When you’re traveling with family or friends on a cruise, you’ll want to stay in touch, but communicating on a cruise ship can be difficult, and the charges are sometimes excessive.
To avoid the risk of charges, it’s usually best to put your phone on airplane mode and check your partner and family to do the same (we learned this the hard way).
Most cruise lines offer Internet access, but it can be expensive to use Wi-Fi at sea. Of course, when you’re out at sea, there is often no cell phone signal, so you can’t call or text as you normally would on your cell phone.
One way to communicate freely while on a cruise ship is to use a walkie-talkie / two-way radio. However, while they are an extra option to keep in touch, especially if you have kids onboard, they have their limitations.
Are Walkie-Talkies Allowed on a Cruise Ship
Most cruise lines allow walkie-talkies or two-way radios on board, but they may have to meet certain specifications that will vary depending on the cruise line.
If you forget your walkie-talkies or see other people using them and think they look like a good idea, some cruise ships offer the chance to rent them on board. This is more likely on a smaller cruise ship than a mega-cruise ship because they are more likely to work better on a smaller vessel.
It’s worth bearing in mind some cruise lines may have restrictions on the type of two-way radio you can use on board. For example, Royal Caribbean explicitly states on its website that only FRS/GMRS two-way radios are allowed and must have a ship mode setting.
Some cruise lines may also have limits on:
- Maximum watts of power
- Prohibit external mounting antenna
Can You Use Walkie-Talkies on a Cruise Ship
Most cruise lines allow passengers to use Walkie-Talkies on board the cruise ship. However, a few considerations influence how well they work and whether they are the best option for staying in touch with your group.
The size of the cruise ship will impact how well the Walkie-Talkies work. Generally, the smaller the cruise ship, the better the Walkie-Talkies will work. This is because fewer obstacles, such as walls and other passengers, can block the signal.
It’s also always worth considering other passengers when you use them so as not to annoy or disturb the peaceful surroundings they may be enjoying.
Do Walkie-Talkies Work on a Cruise Ship
Walkie-Talkies are primarily designed for use in the open air and should work well if both users are outside, ideally in line of sight. The more obstacles between you, the more interference you can expect.
Walkie-talkies work by transmitting radio signals, and with the majority of cruise ship structures being made of steel, they can block or interfere with radio signals, so most models will not work at all well if you are inside the ship.
That said, there are types of walkie-talkies that use Ultra High Frequency (UHF) signals that can penetrate walls, floors, and ceilings, so if you’re in a cabin on a cruise ship, you might be able to use one of these to communicate with someone in another room or on another deck.
Some walkie-talkies use the Global Positioning System (GPS), so you can keep track of where everyone is on the ship. However, these are usually not allowed on cruise ships.
Using Walkie-Talkies On A Cruise Ship
How and when you can use a walkie-talkie on a cruise ship will depend on which type you have and where you are on the ship.
If you want any chance of using a walkie-talkie from inside a cruise cabin, essentially a steel metal container, you will need to make sure you have a UHF two-way radio model.
These models can transmit signals through steel walls to someone in another room and through ceilings giving you the best chance of making contact with someone on another deck.
All other kinds of walkie-talkies will have difficulty penetrating the ship’s metal walls, so they will only be of use in outside areas.
If you are outside your cabin, you have a much better chance of your walkie-talkie working, and even more so if you are on the outside decks.
Outside on the promenade deck, lounging on the sun deck, or the pool deck, they should work well, assuming you are comfortably within range and both outside. The fewer obstacles between you both less interference you will incur.
Internally, even outside your cabin, there are still many structures that can block or significantly weaken the signals, so don’t expect the device-stated ranges to be anything like that in reality.
One of the best places to communicate on a walkie-talkie is when you are both on the ship’s top deck.
There are usually fewer structures to block the signals, and you are more likely to be in the range of each other, especially if the other person is outside, even on a lower deck. However, the lower they are, the more likely you will experience some static.
Walkie-talkies can be ideal for use onshore during excursions in foreign countries as you can easily keep track of everyone in your group within a range of 2 to 5 miles depending on the model, without having to incur phone charges.
On land, the walkie-talkies work much better and more in line with the ranges set, but this depends on your area and surrounding structures.
Plus, whether inside or outside, buildings will also make a difference.
If you are visiting a port outside of the US, check the local regulations for the use of two-way radios, even if it is an FRS radio in case you unwittingly enter into a foreign country’s frequencies and possibly public safety or commercial channels.
Can Other People Hear Your Conversations?
It’s possible other passengers onboard the ship can tune into the same channel, just as you might come across other channels.
If this happens, you can simply change the frequency, which is easier if you have a model which allows multiple frequencies.
Some two-way radios have a privacy code feature that offers users many private channels. Although this doesn’t mean other people can’t hear you, it just means you don’t hear them because it filters out walkie-talkies that aren’t on the same code.
It’s also worth highlighting that being on a walkie-talkie in a public space on a cruise ship unless you are wearing an earpiece, other passengers will be able to hear both sides of the conversation, and some may find the noise aspect annoying and make a complaint.
How to Increase the Range of Walkie-Talkies on a Cruise
Just because a range is stated on a walkie-talkie doesn’t mean it will work to its full potential on a cruise ship. Various factors can limit the range, from obstructions to the weather.
However, you can do a few things to increase the range, improve the signal, and reduce the static of your walkie-talkie while on your cruise ship or an excursion.
Assuming you have purchased a model with a good range, you can try the following tips.
The first is to try and find areas on the ship with fewer obstructions between yourself and the person you’re trying to reach. If you are both outside, that would be ideal.
Make sure the antennas are extended as much as possible, both on your walkie-talkie and the one you are trying to communicate with.
Ensure your 2-way radio is fully charged or has high-strength batteries. As the batteries weaken, this will affect the strength of the signal they are transmitting.
Should You Bring a Walkie-Talkie on a Cruise (pros and cons)
Now that you know how well walkie-talkies work on a cruise ship, the next question is should you bring one?
- Cheaper than using a cell phone or cruise line internet access
- Helps keep you off your phone while on vacation
We say cheap rather than free because you’ll have to buy the walkie-talkies first, and some models may need batteries.
Some people enjoy a vacation with no devices, and no temptation to check work emails or see bad news.
- The distorted sound might be annoying to other passengers unless you have earpieces
- Won’t work from your cabin (unless UHF)
- Range not extend the entire length of mega-ship
- Others may overhear your conversations
- May lose them if you put them down somewhere
Types of Walkie Talkie
There are 3 main types of walkie-talkie that you may consider using, but some are more suitable than others.
FRS – Family Radio Service radios are relatively cheap and easy to use, so they will be suitable for all family members. They operate on FM waves with 14 channels and up to 2 watts in power. No license for use is required.
FRS walkie-talkies should work if you are on the outside decks and have models with a good range, albeit with some static the further you are apart. However, they simply won’t work inside the ship due to all the obstructions.
GMRS – General Mobile Radio Service radios are more potent than FRS radios with a maximum of 60 watts of power. They can transmit over greater distances, up to 5 miles. However, using them in the United States requires a license, and you must be over 18 to apply.
Also, they may not even be allowed on some cruise lines, so best to check in advance.
UHF Radios – Ultra-High Frequency radios are powerful 2 ways radios that can transmit signals which can penetrate the steel structures of a cruise ship.
Best Walkie-Talkie for Cruise Ship
The best walkie-talkie for a cruise ship is one that uses UHF frequencies, has multiple channels, and has a privacy code feature.
The UHF frequencies will enable you to communicate through the steel structures of the ship and in private if you have a model with multiple channels with privacy code options.
For large ships and onshore excursions, make sure you look for models with as extensive a range as possible.
A good battery life with a talk time of around 15 hours can also be advantageous. We prefer models with a rechargeable battery base rather than take separate batteries.
The final consideration would be to choose a model or retailer that offers a 2-year warranty.
Best walkie-talkie checklist:
- UHF frequencies to communicate through cabin walls
- Multiple channels and privacy codes for private communication
- Earpieces for communicating discreetly
- Long range for large ships and onshore excursions
- Good battery life or battery-saving features
- Rechargeable battery
- Warranty for peace of mind
Walkie-talkies can be brought in pairs, with some models available in larger packs if you want to use them in a large group.
Free Alternatives to Walkie Talkies
Walkie-talkies aren’t the only option for communicating for free on a cruise ship.
Over the years, we have used several others, some of which are useful to have or know about as a backup, even if you do have your two-way radios with you.
Free Cabin to Cabin Phone Calls
If you and the person you want to call are likely to be in their cabin, you can just call them for free using the in-room phones.
Cabin phones can be used to call other cabins on the same ship for free.
It’s also worth noting that there are usually free phones around other parts of the ship you can use to call cabins.
Whiteboard or Sticky notes
Whiteboards or sticky notes are suitable for communicating as people come and go from within the cabin. You can keep each other updated on your latest whereabouts or next meet-up location and time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Walkie-Talkies Work from Inside Cruise Ship Cabins?
Only the more powerful and expensive UHF two-way radios will work from inside a cabin. The steel walls and ceilings will block all other walkie-talkie signals.
Do Cruise Ship Staff Use Two-Way Radios?
On your cruise vacation, you may spot staff using walkie-talkies. These are usually high-end models with extended antenna which may not be allowed for use by the public as they can become a safety hazard (pokes to eyes) to other passengers.
All considering walkie-talkies can be a viable way of communicating on a cruise ship for free. While they have limitations, they can be ideal for communication if both users are on the outside decks or offshore excursions.
If you want the opportunity to communicate directly from cabin to cabin, you will have to consider a UHF two-way radio, but it’s worth always being aware that you are not causing an annoyance to surrounding passengers.
So while walkie-talkies can be effective to some degree, I would also consider backup options for communicating with friends and family while onboard.
If you have any experience or tips for using or choosing a walkie-talkie on a cruise, please share them in the comments we would love to hear them.