’re running deaf to the vessel happenings. This especially becomes important before undertaking any kind of docking, fire drills, or tender operations where clear lines of communication are a must.

If your vessel doesn’t have them already, invest in radio lanyards that are able to hook onto your belt loops. It will save many would-be radio-overboard incidents, as well as preventing dents on deck and having to get that infamous clothing iron out.

As a final touch, turn down your radio when guests are about. It’ll make it that much easier for them to enjoy those aft deck sunsets if they’re not overhearing the endless logistics of crew.

Communication Delivery: When carefully constructing your message, include vital info:

/ What are the actions/information you’re requesting?

/ What actions/information are you conveying?

The goal is to make communication as clear and concise as possible. It’s a get-from-point-A-to-B type of deal; distinctly different than having a conversation. Identify who you’re addressing, then await confirmation that your intended recipient(s) are listening. Most radios will have a slight delay between when you press the button to transmit and transmission, so give it half a second before you start speaking to avoid those, “Sorry, could you repeat” moments.

If you’re being given information — perhaps along the lines of “Guests are requesting three snack-packs, books from their cabin, and a bottle of wine with ice” — repeat that information back before acting on it to ensure both parties have the information correct.

As a final touch, turn down your radio when guests are about. 

When transmitting, remember you’re on loudspeaker throughout the vessel. If in a leadership position or head of department, as the saying goes, “Praise in public and give discipline/feedback in private; never over the radio.” When on charter, always assume guests will hear what you have to say over the radio. If it’s banter, make sure it’s family friendly.

While the humble radio is often overlooked, it plays a central part to any vessel. It’s entertaining to think of how you would run any modern superyacht without them.

This article originally ran in the August 2021 issue of Dockwalk.

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