Do Walkie Talkies Work on Cruise Ships? Everything You Need To Know

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Filed Under: Cruise Essentials

Going on a cruise vacation with the family or a large group of friends can be exciting, but keeping in touch with your friends and family members (or even finding them on board) can be a challenge. With Cruise Ship Wi-Fi being so expensive and the potentially huge cost of using your cell phone onboard, you might be thinking about other options like two-way radios or walkie-talkies as they are better known. So, let’s dive into the main question: do walkie talkies work on cruise ships?

The short answer is yes, walkie-talkies can work on a cruise ship. But be aware that one major cruise line has recently banned them from use on board. But more on that later, let’s take a detailed look at why you should consider using walkie talkies on your next cruise.

Walkie Talkies are a great way to communicate on a cruise vacation

The key thing to be aware of is the effectiveness of walkie-talkies can be limited due to the ship’s physical structure. All that steel, metal, and concrete, causes interference with radio signals. 

Additionally, you need to ensure that your chosen walk-talkie is legal to use on board and that you’re using permitted radio frequencies. The Family Radio Service (FRS) is the name you should be looking out for as this identifies the range of frequencies that are generally permitted for personal use. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the key things to think about and the potential limitations you should be aware of before relying on walkie-talkies during your cruise vacation.

If however you are just here to find out the Walkie Talkies we recommend for using on the Cruise ship? Here’s the list:-

Yes, Walkie Talkies Work on Cruise Ships – But They May Not Cover An Entire Ship

Do Walkie Talkies Work On Cruise Ships? All That Steel On A Cruise Ship Can Block Walkie Talkie Signals
All That Steel On A Cruise Ship Can Block Walkie Talkie Signals

Walkie talkies, use UHF radios to transmit and receive signals. You might see these referred to as such as FRS walkie-talkies or GMRS walkie-talkies. 

However, the steel structure of cruise ships does a great job of blocking or interfering with these signals, so you have to choose your model carefully. Many of the cheap walkie talkies available simply won’t have enough power to work, especially when inside the ship.

Despite this limitation, walkie talkies can still be useful to some extent. For instance, cruise ship walkie talkies can prove helpful when you’re on the open deck and need to keep in touch with friends, family, or large groups. However, as you move indoors or across multiple decks, the effectiveness of these devices might be significantly reduced, depending on the model.

What types of walkie-talkie do crew members use to communicate on a cruise ship?

Now at this point, you are probably thinking. But what about crew members? They use walkie talkies onboard. Could we use similar models? 

Crew members, use a special type of walkie talkie to communicate. These professional-grade devices are different from those available to passengers and are designed specifically for the ship’s environment. They will offer excellent range of even the largest cruise ships.

Two-way radio Terminology

When selecting a walkie talkie for your cruise ship vacation, make sure to choose a model that operates on the permitted frequencies, which is the “Family Radio Service” (FRS), as this doesn’t require a license. Also, be aware of the rules for the countries you’ll be visiting, as different regulations might apply.

So while walkie talkies can be a useful communication tool on cruise ships, their performance may vary depending on how good the walkie talkie is and your location on the ship.

What Major Cruise Lines Currently Allow You To Take A Walkie Talkie On A Cruise Ship?

The following cruise lines currently allow you to take walkie-talkies on board: Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line, P and O Cruises, MSC Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Virgin Voyages, Marella Cruise By TUI

What Major Cruise Lines DO NOT Allow You To Use Walkie-Talkies On Board?

Norwegian Cruise Line recently added walkie-talkies to their list of prohibited items to bring on a cruise with you. 

Range and Signal Strength on Cruise Ships

Before considering what walkie-talkies to use on a cruise ship, it’s useful to understand the range and signal strength of these devices when on board. 

Typical Walkie-talkies generally have a maximum range of 500 to 1000 yards in open spaces with fewer obstacles. These are optimal conditions/ However, on-board cruise ships, that range will be reduced due to all the obstacles that the cruise ship’s structure puts in the way. 

In outdoor spaces, such as the pool deck, you might find that your walkie-talkies work reasonably well with a good range and signal strength.  However, it’s essential to keep in mind that you might still experience interference when you’re at opposite ends of the ship or in certain areas of the ship which have more obstructions.

Test Coverage From Your Cabin to the Entire Ship

Once you get on board your cruise, it’s always a good idea to do a quick test of your walkie-talkies in various locations. This will let you know the limitations and the range you can expect. That way your group will have a better understanding of what will work and what won’t.

For example, consider a large ship like the Royal Caribbean vessel Icon of the Seas. That will be the largest ship afloat when it launches next year. Can you imagine trying to communicate from an aft interior cabin on Deck 2 to a family member at the top deck on the back of the ship? That might be a struggle.

Remember, walkie-talkies can be helpful in keeping in touch with your travel group on a cruise ship, but they are not infallible.

Frequency Types for Walkie Talkies – FRS, GMRS or PMR446?

Walkie-talkies operate using radio signals and come in several frequency types. Radio frequencies in the USA are managed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 

Different frequencies are managed into specific named ranges for different services. For instance, we have a range of frequencies set aside for FM radio. Another set aside for Television signals.

The two most common types that you will come across for 2-way radio are “Family Radio Service” (FRS) radios and “General Mobile Radio Service” (GMRS) radios.

FRS radios use a lower-powered frequency range, making them ideal for shorter distances, while GMRS radios have a higher frequency range, allowing for longer ranges.

Both the FRS and the GMRS systems are legal for use in the USA

Due to this higher range capability, the use of GMRS two-way Radio requires a license to use in the USA, so these should be avoided.

The FRS system works on 462 and 467 MHz in the ultra high frequency (UHF) band. UHF can penetrate walls, floors, and ceilings, making them ideal for usage on a cruise ship. UHF radios typically work better in built-up areas and can help improve communication between cabins or decks on a ship.

What Type of Walkie Talkie Will Work on a cruise ship in UK and Europe

In the UK and Europe, the equivalent system is referred to as PMR446. These also work in the UHF band, but are on a slightly different frequency (446 MHz).

It’s important to note therefore that a UK model Walkie-Talkie will not be able to communicate with a US purchased walkie-talkies as they are on two different radio frequencies.

Will two UK purchased walkie-talkies work when used in the USA? Yes they will, but they won’t be legal

Will two United States purchased wlkie-talkies work when use in the UK and Europe? Yes they will, but again they won’t be legal.

The reason they are not legal as that the respective countries have set aside certain frequencies for certain things. So if you use a radio in the wrong country, you might actually cause interference with another service.

Best Walkie Talkies – What Are Privacy Codes?

Another essential aspect of walkie-talkies on cruise ships is something called “privacy codes”. Walkie Talkies have a limited range of channels. And if you happen to be on the same channel as your next door neighbor you would hear each others conversations.

What privacy codes do, is to almost create a private sub-channel. Each person in your group sets their radio to the same channel and privacy code. The Privacy codes then allow you to filter out any other radio signals from other users who happen to be on that same channel.

COuld Other People On the Ship Listen To My Conversation?

Do Walkie Talkies Work On Cruise Ships
Your Walkie Talkie Conversations on The Cruise Ship Could Be Picked Up From Here

Now, don’t be misguided by the name of this code. It actually doesn’t give you any form of privacy. If someone just happens to have their radio set to your channel and privacy code they can still listen in to all your conversations. Instead, just think of it as a way to filter out other radio conversations on the ship.

So when choosing a walkie-talkie for your cruise trip, make sure you look for models with UHF signals and privacy codes. This will help ensure clear and private communication throughout your journey. And remember to always follow the cruise ship’s rules and guidelines regarding communication devices.

Using a walkie-talkie on a cruise ship – Battery Life and Power Options

Another thing you need to consider is the battery life and power options for your chosen walkie-talkie. 

Rechargeable batteries are a great option for your walkie-talkies since they can be recharged whenever needed during your cruise. 

Most modern walkie-talkies support rechargeable batteries, but it’s always a good idea to double-check before embarking on your trip. 

While on board, those charging stations will take up a power outlet in your cabin, which on a lot of cruise ships are few and far between.

On our last cruise on Carnival Pride, there was only one US outlet in the room. So you might need to think about bringing along a cruise-compatible power strip to ensure you have sufficient outlets.

Generally, walkie-talkies with higher wattage provide better signal strength and can communicate over longer distances. However, that extra power, drains the batteries quicker. So you need to strike a balance between power output and battery life for optimal use on a cruise ship.

So when considering walkie-talkie models for your cruise, make sure you look at the following:-

  • Battery life: Opt for models with longer battery life to avoid frequently changing or recharging batteries.
  • Rechargeable batteries: Choose walkie-talkies that support rechargeable batteries – this will save you a lot of money in the long run.
  • Watts of power and power output: Balance power output and battery life to ensure decent communication quality without draining the batteries too quickly.

Best Walkie Talkie – Ease of Use and Additional Features

Unless you have worked in an industry that uses handheld radios, most of use will probably have never used a walkie-talkie since the toys we might have played with as kids. If fact for the younger generation, its probably a strange device compared to their modern smartphones. 

So it’s wise to look for walkie-talkie models that are user-friendly and come with some helpful additional features. 

Fortunately, most modern walkie-talkies are designed to be user-friendly, so in most cases, you shouldn’t need to worry about that.

One feature that is really handy on a cruise ship is the belt clip. Yep, a simple thing like that can make all the difference between a good handheld radio and a bad one. 

The belt clip allows you to always keep it within reach. No need to worry about fumbling through your bag or pockets when the kids are hailing you.

An LCD screen is another handy feature. This can give you a clear idea of battery life, channel status, or signal strength. This makes it easy to monitor and manage your device at a glance. You’ll always know when it’s time to recharge or switch channels.

Comparing Cell Phones With Walkie Talkies for Cruise Ships – What is the Best Way To Communicate

Do Walkie Talkies Work On Cruise Ships - Walkie Talkies Can Also Be Used On Shore Excursions
Walkie Talkies Can Also Be Used On Shore Excursions

So if you have got this far, you might be wondering – “Can I not just use our cell phones on board?”.

Unfortunately using your mobile phone on a cruise ship can be expensive. It might be okay when you are in your home port, as you will probably still be connected to a local cell tower. However, once the ship is at Sea, your phone will auto-connect to the Ship’s own Cell service.

This is very expensive to use even just for text messages. That’s why most people advise you to put your phone on Airplane mode so that it cannot connect to the Ship’s service. 

Once you get to your next port, you will then connect to a local cellular tower. If that is in another country, you will be hit with expensive roaming charges unless you have an International Roaming Plan.

The answer then with smartphones is for all of you to purchase the Cruise Internet service. You can then use almost any service – Facetime, Messenger, Whatsapp to keep in touch. However, for even a small group of you that cost could quickly mount up! Now those walkie-talkies look very reasonably priced!

Walkie talkies therefore offer a practical solution for communication onboard the ship, especially if you’re traveling in a large group. 

There are no call charges. The devices are relatively inexpensive when compared to a smartphone. Walkie talkies are also simple to use, require no internet connection, and most cruise lines allow their use on board.

If you’d prefer not to use walkie talkies on board, consider using messaging apps that work with the ship’s Wi-Fi. Most cruise lines now offer an inexpensive “Chat” facility without having to subscribe to the full Internet service.

These however are not without their limitations either, and we never had much success using them. While messages would be sent, we wouldn’t get a notification to tell us. Or at other times the messages failed to send because our Wi-Fi connection had dropped off. 

Like most things, the choice between using cell phones or walkie talkies ultimately depends on your needs, budget, and the specific cruise you’re on.

Regulations and Laws Regarding Using Walkie-Talkies on a Cruise Ship

We’ve already discussed the different systems that operate in the USA, UK and Europe and the legalities of using a UK system in the USA and vice versa.

When on a cruise ship, you should also be mindful of local laws and regulations regarding radio communication. Some of the countries you are visiting might have different rules, so it’s crucial to research and comply with the specifics in each area you’re visiting.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the local law enforcement officers are going to barge onto a ship because you are using your Walkie Talkie in the wrong country. However, it might be different if you were to take your walkie-talkie ashore. That’s why its important to know where you can and cannot use them.

Another notable exception you should be aware of is the use of ham radios on cruise ships. These are also known as amateur radios. These powerful devices are heavily regulated and subject to strict guidelines from the FCC and other relevant authorities.

In most cases, you’ll need an amateur radio license to operate a ham radio on a cruise ship. Additionally, most cruise lines restrict the use of ham radios altogether, so it’s always a good idea to check their policies before departure.

The 5 Best Walkie-Talkies For Cruise Ships 2024

As mentioned above, the effectiveness of walkie-talkies on board a cruise ship is limited by the ship’s structure. 

It’s important, therefore, to steer yourself away from the cheaper end of the market when thinking about what the best walkie talkies to buy are. Fortunately there lots of different types of walkie-talkies on the market.

Best Cruise Ship Walkie Talkies For Families

A popular choice among the cruisers we have spoken to is the NOAA Rechargeable Walkie-Talkie.

These compact walkie-talkies come in a 4-pack with four different colors. They offer decent features and are relatively affordable. So they make a great choice for the typical cruise family. 

Best for Kids
NOAA Long Distance 2 Way Radios Multi-Color (4 Pack)

4 Long Range Walkie Talkies Rechargeable for Adults - NOAA Long Distance 2 Way Radios 4 Pack with Earpiece and Mic Set Headsets USB Charger Battery Weather Alert

  • Multi-color - great for families
  • Weather alerts
  • USB Chargers
  • Not very robust
  • Quality issues reported in reviews
02/18/2024 05:53 pm GMT

Best Portable Cruise Ship Walkie Talkie

If you are looking for something a little bit more robust in terms of capability, and you’re willing to invest a little more, consider the Retevis RT seriesThis is definitely a high-end walkie-talkie that for indoor uses offers the best performance. 

These walkie-talkie models are designed with cruise ships in mind and offer excellent performance even in crowded areas and cabins. They also offer a 10-mile coverage range which can be particularly useful if you chose to use them when on shore. 

Best "Pocket-Sized" Solution
Retevis RT22P Rechargeable FRS Walkie Talkies (4 Pack)

Retevis RT22P Rechargeable FRS Walkie Talkies for Adults,Compact FRS Two-Way Radios,VOX Handsfree,1620mAh Large Battery,USB C Charger,2 Way Radio (4 Pack).

  • Ultra-slim with belt-clip - less than 0.51" thick
  • Emergency Alarm Function
  • 1620 mAh large capacity battery
  • USB-C Charger
  • No LCD Screen
  • Some reviewers say it is too light and thin
02/18/2024 06:13 pm GMT

Best Budget Cruise Ship Walkie Talkie

If budget is an issue, you might also want to explore less expensive options such as the Moico Vox Walkie-Talkie. These walkie-talkies come at a much lower price range without compromising too much on communication quality. They can be a little heavier and larger though.

Best Low Budget Option
MOICO VOX Walkie Talkies (2 Pack)

MOICO Long Range Walkie Talkies with 22 FRS Channels. Features LCD Display, Hands-free VOX operation, LED Flashlight. 99 Privacy Codes. (Orange 2 Pack)

  • 22 Channels and 99 Privacy Codes - That's 2178 combinations to help block other conversations
  • Backlit Easy To Read LCD Screen
  • Voice operated (VOX) - no need to click transmit button
  • Not Rechargable - Uses AAA batteries
  • Range will be limited
  • Build quality not as good
02/18/2024 06:28 pm GMT

Best Brand for Cruise Ship Walkie Talkies

If you would prefer to go with a recognized brand that is well-known in the Radio communications industry, then Midland should be your choice.

The Midland LXT600VP3 offers an excellent range and a good price.

Recognised Brand in the Comms Industry
Midland - LXT600VP3 - Long Range Rechargeable Walkie Talkies - Black (2 Pack)

Midland - LXT600VP3 - Handheld Portable FRS Business Overlanding Gear Two Way Radio - Long Range Rechargeable Walkie Talkies for Adults - 121 Privacy Codes, Weather Radio - Black (2 Pack)

  • Dual battery option - Rechargable or AAA
  • 36 channels + 121 privacy codes
  • Weather Alerts
  • Supplied earpiece is poor quality
  • Battery compartment is difficult to open
02/18/2024 06:08 pm GMT

Our Pick For The Best Walkie Talkie For Cruise Vacations

If you are seeking the maximum range and performance I would go with the Midland X-Talker set. They are slightly more expensive, but as cruise ships get larger, they might prove to be the best investment.

Our Pick For Best Range and Performance
Midland - X-TALKER T77VP5, 36 Channel FRS Walkie-Talkie (Twin Pack)

Midland - X-TALKER T77VP5, 36 Channel FRS Two-Way Radio - Up to 38 Mile Range Walkie Talkie, Large LCD Screen, 121 Privacy Codes, VOX Hands Free, and NOAA Weather Scan + Alert (Includes a Carrying Case and Headsets) (Black/Silver)

  • Huge Range - up to 38 miles in open spaces
  • 121 Privacy codes
  • Weather Alerts
  • Provided Ear Piece is Poor Quality
  • Not easy for kids to use
02/18/2024 06:18 pm GMT

So Do Walkie Talkies Work on Cruise Ships? Yes AND They are Cheaper Than Cell Phones

Remember that Walkie-Talkies are not quite as straightforward a way to communicate or as discrete to use as cell phones. The way they work is that only one person can talk at a time. So you press the transmit button and speak into the radio. You then release the button to hear. 

Unlike a phone held to your ear, everyone else will hear your friend’s reply as well.  So try to use them a bit more discretely if you can in public places. I certainly wouldn’t use them in the dining rooms for example.

They do however offer a relatively low-cost way to stay in touch with your family or friends on a cruise. Kids love them as they are “different” from the other electronic devices they are used to.

The best part is that once you buy a set of walkie-talkies there are no more additional costs. No monthly plan to think about. So you can take them on for as many cruises as you like.

Most models are reliable and will work for many years to come. From personal experience traveling with a large group of friends, they are a great way to communicate on a cruise ship and I definitely recommend them.

Looking for more Cruise Essentials? Take a look at the 30 essential cruise items that you should consider packing for your next cruise.

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Alan took his first cruise in 1991 and has been cruising ever since. When he is not writing articles for you'll find him either on a cruise ship (he's the guy in the kilt), or on the golf course!

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