Obsolete-yet-Famous Marine Jobs: Radio Officers

The profession of a radio officer is a very important profession in the maritime field; but it’s something that has been going low for quite a while in today’s times. A radio officer is a person who helps to monitor and keep track of the communications aspect in a ship. The name ‘radio officer’ came into existence because in the olden days, there used to be radios which were used as tools of communication between the coast guard and the ship.

As a part of merchant navy jobs, the profession of radio officers involves a lot of requirements. Individuals are required to have a basic high school certificate to apply for the post of radio officers. In addition, individuals also need to clear written examinations to get the licensing for the post of a radio officer. Such licenses are known as the ‘Radio-Telegraph Operator’s License.’ There are specific grades assigned to this license which are known as ‘First Class’ or ‘Second Class.’

Radio Officers

The licensing exam is a very extensive exam as it encompasses subjects like ‘How to send and receive messages through Morse code’, ‘The different marine rules set up by coast guards of various countries’ and most importantly ‘The operating system of the coast guards and other naval authority in different countries.’ The reason why these subjects are included is because as a radio officer, a person will be required to operate not just in local waters but also in international oceanic and sea-limits as well.

In today’s times, the radio officers’ job, as a part of the merchant marines has become much more varied. A radio officer, these days has to work not only with radios but also with advanced and essential gadgets like computers. As merchant marines, radio officers also get regular reports about the weather in the oceanic and sea areas where the ship is positioned.

It has to be noted that the profession of radio officers is something that requires round-the-clock alertness and vigilance. This is why radio officers work generally on a shift system. The shift system includes two-three four-hour rotations in a day. This four-hour rotation is conducted once in the morning and once in the evening, giving a radio officer a gap of at least eight hours in between.

Radio officers, it has to be understood are not just a part of passenger ships. They are also essential in cargo vessels because of the very nature of the ship. In addition, ships utilised solely for the purposes of oil drilling in the high seas also employ the services of radio officers as a part of merchant navy jobs.

However, one major problem when it comes to jobs in merchant marines like that of a radio officer is that the pay is not so good and the scope of getting a promotion is also not that much. Keeping these aspects in mind, one has to decide whether one wants to take up the profession of a radio officer or not, especially in the time where they have almost become obsolete.



  1. Nowadays it is not only “obsolete” , it is caysa perduta… To be radio officer on board merchant ships in form like it was before implementation of GMDSS…
    Now on SOLAS regulated ships you need as a minimum two licenced radio operators (licensees between deck officers, not dedicated radio operators) with General Operator Certificate.
    And with modernized GMDSS (the process is flowing) and going into reality a so called “e-navigation” with very advanced and smart ships this proffession (radio officer) is mort.

  2. The use of morse code as described above is almost illegal aboard ship. It is legal to use on flashing light but nobody I’ve ever seen aboard a commercial ship was competent to send and receive flashing light. It is not used as any part of current maritime communications.
    Whoever wrote the above summary is either intentionally misleading the readers or is 20 years out of date.
    It looks as if somebody has intentionally misled the readers in order to sell worthless books.
    I have all the licenses possible to use aboard ship plus 1st class FCC radiotelegraph, but I don’t have a job because there are none.

  3. I left my last merchant ship Radio Officers job in 1995. The slippery slope for “sparkies” had been getting steeper and to find employment one had to look to more exotic lands and their FOC’s. In my case it was a mainland Chinese outfit working out of Hong Kong. A real Panamanian flagged tramper. If you are seeking hungry ships, this would be the outfit to head for. In my 20+ years at sea as a Radioman, I went from silver service stewards to rice bowls and fish heads. Enough was enough so I headed down the gangway in Bangkok secure in the knowledge that it was time for a major career change.

  4. My Dad was a wireless operator on a ship called the S.S. tantara. Was on loan to a coast guard ship called the Howay when he was washed overboard Sept 10/55 in the Queen Charlottes. Which is now Haida Gwaii

  5. Hi Cornelius,

    It seems that the “Radio Officer” no longer exists. It was a great job. First in line to know what was
    going to happen next, silver service, and you’d be up there with the C/E, 2/E Chief Mate, Purser, etc.,
    and probably the Master as well. The r/o was well respected, and a ship could not sail without you.

    Then came satcom., then GMDSS, and us r/o’s suddenly weren’t needed any more.
    You know what worries me – half the clowns on a bridge can’t figure out that the radar that
    keeps tripping out trips, because one of their hallyards is twisted around the scanner!!

  6. My dad was a r/o with NOL of Singapore for many years until they were phased out in 1999. Still have sweet memories of his sailing days when he came on leave in Ghana. Such a nostalgic feeling reading about this noble profession. He’s not been able to find another opportunity since

  7. Another factor not mentioned in the article was the responsibility of maintenance. Not only maintenance of the communication equipment but all the navigational instruments on the bridge, especially the radars which needed special attention as they are on the go 24/7 whilst at sea. All UK trained R/O’s were required to have a radar maintenance cert. This is not a knob twiddling observers course as some Captains seemed to think but an intensive 4-6 month course at a marine college, with a final exam both written and practical with very little margin for error. It had a high failure rate. You had to demonstrate that you fully understood the subject of radar down to component level.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *