International Journal
on Marine Navigation
and Safety of Sea Transportation
Volume 3
Number 3
September 2009
For many years there have been numerous efforts
undertaken to standardize the language used for
communication at sea between ships in different sit-
uations, between ships and VTS shore stations or be-
tween ships and helicopters in case of rescue opera-
These efforts were considerably speeded up by
various disasters at sea where the lack of effective
communication was evident like in the case of the
“Scandinavian Star” or the “Estonia” where com-
mands for evacuation were given in different nation-
al languages, which took a long time and resulted in
heavy loss of life.
The early attempts were made by prof. Peter
Strevens from Wolfson College, Cambridge and
Captain Fred Weeks from Plymouth Polytechnic
who developed message markers and published
“Seaspeak” and “Wavelengths”. Both handbooks
were introduced and used in nautical colleges and
maritime universities in different parts of the world.
At the same time the Canadian Coast Guard Col-
lege in Nova Scotia started work on the Anglosea
project and soon three video tapes covering St. Law-
rence Seaway, The English Channel and Ship Repair
in La Spezia were produced. They helped not only in
practical training of the students by providing exam-
ples of communication on board ship in different
parts of the world but also in raising the awareness
of the importance of clear and unambiguous com-
munication for the safety of the vessel, her crew and
her cargo.
Way back in 1973, the IMO Maritime Safety
Committee, at its twenty-seventh session, agreed
that where language difficulties arise a common lan-
guage should be used for navigational purposes and
that language should be English. As we could see
from numerous examples of disasters at sea, it was
not always the case in practice.
In consequence of the IMO Maritime Safety
Committee’s decision, the Standard Marine Naviga-
tional Vocabulary was developed. It was adopted in
1977 and after being used in nautical colleges and
maritime universities it was revised and amended in
The amended version was widely used both in
maritime education and training institutions ashore
and on board ships.
But accidents and disasters at sea have still been
happening so there was a need for a more compre-
hensive version of the Standard Marine Navigational
Vocabulary to improve communication among mul-
ti-lingual crews on board different ships.
In 1992, the IMO Maritime Safety Committee, at
its sixtieth session, instructed the Sub-committee on
Safety of Navigation to work on a more comprehen-
sive standardized safety language than the SMNV
1985, taking into consideration the changing condi-
tions of modern seafaring and covering all major
forms of safety-related verbal communication.
In 1997, the IMO Maritime Safety Committee, at
its sixty-eighth session adopted the Draft IMO
Standard Marine Communication Phrases (SMCP)
developed by the Sub-committee on Safety of Navi-
Following the trial period at various maritime and
training institutions, the Draft IMO Standard Marine
Communication Phrases was amended at the forty-
sixth session of that Sub-committee.
Towards Standardized Maritime Language for
Communication at Sea
B. Katarzynska
Gdynia Maritime University, Gdynia, Poland
ABSTRACT: The paper deals with attempts of international community at standardizing the language used
for communication at sea. Key terms include Seaspeak, Wavelengths, Anglosea project, International Stand-
ard Marine Vocabulary, Standard Marine Communication Phrases, MarEng project materials.
Many of the remarks were taken into account by
the organization and the IMO Standard Marine
Communication Phrases were given final considera-
tion at its seventy-fourth session.
In November 2001 the IMO Standard Marine
Communication phrases were adopted by the As-
sembly as resolution A.918/22
Under the international convention on Standards
of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping for
Seafarers, 1978, as revised 1995, the ability to use
and understand the IMO SMCP is required for the
certification of officers in charge of the navigational
watch on board ships of 500 gross tonnage and
This requirement sparked off the development of
various teaching materials in many parts of the
world. Among them is the multi-media project
called MarEng, which is one of the EU projects in
the Leonardo da Vinci programme.
It is a multi-media teaching and learning tool
aimed at improving the knowledge of Maritime Eng-
lish of not only distance learners on board ships but
also both the students and the teachers at nautical
colleges and maritime universities all over the
Gdynia Maritime University in Poland is one of
the material-making partners to the MarEng project.
The other partners include:
University of Antwerp, Institute of Transport and
Maritime Management in Belgium
University of Antwerp, Department of Business
Communication in Belgium
University of La Laguna, School of Nautical and
Sea-related Studies, English and German Linguis-
tic Studies, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain
University of Helsinki, Department of Translation
Studies in Finland
Aland Polytechnic, The Aland Maritime Institute
in Mariehamn, Finland
Sydvast Polytechnic, School of Maritime Studies
in Turku, Finland
Latvian Maritime Academy in Riga, Latvia
University of Turku, Finland
Centre for Maritime Studies in Turku has been
the co-ordinator of the MarEng project and the Lin-
gonet company Oy in Turku has been responsible
for the task of putting the material and the inter-
active exercises into a multi-media format.
The MarEng project is an international project
aiming at promoting the Maritime English compe-
tence of the people working in various maritime pro-
fessions in different parts of the world so the intend-
ed users include those actually working at sea as
well as those studying and working in a wide range
of sea-related areas.
The MarEng project started in November 2004
and was completed in May 2007. Its final product is
a web-based Maritime English learning tool in the
form of an organised database of various Maritime
English teaching and learning materials and a CD-
The MarEng materials can be used online in the
college classroom, in distance learning and for self-
study purposes. There are a number of recorded texts
and exercises of different types which the students
are encouraged to do. Some parts of the MarEng ma-
terials are also available in the PDF format. The en-
tire MarEng tool has been available on the Internet
since April 2007, free of charge. It can also be
downloaded from the website
The MarEng materials produced so far are suita-
ble for different language levels namely the interme-
diate level and advanced level.
Intermediate level materials cover the following
1 In Port
2 Welcome to a Modern Port
3 Loading the MS Marina
4 The Ship and her crew
5 Leaving port
6 In the Fairway
7 Heavy Weather
8 Mayday Mayday
9 The crew and its tasks
10 At Sea changing the watch
11 Survival in an emergency
12 Helicopter Rescue
13 An Encounter with the Coast Guard
The MarEng learning material in the intermediate
section is based on the idea of a virtual ship on a
voyage from the port of Santander in Spain to the
port of Kotka in Finland, calling at a number of ports
on the way. During the voyage, the crew of the mv
“Marina” faces a number of routine situations as
well as some unusual ones in which Maritime Eng-
lish is used both on board ship and in port loading
and discharging operations.
Most of the texts have been recorded as well as
numerous vocabulary and grammar exercises have
been provided. There are clear instructions on how
to use the programme and the students can listen to
recordings as many times as they wish to do so.
There is also a section on maritime glossary with
explanations in each of the sections.
Advanced level materials correspond to the topics
covered in the intermediate level sections and in-
Port Operations
Shipping and Maritime Management
Cargo Handling
Vessel Types
The Engine Room
Cargo Space
Port State Control
Vessel Traffic Services (VTS)
Ice Navigation
Radio Communication
Radio Medical
The materials have been evaluated and tested by
Advisory Partners including:
APEC Antwerp/Flanders Port Training Centre in
Finnish Ship Officers Union in Finland
National Board of Education in Finland
Latvian Maritime Administration in Riga, Latvia
BORE Oy in Finland
Those interested in using the MarEng programme
online are welcome to visit the webpage of
the MarEng project at or visit
our computer laboratory where the MarEng pro-
gramme has been downloaded on all the computers
and see for themselves how the programme works
and how can it be used in class.
Using the MarEng materials in practice will hope-
fully improve the knowledge of Maritime English
among the multi-lingual crews resulting in better
communication on board multi-national vessels, in
more efficient port operations and safer navigation.
In conclusion, I would like to say that a follow-up
to the MarEng project is now under way. It is called
the MarEngPlus project and is going to cover the el-
ementary level Maritime English materials.
The MarEngPlus project started on 1
2008 and will be completed by the end of 2010. It is
also partly funded by the EU Leonardo da Vinci
IMO Standard Marine Navigational Vocabulary, IMO 1977,
IMO Standard Marine Communication Phrases, IMO 2001,
“Using the MarEng project in practice” a workshop at the
IMEC-20 conference, October 2008, published in the IMEC
-20 conference proceedings