Two of my Favorite Things

To of my favorite activities to relax and enjoy are sailing on a cruise ship and operating ham radio. So it’s only logical to try joining them together.

My lovely wife and I got interested in cruising well before I got my license and started operating ham radio. We booked our first two cruises on Carnival Conquest and Liberty before we had even stepped foot on a cruise ship. We disembarked from our first cruise and immediate booked our third, we were hooked! Since then we’ve cruised on MSC Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line along with Carnival. We have had things we liked and disliked about each so far, but have not had any major reason to not sail again on any of them.

During the COVID-19 pandemic we had four booked sailings canceled on us and I finally went forward and became a General licensed operator. Once cruising restarted in 2021, we were back to the races and completed five cruises within 12 months embarking on the first cruise July 3, 2021 in Nassau and disembarking from the last on July 3, 2022 in Vancouver. We then bought our home that had finished being built so we took a year off, which brings us to today.

We are currently booked on the MSC Seashore later this summer for what will be our first cruise since getting my General license and my HF station setup. We booked this particular cruise because of its price point being in our budget and we really wanted to get back out on the ocean cruising. The idea then set in to me, would it be possible to take my station with me and were there any POTA parks I could activated during our trip? This would turn out to be an adventure in its own right as I started down the rabbit hole to figure out if this would be possible.

Obviously, my first question was whether or not there would be any POTA parks close enough to the cruise terminals that I could get to, operate and make it back aboard during the port call. As I would be venturing out on my own and not as part of an official cruise line excursion, I knew the ship would not wait for me if I were to be late. I was excited when I found that on at least one of the scheduled island stops there were parks and they had already all been activated by Andy K9MKE, so I reached out to him to inquired what he was required to do to operate on the island. He quickly got back with me letting me know where to get the necessary form to fill out, his operating setup and also pointed me to Phil ZF1PB who was a local member of the Cayman Amateur Radio Society. When I reached out to Phil he was even gracious enough to give me a call while he was off-shore on a tanker to answer any questions I had about the process and saying that regardless hoped we could meet up while I was on the island. I also found that a couple of the other island port of calls had nearby parks which have never been activated which made the possibility of activating them even more inticing.

I then turned to the ARRL the check on information that could be provided on operating outside the US and found the question was not going to be an easy or simple one. I knew from the information I had been given by Andy and Phil that for the Cayman Islands I would need to apply for a vistor license with OfReg in order to operate on the island itself. While there was reciprocal operating agreements it wasn’t bilateral. There would be a fee involved and I got that amount and a form that I could submit to simply charge my credit card when I contacted the OfReg office. I was also able to locate the appropriate agencies to request a temporary/visitor license from the other islands we were scheduled to visit, but one big question still remained.

That question would make the entire endeavor sink or swim, was I going to be able to bring the radio equipment I needed aboard the ship with me or not. If I could not bring it aboard then there would be no point in applying for the three visitor licenses I would require. This question would turn out not to be a simple one at all to answer. My first attempt to determine this was obviously to go check the MSC website for a list of prohibited items. I already knew my Apache 4800 case that I transport my radio in while mobile was well within the luggage requirements, but was the radio itself allowed or would I have an issue bringing aboard? I’d much rather determine that now while I had time before the cruise than at the terminal on embarkation day.

This is where it has bogged down. Looking through the MSC website there was nothing I could find that excluded me bringing my radio aboard. While their luggage page did mention some forbidden items, ham radios were not listed. I then tried calling the customer service number to speak with someone and ask them as again I want to avoid any issues during embarkation and if I can’t bring it then paying for the visitor licenses so I can operate is a waste. Speaking with customer service they initially said they didn’t see a problem as I’m merely asking to have aboard but not operate while aboard. I had already determined that while the ship was flagged under Malta who does participate with CEPT allowing US licensed amateurs to operate without additional licenses required, Malta has not implemented CEPT Novice License which a General license operator would fall under. Malta has only implemented the CEPT License which is the equivalent to Amateur Extra or Advanced class licenses here. So I knew there was no point in asking to operate from aboard the ship. The islands we were planning to visit all accepted General licensed operators so I would be okay on land where I planned to operate.

MSC customer service then came back and said that in fact ham radios were prohibited and read off a line from the list mentioning it. I asked if they could share this document with me as there was nothing that could be found on their website regarding this list. I was informed that list could not be shared with me, which I find extremely odd to say the least. When I searched for the verbage as they had read it to me I found it on the CLIA sample probihited items document exactly without mention of two lines I feel are important.

The first line states items on the list are generally not permissible without a valid lawful reason. I feel that as a licensed amateur radio operator and asking for approval to bring my equipment aboard the ship for lawful use under vistor operating license this would apply.

The second line was a footnote to the listed line of Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB), ham radios, satellite phones, transformers, lasters and laser pointers that read Except when authorized by the Ship’s Master, The Company Security Officer (CSO) or their designee. This line to me seemed to indicate that the Master of the ship could grant approval allowing a ham radio to be brought aboard. I already knew from what I’d read about operating overseas that to do so on the ship absolutely would require Ship’s Master approval, but I’m not looking to operate marine mobile, just bring aboard and transport on our voyage.

At this time I have sent an email out trying to reach the Ship’s Master seeking approval to bring my radio aboard. I also copied this email to MSC customer service, the Director of Customer Service, the Vice President and President. Unfortunately so far the email to the Ship’s Master that I tried to ascertain, they do a good job of hiding any means of contacting directly, has bounced as undeliverable. The email for customer service didn’t bounce back, but did have an auto-responder stating that email address was no longer monitored or responded to. So now I’m waiting to see if the company officers I included will either respond and/or forward my communication to the Ship’s Master.

I will definitely follow-up on this as I get closer to the cruise, but it has also sparked my interest in determining which cruise lines are ham radio friendly and what are the steps required to take in order to enjoy my two favorite hobbies together. I will share my findings as I explore this prospect and find which cruise line(s) are going to soon become my first choice(s).

May 30, 2024 Feb 1, 2024
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