There are two types of traffic that I listen to on my scanners more than anything else and they are:
I get it, the majority of scanner listeners use their equipment to listen in on law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical traffic.
That’s also what the general public associates with scanners and those who use them.
Of the two, I listen to marine traffic much more often due to my geographic location.
Usually, I can only hear the dispatch towers of railroads on most days and nights unless the other associated signals are being propagated further.
However, I am only a few miles from several navigable waterways and can hear a good bit of marine traffic occurring on there.
Listening to marine traffic helps me know what passes through my area on boats and barges, and also gives me a heads up of when such watercraft are approaching in the case of me wanting to photograph or record their passage. When I am alone in my residence, these voices on my scanner keep me company. So listening to marine traffic is good clean fun for me and keeps me out of trouble. To a degree, it even helps me maintain my sanity.
I do have only one complaint about listening to marine traffic and it is:
I wish the personnel of these boat and barge crews would be mindful of the language they use over the radio.
Many times, it confirms the very intensity of the phrase “cuss like a sailor.”
Technically, it is illegal to use such vulgarity over the radio, but seldom enforced and actually, I’ve never seen this law enforced first hand.
I don’t see such filthy language used in railroad communications, or at least not first hand. That’s likely because the majority of railroad traffic is recorded.
The only other times I heard vulgar language used over the radio was in my teen years when a Houma City Policeman who was in a foot pursuit of a suspect and of course I’ve heard it all the time on CB and FRS.
The current racial tension going on in America right now is what prompted me to write this piece, though it has been on my mind for nearly four years.
And I will explain why too:
One day, in the Summer of 2016, my then-wife, now ex-wife, was working on an arts and crafts project at the Bayou Blue, Louisiana Library. I would usually sit on the computers there and either write or do my research. On that day, I had completed whatever writing or research projects I had wanted to accomplish, so I went for a walk at the track which is situated behind the library. I walked beyond the track and onto the levee of The Hollywood Canal. That location is in proximity to The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, so I had my portable scanner, a Uniden BC72XLT, and was scanning several VHF Marine channels with it. Standing on the levee about one hundred feet from me was a black lady, who was fishing in The Hollywood Canal. She was focused on catching fish, maybe for her Sunday dinner, and didn’t even notice me. About that time either a captain or a deckhand came over the radio and was repeatedly saying the n-word. My scanner picked it up loud and clear and I had it at full volume. Hurriedly, though, I shut it off. I don’t know whether or not that black lady heard my scanner or not. If she did, she didn’t make any trouble with me about it. My biggest fear was that she would see that the radio I was carrying was indeed a scanner and then assume that I was listening to law enforcement. I was ready to explain to her that this particular scanner I am using is not capable of picking up any law enforcement traffic in this area, save a few private security firms. Afterward, I went walk on the levee of The Hollywood Canal in the opposite direction of that lady. I don’t remember if I turned my scanner back on or not. In the following days, I remember telling everyone I know who works in marine logistics to watch their language that they use over the radio because they never know who is listening or in earshot. Imagine if that black lady would have raised ten kinds of hell and said how she had heard what she assumed was the cops using the n-word over their radios. Thank God, she likely didn’t even hear my scanner, but if I was any nearer she would have indeed heard it. God only knows what would have happened then because racial tension was pretty high in 2016. Of course, racial tension is once again at its boiling point here in 2020.
I can think of numerous other occasions where maritime workers use other filthy or offensive words over the radio.
One of my hobbies, as I’ve said before is to watch marine traffic as it passes by on waterways. My scanners greatly enhance that hobby.
But when I am in a public area, such as the Houma City Docks, I have to be constantly on alert if certain people are nearby because of the language that some of these maritime workers use. I wish these workers would watch their mouths when talking over the radio for that very reason.
I strive to be a gentleman and one of the things about being a gentleman is to not use foul language in the presence of women.
I try my best not to use it at all, but I slip up either when I am by myself or around worldly men. Another time I fail to preserve my prim and proper speech is when I have work or research that needs to be done and I have to fight with a slow Internet connection.
So, technically, it is none of my business what is being said on those radios, because I do not work in the maritime transportation industry at all.
However, it is a federal crime to use vulgar language over any radio channel, and also in many jurisdictions, it is considered a crime to use vulgar language in the presence of women or children. And calling a person a slur word denoting or connoting their racial or ethnic heritage is sometimes an arrestable offense as well. There are plenty of women children and people from very diverse backgrounds that frequent the city docks either for fishing, exercise or to play on the nearby playground equipment. It SHOULD be pleasant, but if any inappropriate language is heard, it can get very unpleasant and very fast.
I get it, by this point I probably seem like a prude with too much time on his hands.
Call me that if you wish, I don’t care. I’ve been called much worse.
I just wish those in the maritime industry would keep the filth off the radio because they never know who is within listening range.
I stand by my belief that a gentleman ought not to use any crude language in the presence of a woman.
It’s also wrong to use vulgar language in the presence of a child, even though most children will likely giggle a whole lot when exposed to such language.
Before 2018, I used all sorts of bad language. But then the Good Lord got a hold of me and told me how I needed to clean up that area of my life.
I’ll probably just be told to shut my scanner off if I don’t want to expose myself or others to such filth and that is likely what I will do.
But wouldn’t it be nice if I could have the scanner radio on and not have to worry about offending or upsetting those around me?
Let me make it very clear right now that I don’t want to get anyone in trouble because I know that those people who work in marine logistics are very hard-working individuals who have to be away from their loved ones for days, sometimes weeks on end, just to pay their bills and support their families. I greatly appreciate what they do. I think what they do is also very cool. I would love to do it myself if it weren’t for several medical conditions of which I am afflicted. If my words are properly heeded, trouble will be prevented, not caused.
I am not trying to start any sort of fight, but rather just give a friendly but firm reminder that offensive language ought not to occupy the airwaves.
Picture if you will you are speaking in front of a group of school children Kindergarten through High School from every different background there is, but not only that how about some church ladies as well and not just them your mother and your grandmothers and your pastor’s wife and if that’s not enough, imagine you will be meeting the family of your spouse or significant other for the first time. Think of how you ought to speak for that very situation with all those aforementioned people and then you would realize that is how you ought to speak on the airwaves.
How you talk to your coworkers amongst yourselves is none of my business and I frankly don’t care.
But those radios you talk on have a transmission range much further than you think and what you say on them is heard by many more than just the other party, so please, be very mindful of what you say on there.
Again, my motives behind this are very clean. I don’t want anyone to get in trouble for any reason and it’s not my job to report any of you, nor do I have any desire to. However, I would like to be able to have my scanner turned on in a public place and not have to worry about what will be heard by those in earshot.
Thank you all for what you do and I hope this post will be peacefully considered.
2 thoughts on “Addressing the Offensive Language used on VHF Marine Communications”
You’ve inspired me to explore Marine Communications in my area. Very interesting blog!
Thank you very much. All you really need is an entry level scanner to tune it in. Check eBay, because even a 30 year old scanner will work very well!