How do crews on ships at sea communicate?

Back in the 1960s, the United States and the United Kingdom dominated ocean traffic, and 80% of ships' crews were native English speakers.

By the end of 1970s, however, the situation had reversed, and today, 80% of ship's crews do not speak English as a first language.

What is the situation when a ship captain communicates with their crew, or with another vessel or with personnel ashore?

In order to avoid confusion, in 1983 a group of linguists and shipping experts created a new system of communication called Seaspeak.

English was chosen as the principle lexicon for Seaspeak because it was the most common language spoken on ships at that time, and, importantly, it was also the language of civil aviation. In 1988, the IMO made Seaspeak the official language of the seas.

Seaspeak sets the rules on how to talk on a vessel's radio.

The number of words that ca be said is limited, in order to make sure that messages and conversations are short and clear.

Eight words, called message markers, precede each sentence. These words are:

  1. Advice;
  2. Answer;
  3. Information;
  4. Instruction;
  5. Intention;
  6. Question;
  7. Request;
  8. Warning.

An important rule of Seaspeak is that numbers made up of two or more digits are spoken in single digits. For example, the number 33 is spoken as "three three" and the time 9:33 a.m. is spoken as "zero nine three three."

Coordinated Universal Time—the primary time standard or international time scale by which the world regulates clocks and time—is always used at sea.