Notices to Mariners, incredible news and a mechanical voice…to fall in love with

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If I say SHIPS AND NATANS IN TRANSIT PRESTINE MAXIMUM ATTENTION what comes to mind? Notices to Mariners of course! For you, I decided to stick to the VHF and transcribe them all. In addition to fascinating news, I discovered many curiosities, and I confess that, in that automated voice, I found nuances of human personality, which I began to fall in love with.

WARNINGS TO MARINERS: INCREDIBLE AND UNOBTAINABLE NEWS

The notices to mariners are anything but as boring as it might appear at first listen. Among the various announcements of medium interest, there is also some amazing news! Not just bans or reporting of shallow draft harbors, new wrecks and various hazards. We learn of military units experimenting with remote-controlled undersea drones, oceanographic ships probing the seabed, 300-meter-long super-trailers in transit, lighthouses and beacons failing or restarting, firms intent on work on ports, and much more. The list of notices is long, but the news contained therein, besides being almost all useful for recreational boating and cruising, is broadcast only by radio, thus truly unobtainable elsewhere.

THE FANTASTIC AUTOMATIC VOICE OF THE METEOMAR

To read the alerts, there is the suave automated voice, the same as MeteoMar, which I basically fell in love with. Although of artificial synthesis, I like to imagine her as human, with a soul and even some flaws. In fact, if in reading the weather report he is infallible, in the Notices to Mariners he has moments of true dumbfounding, giving hilarious gems such as:

  • The accents that give personality: She seems to express irritation at reading that: “WE NOW STOP READING NOTICES FOR READING BURRASCA NOTICE,” almost as if she were annoyed… The voice becomes relieved again when it can finally announce “WE NOW RESUME READING NOTICES TO NAVIGATORS,” to which it adds the courtesy of rereading the previously interrupted message from the beginning.
  • English à la Totò: English words read with Italian phonetics are priceless, foreign ship or company names will remind you of the pronunciation of Toto and Peppino trying to speak English…. you will soon get used to it.
  • Occasionally he speaks Spanish… The word Position is sometimes read (I don’t know why) with a Spanish accent and not an English one, becoming a nice Positiòn… Olé!
  • Delirious Dates: Incredible mistake to believe for a voice-computer but true, dates and times are read as one number ! You will hear very frequently such phrases as, “Banned fishing and anchoring from two hundred thirty-one thousand eight hundred to twenty-four thousand six hundred December UTC” actually meant from 23 18h00 To 24 06h00 December UTC.
  • Mixed fried coordinates: Latitude and Longitude are reported in a chaotic mix of formats: Degrees-first-second, Degrees-decimal-first (with varying accuracy), North and East often omitted, semicolons or, worse, groups of digits read without separators. Either you understand the coordinates at the first, or worse for you. The coordinates are never repeated as one would do with bingo numbers….

HOW TO LISTEN TO MYTHICAL NOTICES TO MARINERS ON VHF

To hear the mythical notices to mariners, simply tune the Marine VHF to the channel of the nearest coastal radio station. The list of radio stations is published in the Nautical Agenda. Not on board? Then you stay listening on channel 16, wait for a SECURITE message where the channel to move to for listening to the gale warning is indicated. For example, in Liguria, channels 7 (Monte Bignone), 25 (Genoa Forte Castellaccio) and 27 (Zoagli) are indicated. Those are the local channels that will broadcast the alerts. The times are 04:03, 08:03, 11:33 16:03 20:03 UTC.

MEETINGS WITH NOTICES TO MARINERS OF THE THIRD KIND

There are three types of notices to mariners, and the one transmitted by radio I cannot help but call it the third type: the background noise is constant, as if the signal were coming from the moon. The message format is formal and airtight, seeming to come from another time. Some messages are distinctly incomprehensible, almost the offspring of an alien puzzle.
The other two types of notices are the biweekly periodical available in pdf on the Navy Hydrographic website, the one with updates to portolans and charts (we have already mentioned it among the documents to be kept on board) and finally last type of alerts are the international NAVAREA alerts transmitted with the NAVTEX system and also available on the network.

WARNING TO MARINERS, AN AUDIO EXAMPLE TO LISTEN TO

A brief example with the beginning of a message as received via VHF and its transcription,

MARINA NORD LA SPEZIA COASTAVURNAV NUMBER 146 / 20 JAN 24 – RELAUNCH N 25 – ADRIATIC SEA – POTENZA PICENA – LIGHT BUOY N3915 EFF SIGNALING VERTEX B OF MITICULTURE PLANT IN PSN 43 23 06N 13 45 00E NOT IN OPERATION…. SHIPS AND VESSELS IN TRANSIT PAY CLOSE ATTENTION.

An almost complete transcript of the messages heard in December 2020 on Channel 25 from Genoa is available as an attachment click here, some are really curious.

THE TRICKS OF TRANSCRIBING MESSAGES

The complete transcription of all messages can take several hours or consecutive listens; the trick to not getting lost is to know the format and copy only those of interest to us.

Here are the things to know:

  • MOST RECENT NOTICES AT THE BEGINNING : The messages are not necessarily in order, but the most recent and most important ones are usually at the beginning.
  • MARINANORD LA SPEZIA Each message begins with the name of the Navy command that issued the notice. It is always the same for the same coastal radio station, so it is not worth transcribing it each time, rather it allows us to understand that a new message begins.
  • COSTAVURNAV or LOCALVURNAV COSTAVURNAV messages are news of special importance broadcast, from all Italian coastal stations, in both Italian and English, and as mentioned, are usually at the incipit of the broadcast. Urgent notices to mariners of the local LOCAVURNAV type, on the other hand, are broadcast only from coastal stations near the maritime area related to the news.
  • NUMBER Each notice has a unique protocol number; those transmitted are not sequential. It is essential to transcribe this number, in order to understand, in subsequent transmissions, whether this message is still active or whether it was no longer repeated, i.e., it was deleted. Also, if you transcribe on a computer, it will be easy to use it as a search key.
  • Relaunch Each notice is relaunched many times, even for months; this number indicates how many times that notice has been relaunched.
  • DATES IN CONTRARY The date of the notice is always read as year month day, 20 NOV 19 means November 19, 2020.
  • SEA AND LOCALITY: The text of each notice begins with the sea of reference and the location to which it refers. If the message is not about an area of our interest, we can be less careful about transcription.
  • AREA DELIMITED BY COORDINATION POINTS: This sentence will be followed in rapid sequence by many LAT LONG coordinate pairs. If the sea area indicated above is of interest to us, it is good to note down the figures to be reported later on the nautical chart the polygon, otherwise we can gloss over it and wait for the text of the next message.
  • E F F MEANS. Often abbreviations are used, such as e, effe, effe, which stands for Headlight and Headlight List, so when you hear GREEN HEADLIGHT N1580 2 E1202 EFF. The first number is the number of the lantern to be searched in the list, the code preceded by E is that of the European list of lanterns.
  • SHIPS AND NATANTS IN TRANSIT SHOULD TAKE MAXIMUM CARE Almost all messages end with this phrase, often accompanied by afterwords such as “KEEP AT A DISTANCE OF AT LEAST 100m FROM MEANS WHEN IN ACTIVITY” or variants such as “DANGER TO NAVIGATION” or “ANCHORAGE, FISHING AND ANY UNDERWATER ACTIVITIES ARE FORBIDDEN.”

CURIOSITY.

  • Teletext and Radio1: Some of the notices are also given on page 718 of Teletext According to the RAI website, sporadically, on Sunday mornings at 05:55 “Bolmare” is on the schedule on Radio1 FM, but I have no direct experience of this listening.
  • Alternatives: One can listen to coastal messages from a remote location, and therefore not reachable by VHF, with shortwave SSB radio, on the frequencies of RomaRadio’s shortwave tele-stations, at the same times. COSTAURNAV alerts alone are also rebroadcast on National NAVTEX (490kHz), in English only. Some notices are reflected in local notices to boaters on the Coast Guard website.
  • A riddle for the sailor: To top it off, the most cryptic message transcribed so far, but when in doubt, know that I have been paying close attention!

MARINA NORD LA SPEZIA – LOCALVURNAV NUMBER 889 /19 DEC 30 RELAUNCH 91
MAR LIGURE GULF LA SPEZIA DMRE LA SPEZIA WILL CARRY OUT EXPERIMENTAL ACTIVITIES UNTIL DEC 31, 2020 WITH EMPLOYMENT OF MILITARY APPARATUS UNITS AND SUB-AQUAQUE OPERATIONS LOCATED IN 4 ACTIVE SECTORS AT THE FOLLOWING LOCATIONS (coordinates omissis…) The SECTORS ARE CONNECTED WITH UNDERWATER CABLE ACCORDING TO THE FOLLOWING CONFIGURATION. CONTAINER LAB TO M2 SENSOR, CONTAINER LAB TO M3 SECTOR, CONTAINER LAB TO M4 SECTOR. FROM CONTAINER LAB TO ACOUSTIC DOPPLER PROFILER SENSOR. FROM CONTAINER LAB TO HYDROPHONE ARRAY SECTOR. M3 SECTOR TO M1 SECTOR. AND DANGEROUS NAVIGATION, FISHING STOP AND QUALSISI SURFACE OPERATION. 150M SAFETY DISTANCE FROM THE SENSORS, PAY CLOSE ATTENTION.

Luigi Gallerani


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