Thurrock Acorns: Marine Radio April 2014

Thurrock Acorns Amateur Radio Club LogoTuesday the 15th of April 2014, saw the fourth club night of the Thurrock Acorns ARC, the newest club in Essex.

The club meets monthly at the home of the 1st Grays Scouts, Cromwell Road in Grays and is well supported by amateurs in and around the area, with visitors welcomed from other clubs in the area.

The April meeting started with teas and coffees, followed by some club notices and discussion of upcoming events planned by TAARC. After the regular club business, it was on to the main talk of the evening:

TAARC's 4th club night about to start (April 2014)
TAARC’s 4th club night about to start (April 2014)

Marine Radio

The speaker for the evening was Carl Thomson G3PEM, who worked for Marconi Marine in the 1950s and 1960s.

Carl started by outlining the early days of Marconi, including the famous transatlantic contact, but also his experiments with ship-to-ship in the 1880s, leading to the first true marine service in the early 1900s aboard the SS Philadelphia, where the vessel was able to keep in contact throughout her voyage.

Carl Thomson G3PEM, talking about Marine Radio in April 2014
Carl Thomson G3PEM, talking about Marine Radio in April 2014

Radio aboard ship started to be taken far more seriously after the Titanic disaster, leading to the “Safety of Life at Sea” conference – This brought in formal maritime radio procedures and International agreements.

Carl then spoke about the development of the distress message – The first distress call was sent in 1899 from the East Goodwin lightship, reporting that a ship had run aground on the Goodwin Sands off the Kent coast. The call CQD “All Stations Distress” was instigated by Marconi in 1094, but this changed to SOS in 1908, as it was hoped this pattern would be easier to be received and decoded automatically in the future.

Two pictures from Carl's Marine Radio talk at TAARC
Two pictures from Carl’s Marine Radio talk at TAARC

Whilst a number of documents were passed around, including lists of early ship callsigns and adverts for Marconigrams, the talk moved onto the subject of ship radio callsigns, which came in from 1910. Each vessel had a dedicated CW calling frequency and two working frequencies.

Next, came the subject of antennas on ships, with a series of photos showing various antenna designs. This was followed by discussion of the various transmitters and receivers, highlighting Marconi’s fascination with lightships and lighthouses. Carl’s favourite transmitter is the “Crusader” – the first marine SSB transmitter. Some components were passed around the gather club members and visitors keen to touch a piece of history.

The talk wrapped up with discussion of emergency transmitters, including lifeboat transceivers – today’s ships are required to transmit their location via the Inmarsat satellite network – should be same requirement be made of aircraft, there’s be no need to hunt for black boxes after disasters, and we’d not see issues of missing planes as we’ve seen in recent weeks with the Malaysian Airlines craft – food for thought.

Carl’s Revelation

Carl finished off with an unexpected revelation – He’s very pleased to have been asked to talk at TAARC, as he grew up just a matter of yards away from the club’s venue in Grays. Carl was born in Hathaway Road, and remembers the area very well. One of the earliest memories he has is of standing on what’s now the carpark by the club building shortly after it has been hit by a doodlebug.

Seen here: Nick G4HCK, Gordon 2E0ELI and Carl G3PEM
Seen here: Nick G4HCK, Gordon 2E0ELI and Carl G3PEM

Thanks to Carl for a fascinating talk. The club’s next meeting, on May the 20th, is on the subject of the RSGB… the benefits, resources and support it provides to members & clubs. More details: TAARC May 2014 Club Night Details

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