Radio Officers, RO, Merchant Navy, wireless telegraph, sparks, MN, seamen seafarers, marconi marine, IMR, AEI electronics, Liverpool, LMRES, ships
Liverpool Marine Radio & Electronics Society

An association of ex-Merchant Navy Radio Officers and marine electronics technical staff

founded in 1975

The Merchant Navy Radio Officer

          The history of the Merchant Navy Radio Officer started in the early years of the twentieth century, and effectively finished at the end of the century.   During that time, thousands of men were trained as Radio Officers in Britain and Ireland and sailed under the Red Ensign. Many of us were trained in Liverpool.
          The main source of emergency assistance in the oceans has always been the nearest deep-sea ship to your own.   Radio Officers kept watch on the international distress frequency in order to render assistance to ships in trouble.   When their own ship was in distress, they stayed at the morse key until assistance was at hand, (and not infrequently went down with their ship).
          The Radio Officer not only operated the radio equipment, but also repaired and maintained it. The companies that built and supplied the electronic equipment (and in many cases supplied the skilled Radio Officers to the shipping companies), also had their own technical staff based at various seaports. Both ex-seagoing Radio Officers and shore-based technical staff form the membership of the LMRES.
 ex ROs: morse E

The Beginnings of Wireless Communication

        Guglielmo Marconi was more of a businessman than a scientist.   He came to Britain in 1896 determined to develop "Hertzian Waves" into a commercial system from which he could make money.
          By this time an extensive network of cables encircled the globe providing a comprehensive telegram service, and so Marconi knew that with regard to communication over land, any wireless system that he developed would be in direct competition with these well-established landline routes.   It was for this reason that his early efforts were directed at developing a wireless telegraphy system for maritime use.   Once a ship was out of sight of land, it had no communication with the outside world, and this was a time when everybody - rich or poor - travelled across the world by sea.
          The success of early experiments in 1899 during a transatlantic voyage on the liner St Paul and on the SS Philadelphia in 1902 heralded the beginning of fitting ships with wireless telegraphy on a commercial basis.

The Demise of the Merchant Navy Radio Officer

          Satellites in geostationary orbit 23,300 miles above the earth today provide communication facilities for ships, using equipment which needs little skill to operate.   Modern methods of building electronic equipment have made repair at the component level impossible in many cases.   Instead, equipment is duplicated or triplicated in order to maintain a service in case of the failure of any one piece of kit.
          These developments resulted in changes to international regulations which allowed shipping companies to dispense with the services of a skilled radio officer.