Cruising with Two-Way Radios

by Joe on 6 February 2009

We recently found this question in our inbox:

On past cruises, we’ve seen families keeping in touch with each other using what appeared to be mobile phones. One person said they were walkie-talkies. Can mobile phones be used onboard? If so, is there a charge?

First, to the mobile phone question: Yes! It is becoming increasingly common for cruise lines to offer cellular service while at sea. (When docked, the local cellular towers take priority.)

On the positive side, mobile phones do not need “global roaming” enabled when used at sea in this fashion. Calls can be made and received with little to no effort. On the other hand, of course, this convenience costs extra. How much extra depends on the mobile carrier.

If the goal is to communicate between guests on the same ship, mobile phones may not be the best option. Aside from using a cellular network just to route a call across ship, each phone is billed according to their carrier’s rates … and the rates on-board are most definitely not the same as back home.

Another option is to invest in a set of “walkie talkies” such as those in the Motorola Talkabout series. Modern day two-way radios are perfect for on-board communication and are available in a variety of styles, colors, and degrees of ruggedness. Best of all, more than two can be purchased and tuned to the same channel/code, making them ideal for large families to keep in touch no matter where they are on-board.

Two-way radios have no roaming charges, no monthly fees, and plenty of range for a cruise ship. There’s no need to worry about interrupting those around you either: Several models can be set to vibrate, just like mobile phones. Since two-way radios can be used on all kinds of family excursions, they may end up proving to be the more cost-effective choice.

Be sure to get a radio that allows for a channel and a code (or subchannel). This will minimize conflicts with other passengers using similar radios and frequencies. Also – don’t forget extra batteries (or consider a rechargeable set).

Some radios boast a high range – as much as 10 to 28 miles. While that sounds quite useful for groups splitting up on shore excursions, check with the local government or U.S. embassy first. Reason: These devices use radio bands licensed in their country of origin (which, for most readers here, will be North America). That means you may risk interrupting – who knows – the local radio station! When in doubt, use them only while at sea and you should be fine.

One final option – though it’s a long shot – is to rent two-way radios from the purser’s desk, but this varies wildly across cruise lines and ships. When radios are available, supplies are often limited to two radios and offered on a first come, first served basis.

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