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Wireless Operators and Radio Officers (redirected from Radio Officers)

Page history last edited by Alan Hartley-Smith 4 months ago




A typical sea-going officer

From the start the Marine Company provided all customers with a Marconi wireless service by leasing all necessary equipment and also by providing the required staff, so a new class of employment was created, that of Wireless Operator. These were men trained at Company establishments who installed and manned installations both on shore and at sea, undertaking the maintenance and the operation of the equipment as Company employees. Thus the Marine Company had two distinct workforces, one working for the main production Company, static in the UK factories and in its own support services, and an itinerant who served in stations located wherever in the world was required and on board both merchant marine and naval vessels. This led to the creation of the first schools for wireless training and a unique management system. Movement between employment at sea or ashore was available.


Initially a civilian operation the onset of the First World War required an added service which is covered here, and indeed was required again, more extensively, in World War Two.


Later the role was renamed to that of Radio Officer and as other electronic navigation aids and equipment came into use this could be extended to Electronics Officer with additional training.


Present Day

Towards the end of the 20th century Radio Officers were gradually being made redundant. The type of radio equipment installed was being phased out, and new rules and regulations were coming into force for a system using satellite communications - the GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System) - which removed the need for a specific Radio Officer, either the Captain or Deck Officers carrying out the required duties. Coastal radio stations were closed down.


Thus the era of the Radio Officer came and went within the century. Ships now carry ETO’s (Electro Technical Officers), highly-trained electrical and electronics personnel responsible for all communication and navigation systems, together with everything electrical on the ship, from domestic items to lighting, cargo pumps, winches, and computers.


The Future

The intention is to include as much information as possible and practicable on both shore and sea-going staff. There are lists held in the Archive in Oxford but these are not easy to access so in much the same way as we have done for Marconi Apprentices we hope to collect input from users to build the picture. This can be done by contacting the owner using the link shown at the bottom of this page.


This project has been advanced by the acquisition of a complete set of the Mariner journal which provides details of both ship and shore personnel from 1947 onwards. Efforts continue to obtain similar detailed information for earlier periods.


There is also Signal the Journal of the Radio and Electronic Officers' Union published 6 times a year which ran into over 500 editions. It is understood that there are copies for reference available in the Merseyside Maritime Museum and also in the Modern Records Centre of the University of Warwick. 




The Association of Wireless Telegraphists was founded at the end of 1912. They amalgamated with the Cable and Telegraph Operators' Association in 1921 to form the Association of Wireless and Cable Telegraphists. This was renamed the Radio Officers' Union in 1938 and affiliated to the Trades Union Congress in the same year. The Union changed its name to the Radio and Electronic Officers' Union in 1967 to reflect the changing duties of the radio officer. It amalgamated with the Merchant Navy and Airline Officers' Association and the Mercantile Marine Service Association in June 1985 to form the National Union of Marine, Aviation and Shipping Transport Officers. In 2006, the Union became a partner with the Dutch union Federatie van Werknemers in de Zeevaart and, on 2 October 2006, changed its name to "Nautilus UK" to reflect the increasing globalisation of shipping in the new millennium. FWZ became Nautilus NL at the same time. The two unions also launched of the Nautilus Federation, through which Nautilus NL and Nautilus UK worked closely together on an industrial and political level. In 2008, members of Nautilus UK and Nautilus NL voted overwhelmingly in favour of proposals to create a new single trans-boundary union for maritime professionals. Nautilus International was born on 15 May 2009. In 2011, Swiss maritime professionals and boatmen, formally represented by Swiss union Unia, voted to join Nautilus International. In 2015, FNV Waterbouw also became part of the Union.


There is also The Radio Officers Association - an organisation of Merchant Navy, Civil Aircraft, Coast Station and covert radio officers with much information about the use of wireless in the marine environment.


The Role of the Merchant Navy Radio Officer


Radio Officer Nostalgia


A video story of a circa-1970s Radio Officer


William Davies M.B.E (1878-1957) - photos









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