back to article What happens when a Royal Navy warship sees a NATO task force headed straight for it? A crash course in Morse

What's it like aboard a warship? Aside from the glamorous bits when Russian jets are whizzing past and there's lots to do? El Reg not only went aboard HMS Enterprise to find out – we scored a trip to the Arctic Circle courtesy of the Royal Navy. As related in previous instalments, your correspondent was lucky enough to be …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Presumably "stoker" is an official rank overtaken by a new functional role?

    1. Oh Matron!

      Marine engineer mechanic. My Bro was one on HMS Endurance in the 90s

      1. roger 8

        and a pinkie is an Electrical engineer

        1. N2


          Actually, its a Greenie, of which a Pinkie is a subset as they are radio / radar maintainers.

  2. ragnar

    Did anyone else catch what she said in the Call The Hands video at roughly 00:13 - 00:16?

    Thanks, great article!

    1. Mark 85

      Nope, I wasn't able to catch it either. Apparently from Googling, it's up the individual bosun to word it as they see fit after the pipe. So it varies from day to day and bosun to bosun.

    2. Colly6

      The pipe was "Out all gash*, out all gash, Duty Mess close-up."

      *gash being Jackspeak for rubbish

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thanks for the tip on a sea-sickness pill.

    My reliable Avomine stopped being sold many years ago. Not before it had helped me across a rough North Sea from Bergen to Newcastle in a large RORO*** vehicle ferry. Swaying down the passage to our cabin - it was noticed that small foil-lined cardboard boxes had been placed every few metres. My companion had laughed at my taking a pill on the relatively calm outward leg. Now she said sheepishly - "Can I have one of your pills?".

    ***Roll on, Roll off. Although where they provide extensive sleeping arrangements for passengers they are more likely termed ROPAX.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Although when I googled the brand used, the side effects seemed off putting.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        A month after retiring early - feeling very healthy - it was disconcerting to be enrolled by my doctor into the "pill popping" club.

        The small print about side-effects of any medication seems to be an exercise in pre-emptive legal damage limitation. Never mind whether you might also be allergic to "harmless" substances used to bulk and coat the pill.

        On the now routine annual check-up it is interesting that the doctor would look at my blood test reports and say of a medication "yes - you are tolerating this well".

        1. MyffyW Silver badge

          My favourite is ibuprofen - sold as a headache remedy - in which one of the side effects is listed as headache.

          1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

            Long term use of Paracetamol can cause vicious, long term headaches too I believe.

            1. Jeffrey Nonken

              Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can destroy your liver. Do NOT OD (keep it under 6 extra-strength tablets per day -- adult dose) and avoid its use while drinking.

              1. WhereAmI?

                Otherwise known as paracetamol in the UK.

                1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

                  Sold as Panadol in Australia

    2. IDoNotThinkSo

      It is a shame they stopped that service, although it could get quite rough.

      I remember watching a film in the "cinema" which was in the bow. Wind was F7 and it was rather choppy.

      It was full at the beginning and less than a quarter full by the end, and not because the film was bad...

      Watching motion on the screen whilst swaying side to side is a good test of any drugs (although I didn't take any, being brave or stupid).

      1. Dave Bell

        The first time I watched "The Hunt For Red October" I was on a ferry to Rotterdam. Just enough motion of the ship that the differences in motion were disconcerting.

    3. Nick Kew

      I have fond memories of that Bergen-Newcastle ferry. Sleeping out on deck, and realising in the morning it was probably the best place, as other passengers bemoaned their enclosure.

      Has that line been restored? Last I heard, it was being discontinued.

    4. Matthew 3


      I recall an anecdote from a certain Jeremy Clarkson on a particularly bad crossing - the toilets were awash with vomit which was sloshing from side to side of the floor. On which was laying one very unwell looking chap. He looked up, caught JC's eye, and just said: "Kill me!"

    5. Citizen99

      Pembroke - Cork ferry 1979. bar at the blunt end of the ship, well up&down. Couple of pints Guiness - slept like a baby :)

    6. Alan Brown Silver badge

      The last time I was seasick was because someone had projectile vomited all over me from an upper deck

      I normally just head for the canteen and then fall asleep. Guess i'm lucky

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do the crew actually handle money to buy their snacks - or is it a "tab" credit system?

    1. Steve 114


      This civvie did a brief stint in an RN establishmet, had a wardroom bar number for '1/3 HN' etc. Got wardroom bills for months after (who had clocked the number on my chits?). But no gent ever questions a Wardroom/Mess bill, so - paid they had to be.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "[...] with "Kenny" (think of a 20th century entertainer) the supervising petty officer [...]"

    Discounting the jazz Kenny Ball - that appears to leave only one possibility. That leads to some interesting visions of his various alter ego characters in such an environment.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Ken Dodd?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Ken Dodd?"

        Never heard him referred to as Kenny. Nor Kenneth Horne. The number of up-votes for RuffianXion's quote suggests my allusion strikes a chord. Possibly it is a certain age thing.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          It was used, I gather from the context, as an affectionate nickname, and these can easily mutate.

          For example I had a classmate with the surname Dodd, who became known as either Doddy or Kenneth. Which then became Kenny of course, because many playground nicknames ended in a -y sound; Speccy, Whitey, Nobby, Chalky...

      2. macjules

        Kenny "Cuddly Ken" Everett, I should think

    2. RuffianXion

      I'm sure it was all done in the best possible taste.

      1. MyffyW Silver badge

        Oh @RuffianXion I'm telling you the plot!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      first thoughts were Everett, Williams or Lynch

  6. sitta_europea Silver badge


    Tap tap – clunk. Tap tap – clunk. Morse code letter R.


    Hmmm. More code letter R is di-dah-dit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I can confirm that, former military telegraphist here. Also it could explain the confused traffic from the US ship.

      1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

        Good point, well made, nice use of colour. It should read tap tap - clunk tap, each tap being the clanky shutters on the lamp opening.

        1. The First Dave

          Did they really read out the dots and dashes like that though?

          If they were really familiar with Morse then I would have expected them to simply read the letters as they saw them. (I was very briefly able to do this with Morse over radio.)

          1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            I do something similar with the resistor colour code. Where others see orange, orange, yellow, I immediately 'see' 330k.

            Great article, and thanks to the RN.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              "Where others see orange, orange, yellow, I immediately 'see' 330k."

              Some modern resistors seem to have many more colour bands than the old 3 + tolerance. Often their colours are not instantly obvious on small 1/4w ones. Even 4k7 has to be checked with an ohm meter to be certain. The muddy colours make red, yellow, brown, and orange almost indistinguishable. No - I am not going colour blind - higher numbers like green and blue are similarly confusing as to their colour.

              Other makes are as clear as day.

              1. David Nash

                I used to be able to read them easily and knew all the common values by sight. Now not only are there additional bands, but middle age has set in and I find it hard without a decent magnifier or at least a set of reading glasses.

                Agree on the muddy colours too.

                1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

                  Colours - and direction


                  Could be either 1k, 1% or 12R 1%. The microscopic gap between the tolerance band and the other three is rarely detectable (or even present).

                  Plus modern TH resistors are minute.

          2. HarryBl

            I did it for 10 years as a radio officer in the merchant. Once you're reasonably competent the letters just form in your head. It's a bit like speaking another language.

            In audio morse there's a plateau at about 12 words per minute where your brain switches from hearing dit dah dit as 3 separate sounds to the letter R fully formed.

            After that you can lag enough to be able to write whole words at once rather than separate letters

            + VA

            1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

              Re: When you hear De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da...

              You're listening to the police on the radio

              1. Ivan Headache

                Re: When you hear De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da...

                de da de da de da

                The police are right behind you/

              2. Anonymous C0ward

                Re: When you hear De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da...

                I thought "whoop, whoop" was the sound of the police?

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              "In audio morse there's a plateau at about 12 words per minute [...]"

              Many years ago one of our radio club members related an experience during the war. He had hit a wall with the next morse receiving speed grade required by his job. Finally his boss sat him down with a pad - and a packet of 20 cigarettes. He was not going to be allowed to stop until he could read the boss's morse at the required speed - or he had finished the cigarettes. He managed to reach the grade - but not sure how many cigarettes were left afterwards.

              I suspect most learners can send morse faster than they can read it. I passed my morse test on the second attempt - but the testing officer in Liverpoool was definitely being kind to me. Never really used it in anger - so never acquired any real competence. Some 50 years after not renewing my licence my fingers can still tap out CQ de G3T** ar k

              1. This post has been deleted by its author

              2. TheCynic

                Audio Morse

                The next plateau is around the 24wpm mark, of course by that point you've also overlaid Q codes on what your sending so are doing entire sentences with one or two words which also meant that you have to shift to typing for decoding.

                For those of us that sat a MRGC back in the day, the attrition was quite marked on Morse class. I think out of the 90 of us that started the course only one or two actually went to sea.

                1. HarryBl

                  Re: Audio Morse

                  We had 35 start the MRGC/C&G/Radar combo at Riversdale. 3 years later there were 3 of us left taking the radar exam.

                2. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Audio Morse

                  "only one or two actually went to sea."

                  When the supertankers were being built and there were 3 of every officer from the small tankers seeking the same posts on the supertanker, I saw the opportunities to get 6 months on a ship in a probationary position as becoming highly unlikely, so I quit my course after 2 years and a term, to give me a few months job hunting advantage, ahead of school and university leavers.

                  I never knew how many from my year (at Southampton Coll of Technology) got to sea, but I had a job within 2 months of leaving college, as a trainee systems programmer. 1979, I remember it well !

              3. David Shaw

                morse plateau

                my brief "morse" training session was held in Saudi Arabia.

                I passed the G8 VHF license when I was fifteen, but waited until I was twenty-one to consider fully learning the code, I was working in the desert so had quite a bit of spare time. I bought a David Tong morse trainer, beautiful little device , ideal for practise. I wrote to David in Leeds, explaining that I needed him to post an export to my base in Riyadh, especially needed many many certificates of origin etc from Leeds Chamber of Commerce, and other random paperwork to pass the Saudi customs.

                I waited the usual month for the Saudi post, (who sometimes 'accidentally' burnt their load of envelopes/parcels if they were feeling stressed) but I never got my morse trainer - instead, our company fixer (who knew a minor royal) came to collect me one day , with a police escort.

                I was taken downtown , not to customs, but some ministry basement, something like the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (English acronym might be ISIS or AlQaeda, summat like that?) and a DATONG morse tutor was unboxed in front of me, turned on by the insurgent/officer, (DATONG thoughtfully fitted a 9V PP3) and beautiful loud 12 wpm random text was emitted into the gasps of the small audience. "Who are you communicating with", was their first question! "What are they saying" was the next, oooops. So my memory is a bit hazy but somehow I got the fixer to deny that I was me, to explain that I had no idea what the shiny box was, and that could I please go home. Shaggy summed up my then attitude with his "it wasn't me" pop-tune later.

                Since then, I've loved data modes, admire the beauty of morse - but I should have had the foresight to ask Dr. Tong to leave out the battery , when Prince Turki bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud's now notorious GIP henchmen were on my fiendish western intel plot, or whatever. My fixer , pbuh, obviously did some great work as I enjoyed the rest of my time in KSA, but ordered no more high tech toys from abroad... I was offered a full HF 100W transceiver by a departing colleague, but stuck with Sony HF RX portables, not wishing to push my luck. G8***/HZ1

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "I would have expected them to simply read the letters as they saw them"

            Indeed. When I learned Morse code we were taught not to attempt to do anything more than copy down whatever we heard (the tutors went up to 20 wpm and sometimes pushed the dial on the automated sender to 25 or 30 wpm, which would have been possible in situations such as a land based station transmitting text for a cruise ship's on-board newspaper).

            Trying to complete words (by guessing) was unlikely to be correct and given the speed of transmission, you'd have no time to go back to correct errors.

            We are talking over 40 years ago though, so maybe there has been such a significant change to electronic and plain voice communicatons rather than code, so the crewmen may simply be very rusty as this is hardly a daily activity, I assume.

            1. HarryBl

              You had to be able to send at 25wpm using an ordinary Post Office hand key if you wanted to work at Portishead/GKA.

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge


      That reminds me...

      Mr "la-di-da" Gunner Graham

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Morse is ****ing great.

    You can use a phone to flash messages across a crowded room with a high degree of confidence of security. Certainly in the "now".

    I still think postcards in Arabic in shop windows is best though ...

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Morse is ****ing great.

      I am glad to see that the Royal Navy is proud of upholding such a time-honored maritime tradition. Reading this article I felt that this crew could very well have been the crew in Tomorrow Never Dies, with the (I guess) gunnery officer saying "Fine, we'll do it the old-fashioned way" and proceeding to track and hit the stealth ship of the Evil Genius - because they all still knew the old-fashion way.

      Old-fashioned is good when it is reliable.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Morse is ****ing great.

        > Old-fashioned is good when it is reliable.

        Former mil. spark here, can confirm Morse is reliable. I can still remember one NATO exercise where the US brought in the mother of all radio jammers. When they lit up the jammer, nearly all radio traffic ground to a halt, and rumours were they were close to setting the air on fire. Sparks could keep up the traffic, using a tiny RF bandwith and and a really right receiving filter we remained undefeated.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Morse is ****ing great.

          "[...] a really right receiving filter we remained undefeated."

          IIRC there was a downed pilot emergency transmitter that was extremely low powered. It had to be tucked into the armpit so that the body's predictable temperature acted like a crystal oven for frequency stability.

          At the emergency centre the receiver bandwidth filter was very, very sharp - so the transmission rate was only about 1 bps.

  8. Spider

    interesting stuff

    good to see the old girl going - crying shame the destruction that has been wrought on the hydrographic fleet in the last 20 years though. Funny to see officers on droggy ships wanting to go subs, at one point in early 00's junior HM officers were more gapped than subs. Capable ship with a rightly proud professional crew and heritage now sadly mostly deployed on filling operations that should be ASW or AAW frigates...

    a day without a line run is a day wasted...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: interesting stuff

      Although what it was doing so far north when the Home Secretary needed the entire navy available to stop channel crossing dinghys is the real question

      1. YetAnotherLocksmith Silver badge

        Re: interesting stuff

        "To stop A dingy"

        Fixed it for you.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: interesting stuff

          what she really wants is to stop them by running them down and leaving the occupants in the water

          which is problematic on a number of fronts

  9. Timmy B

    Fine article. Interesting, well written and great reading. I hope for more like this as 2019 carries on.

    1. Hollerithevo

      Just the thing I like

      A good, long, detailed article with good images and insights on the usual routine of a ship. Having just been in the Norway fjords (on a slightly swankier vessel), I was happy to see the Norwegian coast.

  10. Russell Chapman Esq.

    Vomit inducing

    I find a sea state 2-3 more nauseating than a 7 to 10. Something about a loose 2m sea swell when there is almost no wind that really gets me

    1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Vomit inducing

      We encountered a 5 metre swell just outside Kristiansund. That was very entertaining; I learned that I don't get seasick (to be fair, may well have been the seasickness tabs functioning as designed) and very nearly impaled my nostril on a coathook outside the wardroom as Enterprise just kept on heeling further over.

      I also nearly got KO'd by a flying chair while interviewing one of the HMs, who had developed the uncanny ability to stand rooted to the spot while everyone (and everything!) else went flying hither and thither.

      1. Spider

        Re: Vomit inducing

        was OOW on a RN vessel in F10+ and it was scary as f*** at the time. Took her over to 27 degrees and can safely say it is not an event I'd care to repeat... didn't eat for days.

        Although first casualty was the ships safety officer (navs) getting laid out cold by the rack of safety manuals coming adrift on the bridge... i'm sure he can see the funny side by now...

        1. Russell Chapman Esq.

          Re: Vomit inducing

          I've experienced F10, steady 8,regularly gusting 10 on a 15 metre boat. We were sailing across to Belgium, Reefed in but still exceeding hull speed down the waves, thankfully we were not in a following sea, would hate to broach. Lifelines on, the 3 of us taking turns sitting up in the bow, water-proofs on, waves breaking over, that was a hell of a ride.

          1. Empty1

            Re: Vomit inducing

            I don't think I will forget travelling on a little tugboat from Scotland to Montreal in winter. and then having to climb the mast and stand on the railing to fix the radar at night. In the days long before H&S

        2. B*stardTintedGlasses

          Re: Vomit inducing

          100% can agree, on my first deployment at sea we went through a F9 in the South Atlantic on one of the old Type 22s. Utterly terrifying crashing through all that.

          On the positives:

          - I don't get seasick apparently even in proper "Roughers"

          - We made it! (Clearly).

          On the negatives:

          - Nightmares about waves taller than the ship.

          - Learned to contemplate my mortality in the face of nature at the age of 18.

          1. eionmac

            Re: Vomit inducing

            Nightmares about seas coming on board and over an oil rig deck. Rig does not move much but its like a Singapore downpour at 40+m.

      2. Russell Chapman Esq.

        Re: Vomit inducing

        All fun and games. When you get back on land and walking on terra firma feels plain weird ;)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Vomit inducing

          "When you get back on land and walking on terra firma feels plain weird ;)"

          Possibly similar body adjustment to using a trampoline for the first time. Even after only a few minutes bouncing up and down - your legs feel like lead when you try to walk afterwards.

          1. The First Dave

            Re: Vomit inducing

            Or like taking off a heavy bergen - leaves you 'floating' for quite a while.

    2. Marshalltown

      It's not the horizon; it's the deck

      Once baited on a commercial Pacific salmon troller out of Albion, California. First day, the first five minutes out of the harbor were "odd" with a ten-foot sea running, and then something in the mind said, "it's not the horizon; it's the deck." And suddenly all the odd sensations vanished. Of course after that you would come ashore at the end of the day and walk with a roll that disturbed the tourists. They all thought you were drunk. You'ld catch your self swaying even when sitting.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    About those "machinery breakdowns".....

    Quote: "One day there were simulated machinery breakdowns."

    So not a Type 45 Destroyer then.....where simulation is not needed!!!

    1. SkippyBing

      Re: About those "machinery breakdowns".....

      That's nothing, before she was finally decommissioned HMS Fearles stopped having a daily fire exercise as they were having enough actual fires.

  12. Bibbit

    Great article

    More like this. The morse coding (flashbacks to Das Boot "My God, Philip") and fog-horn ranging was particularly interesting. Great to see analogue skills are not being left to rust. I remember when Addenbrookes Hospitals e-Hospital system had another spasm and everyone had to revert to the paper system to keep the show on the road.

    1. Chloe Cresswell Silver badge

      Re: Great article

      Navy and Phillips have a different meaning to me...

      ...left hand down a bit.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Great article

        "...left hand down a bit."

        Everybody down!

        ****and now there's that proustian taste of Sunday lunch apple pie and custard.

        1. Glenturret Single Malt

          Re: Great article


  13. Spanners Silver badge

    Alternative to seasickness pills

    As a student, I went home to Orkney every holiday. This involved a 2 hour ferry crossing from Scrabster (near Thurso - the north end of the UK rail system).

    Although my grandfather insisted this was the roughest piece of water in Europe, I am not convinced. It did get very "bouncy" though!

    What does a 19+- year old student do when it gets seriously rough?

    1. Go to the cafeteria.

    2. buy a coffee, sausage roll and a couple of mutton pies

    3. Sit in view of visitors and tourists and eat.

    The sight of them running out the room covering their mouths/eyes is so funny you forget to feel bad yourself!

    1. herbgold

      Re: Alternative to seasickness pills

      We took the Scrabster-Stromness ferry last June (and Hatston-Aberdeen on the way back). Disappointed in a sort of perverse way that the sea for both crossings was like glass.

      Orkney was glorious in the sunshine we had all week, but I'd love to go back and see it in more typical conditions.

      By the way, is there any more evocative name for a railway than the Far North Line?:

      1. Spanners Silver badge

        Re: Alternative to seasickness pills

        Seeing that ancient Greek explorers called it that, you could call it the way to Ultima Thule!

  14. Robert Helpmann??

    Here's to a demanding job well done

    Say what you like about foreign policy but the technical achievements of those who design, maintain and update the IT hardware and software that makes these things possible is to be admired.

    Having provided support to the USCG, I can but offer a virtual beverage. I only saw the land side of the operation. Thanks for the article and providing a glimpse of the other side of that gig. They may be different forces with different missions, but the sea is the same.

    1. Hazmoid

      Re: Here's to a demanding job well done

      Having supported the marine electronics for a number of OG tugs and smaller harbour tugs on the West coast of Australia for a few years, I salute anyone having to talk a sailor though fixing a windows issue via sat phone :)

  15. Anonymous Coward

    NATO task force can't read Morse code?

    I moved outside to the port bridge wing .. and found two signals ratings operating an Aldis signal lamp. One was pressing the key, opening and closing the shutters in front of the lamp to send a Morse code message to the New York

    Not a lot of people know that, that's very interesting to know :]

    I got the distinct impression that the Royal Navy values Morse code highly as a matter of professional pride.”

    I read somewhere the the US had stopped teaching Morse in military school and instead use ship-to-ship texting to signal ship-to-ship, with a modified mobile phone. This would explain the failure of the ‘New York’ to read the Morse signal, they'd had little to no practice. Besides, assuming these devices have a high rate-of-fail they would have nothing to fall back on. Same with the rest of the technology used onboard the modern warship, especially when someone is trying to shoot holes in it.

    without the power of technology, the various software suites (yes, even elderly versions of Windows XP) and endpoints .. virtually none of the Navy's work would be possible.”

    We're all f**k*d :[

    1. PacketPusher

      Re: NATO task force can't read Morse code?

      I would think that an expert system could be created to send and receive lamp morse code messages. A controller with a keypad can operate the lamp, and a camera focused on the reply light can read and covert to text.

      1. Luiz Abdala

        Re: NATO task force can't read Morse code?

        That would be suprisingly easy to do, as I studied how to use a webcam to mock as a Quality Control in a plastic bottle production line.

        Camera sees bottle with cap, pass.

        Camera sees no cap or no bottle at all, fail.

        You'd need to add some form of timer, an output translator, and boom, even a CRT monitor safely tucked away at the bridge can be used as a source with a webcam looking at it.

        You can even do it on the infrared range, at your leisure.

    2. Morten Bjoernsvik

      Re: NATO task force can't read Morse code?

      But they are way better than our navy officers:

      Norwegian journalist, military expert and political analyst Helge Lurås has suggested that the dramatic incident is closely related to the proportion of women in the Norwegian Armed Forces:

      It all boils down to officers leaving untrained freshmen in charge. Quite common out in open sea far up north where there is almost impossible to hit anything, but inshore close to an oil terminal it is utterly suicide.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: NATO task force can't read Morse code?

      Using servo driven shutters over a lamp is just bizarre when you can have a computer controlled IR LED that is faster, having no moving serviceable parts and is better in bad weather.

      1. bpfh

        Re: NATO task force can't read Morse code?

        I guess it’s as the backup. When all computers and electronics have failed for whatever reason, a good old light bulb and a battery will get the job done as long as there is a bald monkey around to hook it up and press the tit.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: NATO task force can't read Morse code?

      "I read somewhere the the US had stopped teaching Morse in military school [...]"

      For many years the UK amateur radio Class "A" HF licence required you to pass a Morse code test at 12wpm. The stated reason was so that you could read messages from official services wanting you to stop transmitting.

      The Class "B" licence was introduced for UHF where Morse was not required.

      When those official services no longer used Morse code then the HF licence test for it was also dropped.

    5. Grinning Bandicoot

      Re: NATO task force can't read Morse code?

      When 500 was no longer monitored the U S Coast Guard closed its radio stations (NMA,NMC,NMG,and NMO) and while the Coasties had the the U S Navy guard for two or three years prior to the ceasing of the guard and so went code in the US. It is believed that satcom will always be available and suffice. Amateur operators still use code first as a challenge and secondly very low power operations because of the very narrow bandwidth gets through the noise. If one checks RadCom or QST, there will be found software for coding/decoding Morse via radio. There was a time that the US naval force had mast mounted infrared lamps to send traffic not for distribution to loitering trawlers. If with '50s technology this was available, the present day tech available should be able to adapt to a visual system. Will leave the rest to the student.

      A Bertram Chandler wrote Science Fiction in the '69s and made the observation as the ship's systems became more interlinked that vessel handling became more dependent on a fuse some place. NOTE: A fuse has been defined as a 50 cent item protected by a million dollars of equipment. I haven't been able to locate the exact story to provide a real quote and would appreciate a reader to name the story however, I know it is not Sister Ships.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: NATO task force can't read Morse code?

        they are defined as that, but in reality fuses are there to reduce the need for fire extinguishers

  16. PacketPusher

    After you. No, after you!

    I had a friend who described an at sea encounter similar to the one described in the article. The other ship had the right of way, so my friends ship altered course. The other ship altered course at the same time putting them on conflicting courses again. This happened several times before they were able to get on safely passing courses. Sometime being helpful can cause more problems.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: After you. No, after you!

      Sounds vaguely familiar. Maybe that excessive courtesy was part of what led to Carrier Sense Military Access with Collision Detect (or something like that). Also led to pseudo-random backoff so that "after you" episodes (as per your example) could be avoided?

      1. Criggie

        Re: After you. No, after you!

        Sensing Carriers in your location using Multiple Collision Detection sounds like a really bad idea IMO.

      2. Glenturret Single Malt

        Re: After you. No, after you!

        When walking towards someone on a pavement just wide enough for two people to pass, my tendency is to pass on the left (must be the Scottish Country Dancing experience). Unfortunately, an awful lot of people seem to have the opposite tendency leading to the "Shall we dance?" moments as described, if not actual collision.

        1. Spanners Silver badge

          Re: After you. No, after you!

          If you are right handed, the natural reflex is to dodge left so that you pass right hand to right hand - that was the standard until France decided to be different and subservient countries followed.

    2. Norman Nescio Silver badge

      Re: After you. No, after you!

      COLREGS are very clear about who should stand on and who should give way. Altering course when you shouldn't is one cause of unintended collisions. Unfortunately, naval vessels don't always follow COLREGS, as they wish to preserve their freedom of action, but unless you are deliberately following the practices of trireme warfare, even naval vessels tend not to actively intend to ram another vessel (unless you are an Icelandic built-like-a-brick-shithouse-boat intercepting British frigates send to try and protect the right of British fisherfolk to fish in contested waters).

      Meeting US Navy ships head on would be rather worrying, given the standards of seamanship exhibited by the US 7th Fleet : USS Fitzgerald and MV ACX Crystal collision & USS John S. McCain and Alnic MC collision.

      1. MonkeyCee

        Re: After you. No, after you!

        "even naval vessels tend not to actively intend to ram another vessel"

        At least a couple of the UK frigates were refitted to enable them to be better at, er, ramming. Plus both sides were ramming each other, exactly who being at fault each time being dependent on whose reports you read. Pretty sure the Icelandic sailor that died was after they got rammed.

        It's interesting to note just how effective the propaganda was on both sides. Most of the brits who bring it up seem to act like we were in the right, we won, and it was totally worth pushing a strategically important NATO member and ally around. Oh, and ignoring the ICJ, but such is the wont of an imperial power :)

        Bear in mind the UK government was happy to spend a fortune willy waving, but took over 30 years to actually help out those who lost their jobs.

      2. bob, mon!

        Re: After you. No, after you!

        > Meeting US Navy ships head on would be rather worrying, given the standards of seamanship exhibited by the US 7th Fleet

        VERY worrying, if you think you're in the North Sea --- the 7th Fleet is deployed in the Pacific.

        1. martinusher Silver badge

          Re: After you. No, after you!

          (A few years back ships from this fleet started getting a bit of a reputation for hitting things and generally not knowing where it was so finding elements in the North Sea wouldn't be surprising.)

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: After you. No, after you!

      This reminds me of (obviously made up) apocryphal story of the US aircraft carrier demanding the lighthouse change course.

      1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: apocryphal story: link

      2. Number6

        Re: After you. No, after you!

        This is what immediately sprang to mind for me too. Stand firm and make like a lighthouse. The flashing light probably helped.

        I think the RN expects officers to manage 5wpm Morse, so a bit easier than the old amateur radio Morse test where 12wpm was required.

  17. ben kendim

    The Polish ship in the photo is not a destroyer..

    ... it's an Oliver Hazard Perry class guided-missile frigate.

    1. EJ

      Re: The Polish ship in the photo is not a destroyer..

      Disappointed this wasn't pointed out in Morse code...

  18. Marty McFly Silver badge

    Azipods in reverse?

    I am certainly not a marine engineer, but I do take note of interesting tech. Yes, Azipods have made a big 'splash' in the cruise industry which is why I am aware of them. I did not think they ran in reverse. I thought they were fixed pitch and fixed rotation. If they wanted to back the ship up, they simply spin the Azipod 180 degrees.

    The other interesting thing is they pull the ship through the water rather than push it. All-in-all, cool new tech for a heritage industry long on traditions.

    1. SkippyBing

      Re: Azipods in reverse?

      Pulling allows the prop to be more efficient as it's encountering undisturbed water rather than the turbulence you get after the pod has moved through it. Theoretically a prop at the bow would be more effective than a traditionally placed one, but then you get other problems, and the rudder would be less effective as it wouldn't be directly in the accelerated water.

    2. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: Azipods in reverse?

      "I thought they were fixed pitch and fixed rotation. If they wanted to back the ship up, they simply spin the Azipod 180 degrees."

      That's the way it was explained to us landlubber tourists by the 3rd Officer of MS Eurodam on a recent cruise. He also mentioned that they could point the pods perpendicular to the keel to slow the ship rapidly before rotating to apply reverse thrust. There were pictures from dry dock posted on the back wall of the bridge wing to illustrate what the azipods looked like. That particular ship (and presumably similar vessels) had three sets of thruster controls - one on each wing for use during docking maneuvers and one in the center at the main "helm" position. The officer explained that, although Eurodam didn't have one, the large traditional ships wheel on other HA ships did actually work but was largely ceremonial. Steering was normally accomplished by a simple joystick and the thruster controls. I would think nearly all recently constructed vessels above (and possibly below) certain tonnage thresholds are designed with azimuth thrusters - providing flexibility and agility to what would otherwise seem rather ponderous indeed.

      1. SkippyBing

        Re: Azipods in reverse?

        'I would think nearly all recently constructed vessels above (and possibly below) certain tonnage thresholds are designed with azimuth thrusters - providing flexibility and agility to what would otherwise seem rather ponderous indeed.'

        I think the main disadvantage with azipods is that it increases the draught which may be a more important consideration for certain roles. The QE Class Carriers were originally designed with azipods but when it was realised that they'd have to be specially made as there weren't off the shelf ones powerful enough they went back to a more traditional drive train.

        1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

          Re: Azipods in reverse?

          "The QE Class Carriers were originally designed with azipods but when it was realised that they'd have to be specially made as there weren't off the shelf ones powerful enough they went back to a more traditional drive train."

          Although I wasn't sure, I suspected as much, hence the parenthetical part of my comment.

        2. hammarbtyp

          Re: Azipods in reverse?

          I think that's unlikely since the MS Queen Elizabeth (90,000 tonnes) have them compared to the Queen Elizabeth Class (65,000 tonnes ).

          The reasons are more likely a) reduction in draught b) Easier to protect from torpedo attack c) The lack of a need to do close maneuvering such as sailing up and down fjords, so there is no need for the extra complication

          (MS Queen Elizabeth has them so that it can dock in small Caribbean islands without the need of tug support and sometimes its useful to maintain station, for example if passengers want to go Jet skiing )

          1. SkippyBing

            Re: Azipods in reverse?

            'I think that's unlikely since the MS Queen Elizabeth (90,000 tonnes) have them compared to the Queen Elizabeth Class (65,000 tonnes ).'

            See this article for the Alpha design with 4 Azipods


            I'm trying to track down the Naval Review article that said they couldn't get off the shelf pods powerful enough. It's worth remembering the MS QE is about 5-6 knots slower than HMS QE and drag scales with the square of speed, hence MS QE has 2 x 17.6 MW Azipods and HMS QE has 4 x 20 MW induction motors driving two shafts (two per shaft in tandem).

  19. Danny 2

    Sky TV

    I was friends with, colleagues with, a young woman who wanted to join the Royal Navy but couldn't pass the exam due to her lack of maths. She asked me to teach her maths. I accepted because I liked her and thought it had to be simple. I'm good at maths, maybe not in this forum but by British averages.

    I was not good at teaching, a totally new skill to me that I had to teach myself. This girl, this woman, couldn't even cope with long division or multiplication, and that was so basic for me that I struggled to explain it. I'd previously taught my eight year old niece to multiply in hex, I was flummoxed by this woman.

    I have so much respect for primary school teachers now, back then I thought they were glorified baby-sitters. My pupil enrolled in the RN.

    1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: couldn't even cope with long division or multiplication

      My long-suffering bookkeeper despaired of my ability to add up items in my cheque paying-in book. What did amuse her was when the amount was small enough that the bank didn't bother to correct the mistake.

      As regards long division and multiplication - I think it depends on the method taught at school. If you moved schools a few times as a child it might be confusing because of differences in teaching, particularly if drummed in by rote.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sky TV

      Many years ago my first serious girlfriend had always wanted to join the Royal Navy. Her father had always refused her the permission needed for under 21s. Now she was 22 he changed tack and said he had no problem with it - but what about my reaction - "Oh he agrees".

      Her hope was to see a bit of the world - although there were limited bases to which women were posted - and not on ships in those days.

      Meeting up with her a few years later over dinner it transpired she had been based all the time at Holy Loch in Scotland - so much for seeing the world. Her civilian nursing skills had been turned to being a dental hygienist. She was happy we had avoided the local expectation of a young marriage - and it also broke that mould for me through then accepting company overseas postings for a decade.

  20. Stu_The_Jock

    Maybe someone could get the Americans "helping" on the bridge of the Norwegian Frigate before Christmas a chance to read this . . . Huge amounts of radar systems and they ran into a fully lit up tankship as "they thought it was the nearby oil processing plant" . . Probably as well it wasn't.

  21. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. SkippyBing

      Re: Please tell me that all this is public info

      I suspect it's moved since then and it's not as if the exercise wasn't widely publicised.

  22. SkippyBing


    If the thought of being served by stewards is attractive, the navy have just stopped the practice. Mainly because they were struggling to fill the places anyway.

  23. Rusty 1

    Urgent - top brass. Need more of this stuff. There's over 360 days left this year and we need fodder.

  24. Sanguma

    Suggested musical accompaniment to seeing the Northern Lights

    You might like to play this the next time you get to see the Northern Lights:

    GOLDENHORSE "Northern Lights"

    Finding out the northern lights

    Flicked up a single switch called rocket

    Finding out the northern lights

    Flicked up a single switch called rocket

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Suggested musical accompaniment to seeing the Northern Lights

      I'd prefer the song "Northern Lights" by Renaissance..

      1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: I'd prefer the song "Northern Lights" by Renaissance..

        Now there's a band with an interesting history.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Suggested musical accompaniment to seeing the Northern Lights

        That one?

  25. Mystic Megabyte

    Full speed ahead

    We were invited to board a RN destroyer at sea. The main weapons control room was in the middle of the ship, exactly where a Exocet missile would hit :(

    When trying to depart we found that our 52 ft. boat was "glued" to the side of the destroyer, tricky!

    1. cageordie

      Re: Full speed ahead

      That's one of those post hoc ergo propter hoc things, which is true, for a change. The reason the Exocet hits where it does is because that's where the CIC is. If the CIC was usually somewhere else then the Exocet would be designed to hit somewhere else. So no matter where they put the CIC that's where the missile is heading for. And Exocet is the least of your problems, take a look at P-500 Bazalt, or more recent things.

  26. Winkypop Silver badge

    Excellent article

    But a life at sea, AND the chance that people might shoot at you, not jolly likely!

  27. cageordie

    We told them not to do that

    FWIW, which is little. Many years ago we were talking to people like DGDQA and our various project offices and we told them Windows was a really bad idea for realtime mission critical systems on ships and in Army use. For Eurofighter I think they were mandating VxWorks and 68040 when we were bidding. That we didn't have an issue with, it was the late 80s after all. The called it COE, the common operating environment. They eventually told us to use Windows for the management and configuration systems. I dealt with that by automating all the tasks that the management system was supposed to perform in the realtime system, which was bare machine 8051! Because a ten quid microcontroller is what the software guys get in a box containing three and a half grand in Altera MAX 10000 parts, which were the latest and greatest in 1996. No worries about hacking and random crashes in our software. MS were trying to sell us WinCE and Windows NT RT. What GARBAGE. At least we never sank low enough to use Windows. Do you remember when NT stranded a USS Yorktown? 1997 off Virginia. A bad database entry resulted in a divide by zero that took down everything, including propulsion. PATHETIC! It still makes me angry that such amateurs had a job in military software.

  28. jwo

    Metres instead of fathoms? OMG how far has the Empire degraded that they started to use the French metre!

    1. JulieM Silver badge

      Actually, the metre is British -- the French could not agree on a reproducible definition, and had to ask us for help. We let everyone think it was a French invention, in exchange for the right to claim a French invention as our own -- a favour not called in until 1959, with the advent of the Mini, which everyone thought was the first front-wheel-drive car.

  29. Cashpot

    Safe to use?

    The warning on the seasick pills "Stugeron may cause drowsiness. If affected do not drive or operate machinery." makes me a little worried that stoned sailors might not be able to avoid the US navy!

  30. JJKing

    It was too much to hope for.

    I was disappointed, very disappointed that the captain's name wasn't Kirk and there wasn't a Scottie in the engine room doing the best I can captain.

    Very good article. I found it most enjoyable. Thank you. :-)

  31. Chris Parsons


    Thank you so much...I'm very envious.

  32. Alterhase

    Morse Code and ELF

    The discussion of Morse code reminded me of my first real tech job after I got my BSEE and while I was working on my MS in Computer Science. I was working on a project to understand the propagation of Extreme Low Frequency (ELF) radio waves which were in the range of 15-30 KHz. Since ELF signals propagated around the world and penetrated water a few feet, they were used to communicate with slightly submerged submarines trailing a mile-long antenna. Due the low carrier frequency the signal bandwidth was very small and was used for low-speed Morse communications. Several of my colleagues on the project knew Morse and could transcribe it, but since it was all encoded strings of numbers, I never bothered to learn it.

  33. Stuart Halliday
    Thumb Up

    Errr all very good. But why were you there? Was it an invite? Royal Navy doing PR?

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      We were invited to take a look. We did so.


    2. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

      The original invite was to pop over to Norway for a few days to see the RN doing things with autonomous watercraft (boats and mini submarines). Part tech demo to show off British industry, part "oi, Vlad, we've got toys that can detect your toys now". Unfortunately the timing clashed with something else.

      Sportingly, the RN said "come aboard anyway". Hence I got to treat you all to tales from the Arctic, as well as discovering Windows ME/XP and Apple Macintosh still in use.

  34. Aladdin Sane

    not just waiters for the upper class

    I'm reliably informed by my father (former RN seamstress) that they fluff pillows as well.

  35. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

    "virtually none of the Navy's work would be possible"

    Well - it would. but would require a much, much larger crew. Which would mean many, many more stores. Which would mean a much, much bigger ship (or more frequent stores intake).

    The automation allows faster information flow and lower personnel leves.

  36. martinusher Silver badge

    A cruise ship with weapons

    Some years ago while I was on a cruise ship going up to Alaska and back a tour was made available on a sea day which was a look at the working bits of the ship. The pictures of the bridge and the descriptions of the propulsion systems and engine room were exactly the same as that ship (not surprising -- the ships were similar age, size and performance). While at sea the cruise ship normally only had two people on the bridge, an officer and a seaman, and their job was to just look out for errant fishing boats and generally keep an eye on the equipment. The engine room, like on this ship, was generally unattended, it was monitored from a control room. It also had four generators on it, one being dedicated to the 'hotel'. The cruise ship also had azipods, bow thrusters and the like. The azipods were independently steerable and the propellers pulled instead of pushed; this gave the ship incredible maneuverability which allowed it to dock as if it were a car entering a parking space than a traditional ship. The naval crew amenities also seem to be similar to the cruise ship. The only significant difference (apart from the hotel/weapons systems) appears to be that the navy uses sea-sickness tablets instead of stabilizers.

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