Nautical Expert

Motorboat magazine

Marine radio transmission and phonetic alphabet

Marine radio transmission and phonetic alphabet

Updated on May 1st, 2024

At sea, the radio transmission of information must be clear and well understood by speakers of any language. And if this is not so critical for communication with the marina when booking a berth, then in an extreme situation on open water it can play a decisive role in a rescue operation or to prevent a collision of vessels.

To this end, for the most important data in voice transmission, code words are used, assigned to each letter of the alphabet, which helps to avoid confusion or misinterpretation of information. This is also true for distortion of the radio signal and strong interference.

For example, NOAA-123 would be November-Oscar-Alfa-Alfa-123.

This phonetic alphabet goes by many names: NATO alphabet, ITU (International Telecommunication Union), ANSI (American National Standards Institute), FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), international aviation alphabet, and even meteorological alphabet.

In fact, the code words were approved by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in the 50s and subsequently adopted as a standard by all departments, including the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The familiar ICAO alphabet is slightly modified in the standard for data transmission through automatic ATIS terminals. In particular, the code word Alfa has the English spelling Alpha, and in the word Juliett the second letter “t” disappears at the end: Juliet.

However, such variations may slightly alter perception and pronunciation. For example, for French-speaking people, the absence of the second consonant in the ending may mean that the remaining letter is not pronounced. In this regard, the ICAO phonetic alphabet is firmly entrenched in voice transmission, and when radio communication is carried out in the international format, only it is used, as it is equally well perceived by a native speaker of any language.

Symbol Codeword
A Alfa
B Bravo
C Charlie
D Delta
E Echo
F Foxtrot
G Golf
H Hotel
I India
J Juliett
K Kilo
L Lima
M Mike
N November
O Oscar
P Papa
Q Quebec
R Romeo
S Sierra
T Tango
U Uniform
V Victor
W Whiskey
X X-ray
Y Yankee
Z Zulu
– (dash) Dash

Do not forget about the basic rules of radio exchange:

  1. Make sure the selected channel is free
  2. Follow the call order
  3. Speak in a calm and clear voice
  4. After pressing the transmit button, do not speak immediately, but wait a second, otherwise the interlocutor will not hear the beginning of the sentence