The Radio Officer, known to generations of seafarers as ‘Sparks’, was an integral part of life on board ships in the days before satellite communications rendered the job obsolete. Training Schools for telegraphy at places such as Bridlington, Brixton, Liverpool and Colwyn Bay, Wray Castle,where students gained their P.M.G. Certificate (i.e. their ticket to practice). After gaining their qualifications’ the majority joined the Marconi Company who supplied Radio Officers to most of the Merchant Marine companies, including Trawlers.
After the inquiry into the sinking of the RMS Titanic, when the nearby SS Californian did not render her assistance, due to their radio being down for the night, it was ordered that round-the-clock watch had to be maintained on all ships over 1600 Gross Tonnage. Most vessels only carried one radio officer and during the hours he was off-duty, an automatic alarm device monitored the distress frequency. The Sparks role on the larger Passenger Liners’ was quite demanding requiring them to handle a large amount of passenger communications, to produce news-sheets, sports results etc.
Today, Marconi and other independent companies no longer supply Radio Officers to ships at sea. This is due to the development of satellites. Deck officers are now dual trained as GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System) Officers, thereby being able to operate all of the ship's on-board communication systems and ETOs (Electro Technical Officers) are trained to fix and maintain the more complex systems.