Do Walkie-talkies Work On Cruise Ships? The Ultimate Guide

A radio can save you the hassle of slipping notes or cabin phone. But how well do they work on a cruise ship? And what radio should you pick?
cruise ship staff

Walkie-talkies are a great option for communicating with your family and friends on the top deck or in public areas of a cruise ship. They save you the hassle of slipping notes underneath their cabin door or dropping a message on their cabin phone. But how well do they work on a cruise ship?

Short answer: walkie-talkies can work on a cruise ship, but due to the build (steel, metal, and concrete), it can be challenging to get good signal reception in a cabin. Licensed-free radios (FRS and PMR446) can work fine, but you’ll need something with higher power and licensable (UHF radios work better in built-up areas) to move through solid obstructions.

Are Walkie-talkies Allowed On Cruise Ships?

Now that we know they work, the next big question is if they’re allowed. You don’t want to spend a ton of money getting these two-way radios only to discover they aren’t allowed on the cruise line you’re taking.

Generally, most cruise lines allow walkie-talkies, and you won’t find them on the cruise line’s list of banned items. These cruise lines include Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise Line, NCL, and Princess.

However, for licensed two-way radios, you’ve to be more careful. Why? Because if your ship is at port or docking and you use these radios, you might accidentally be breaking the walkie-talkie regulations in that country.

Here’s what I mean: a legal channel or frequency for you to use in one country might be illegal in another country. This rule of thumb doesn’t apply to licensed radios only. 

US and UK consumer-grade radios do not use the same frequency range. Hence, it’s best to use your walkie-talkie only if you’re sure of the country’s regulations.

For example, the licensed-free radio frequency in the US is for emergency services in the UK. But for PMR446 radios, you’re allowed to use them in most European countries.

To be legally safe, check with the country’s regulatory body if it’s allowed. But how about on the cruise ship? Call the cruise line and ask what their policy is on walkie-talkies and the best walkie-talkie to have onboard.

Can Other People Eavesdrop On My Conversation?

Even with privacy codes, people on your cruise line can listen to your conversation. So the best you can do is to find a channel that is not busy; better to go beyond the first few channels as most people will readily settle for those.

people talking on cruise ship
Photo by oferiko on Foter

Is Walkie-talkie Better For Communicating On A Ship?

The idea of taking a walkie-talkie on a cruise is to aid conversation, not to have one more item to worry about losing. Thus, it’d be a waste of time if your walkie-talkie can’t get through the ship’s built or has a short range.

The best type of walkie-talkie on a cruise line can work across the entire ship. Also, getting one walkie-talkie that functions well enough in the cabin and is still cheaper than paying for WiFi for your group or family is easy.

It would help if you understood that communicating with someone in a cabin is usually a struggle. But if you’re using a basic low-powered two-way radio, you’ll find it hard to talk on the cruise ship.

Why? Walkie-talkies transmit sound better in open spaces. And some of them, like VHF radios, are weak in nature to penetrate obstacles. Thus, using a VHF radio is more challenging to get a clear sound or communicate effectively. 

Solid surfaces or obstacles can block and reflex radio signals to reduce the device’s talking range significantly. For example, a 5 watts VHF two-way radio’s range is usually about 1 to 2 miles in built-up areas but can reach 3 to 5 miles in wide open spaces.

However, with a UHF two-way radio, your talking range can improve. Although their range is shorter due to the shorter wavelength, this feature also gives them a better ability to penetrate or bypass obstacles. 

The radio’s range is a primary factor to consider before you make that purchase. Your communication will only be excellent if the range and power are high enough.

Thus, for clear and uninterrupted communication, especially between farther distances or in crowded or built-up areas, a UHF walkie-talkie will help improve range and output.

Other Factors To Watch Out For When Picking Cruise Ships’ Walkie-talkies

  • Battery Life: There aren’t sockets everywhere on a cruise ship; chances are, you’ll only be able to charge your two-way radios when in your cabin. Hence it would be best if you had one device with long battery life and is rechargeable.
  • Bluetooth Earpiece: Let’s just say cruisers don’t particularly enjoy you whipping out your radio and feeling forced to listen to your conversation. So it’s best to go with one that has provision for earpieces. That way, no one gets to hear what you’re listening to, and your phone can remain conveniently in your pocket. Trust me, holding a walkie-talkie can get pretty tiring and, sometimes, amateurish on a cruise ship.
  • Cost: Buying a set is usually cheaper, but you can consider renting a few high-end licensed walkie-talkies. Go for something that’ll go through obstacles and afford you a good range.
  • Size and Weight: Unless you fancy walking about on a cruise ship holding a gigantic device, go for a lightweight walkie-talkie.
cruise ship control room

Types of Walkie-talkies You Can Use On Cruise Line

PMR446 Radios

The PMR446 are license-free two-way radios meant for personal use or small businesses in the UK or across the European Union. They come with 8 public channels and a frequency range from 446.0 to 446.2MHz. However, they’re low-powered and typically have a power output of 0.5 watts.

Though it has a UHF frequency band, it has a low power output and a low range. So what does that mean for you while you’re on your cruise?

You’ll be able to kick in good conversation with your family or friends while on the top deck and public areas. But you won’t get a clear sound if you’re far away on a big ship or in a cabin.

Another disadvantage of using the PMR446 radios is that the channels are far too readily congested. They’re just 8, and if many passengers onboard are using these channels, there’ll be interferences and eavesdropping here and there. 

Not the best option there is if you want something more private and happen to be on a ship with more than a few PMR446s.

However, it’s still worth having on because it’s cheap and gets the job done, especially if you and your folks know its limitations.

Note: Do not use this walkie-talkie if your cruise ship docks in a non-European country or you need to check if the destination supports PMR446.

UK-licensed Radios

Licensed radios in the UK are a much better option on cruise lines. They are high-powered walkie-talkies and provide a clear line of communication in crowded areas and cabins.

You can get the simple UK light license which is $75 for 5 years and gives you access to 19 channels. For more information, check this article.

However, if you don’t see you and your group finding a use for these two-way radios, then consider hiring some high-end walkie-talkies. Some cruise lines offer walkie-talkies for hire aboard.

FRS Radios

FRS radios are similar to PMR446 — the United States equivalent of license-free consumer-grade radios.

But unlike the PMR446, it has a higher power output of 0.5 to 2 watts, thus offering better communication coverage. In addition, it has a total of 22 license-free channels.

It’s best to use one of the latter channels to prevent more incidences of other passengers accidentally listening in on your conversation. They stand fewer chances of being congested.

FRS walkie-talkies are a good option but don’t expect a hundred percent clear communication in cabin-to-deck communication.

GMRS Radios

In the US and Canada, the GMRS walkie-talkies are high-powered and licensable. As a result, it can cover a longer distance range, usually anywhere from 2 to 5 miles.

The license is about $50 to $80, depending on the US state you’re getting it. For regular cruisers, getting these are worth the money because the license lasts 5 years.

In Summary: How Much Coverage Can Walkie-talkies Offer On Ship? 

Since the cruise ship is made of steel, that is hard to penetrate and reflex signals. Based on that, if the size of the ship is smaller than 100 meters (110 yards) in length, an unlicensed radio can cover most communication needs. And a licensed professional radio is a better option for ships bigger than that size.

Other Ways To Communicate On Cruise Ships

There are several other ways to keep tabs on your partners, children, or friends. You can use the following:

Messaging Apps

Some cruise lines, like the Disney Cruise Line, offer apps and wave phones that you can use to communicate with your loved ones. The apps allow you to send free texts by connecting to the ship’s WiFi, but if you need to do something other than that, you’ll have to purchase their WiFi package.

Not all cruise lines offer these apps for free, so it’s always best to check in with them to know if they have one and how much it may cost.

WiFi Package

The package is either a daily or trip package, but regardless, it’s usually the most expensive route to take. Hence, many passengers often opt for walkie-talkies which are helpful in several situations.

Cabin Phones And Post-it Notes

If you do not see the need to communicate constantly with your loved ones, you can have rendezvous points, leave a message on their cabin phone, or slip a note right under their door.

Final Words

Walkie-talkies are a popular option on cruise ships because they’re cheap. Moreover, you never have to worry about not having a signal. Instead, get a two-way radio with a good range if you can’t afford the pricey WiFi packages onboard.

But if communication isn’t a big deal, then you can stick with cabin notes, rendezvous points, and post-it notes.

About The Arthur
Picture of Kenny Zhang
I've been running a factory that manufactures two-way radios & their accessories. We want to share some knowledge and news about Walkie-Talkie from the sight of the supplier.

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