What is Standard Marine Communication Phrases (SMCP) ?

by OldSailor on October 5, 2007


This post is to make you aware about SMCP.


Ships are manned by multinational crews who speak different languages, whereas clear communication is necessary within the ship, ship to ship and ship to shore. English is considered as the universal language and the International Maritime Organization has developed Standard Marine Communication Phrases (SMCP) to be used by the mariners.

The SMCP in simple terms explains clearly,

A. External communication phrases – ship to ship and ship to shore communication

B. Onboard communication phrases – communication within the ship

The important features of SMCP are discussed here.

1. Spelling of letters

When spelling is necessary, only the following spelling table should be used:

Letter Code Letter Code
A Alfa N November
B Bravo O Oscar
C Charlie P Papa
D Delta Q Quebec
E Echo R Romeo
F Foxtrot S Sierra
G Golf T Tango
H Hotel U Uniform
I India V Victor
J Juliet W Whisky
K Kilo X X-ray
L Lima Y Yankee
M Mike Z Zulu

2. Spelling of digits and numbers

A few digits and numbers have a modified pronunciation compared to general English:

Number Spelling Pronunciation
0 zero ZEERO
1 one WUN
2 two TOO
3 three TREE
4 four FOWER
5 five FIFE
6 six SIX
7 seven SEVEN
8 eight AIT
9 nine NINER
1000 thousand TOUSAND

3. Numbers

Numbers are to be spoken in separate digits:

“One-five-zero” for 150

“Two decimal five” or

“Two point five” for 2.5

4. Distances

To be expressed in nautical miles or cables (tenths of a mile), the unit always to be stated

5. Speed

To be expressed in knots:

· without further notation, meaning speed through the water; or,

· “ground speed”, meaning speed over the ground.

6. Times

Times should be expressed in the 24 hour clock, example 05:00 PM is 1700 hours ; if local time will be used in ports or harbours it should clearly be stated

7. Geographical names

Place names used should be those on the chart or in Sailing Directions in use. Should these not be understood, latitude and longitude should be given.


The Glossary includes a limited number of technical terms which do not appear in the text of the IMO SMCP, but might be useful in case the content of a given standard Phrase requires modification.

a.General terms

Abandon vessel (to): To evacuate crew and passengers from a vessel following a distress.

Accommodation ladder:Ladder attached to platform at vessel’s side with flat steps and handrails enabling persons to embark / disembark from water or shore

Adrift:Uncontrolled movement at sea under the influence of current, tide or wind

Air draft:The height from the waterline to the highest point of the vessel

Assembly station:Place on deck, in mess rooms, etc., assigned to crew and passengers where they have to meet according to the muster list when the corresponding alarm is released or announcement made

Backing (of wind):Shift of wind direction in an anticlockwise manner, for example from north to west (opposite of veering)

Beach (to):To run a vessel up on a beach to prevent its sinking in deep water


(i) A sea room to be kept for safety around a vessel, rock, platform, etc.

(ii)The place assigned to a vessel when anchored or lying alongside a pier, etc.

Blast:A whistle signal made by the vessel

Blind sector:An area which cannot be scanned by the ship’s radar because it is shielded by parts of the superstructure, masts, etc.

Boarding arrangements:All equipment, such as pilot ladder, accommodation ladder, hoist, etc., necessary for a safe transfer of the pilot

Boarding speed:The speed of a vessel adjusted to that of a pilot boat at which the pilot can safely embark/disembark

Bob-cat:A mini-caterpillar with push-blade used for the careful distribution of loose goods in cargo holds of bulk carriers

Briefing:Concise explanatory information to crew and/or passengers


(i) Chain connecting a vessel to the anchor(s)

(ii)Wire or rope primarily used for mooring a ship

(iii)(Measurement) one hundred fathoms or one tenth of a nautical mile

Capsize (to):To turn over

Cardinal buoy:A seamark, i.e. a buoy, indicating the north, east, south or west, i.e. the cardinal points/half cardinal points from a fixed point such as a wreck, shallow water, banks, etc.

Cardinal points:The four main points of the compass: north, east, south and west

Casualty: Here: case of death in an accident or shipping disaster

Check (to):

(i) To make sure that equipment etc. is in proper condition or that everything is correct and safe

(ii)To regulate motion of a cable, rope or wire when it is running out too fast

Close-coupled towing: A method of towing vessels through polar ice by means of icebreaking tugs with a special stern notch suited to receive and hold theS bow of the vessel to be towed

Close up (to):To decrease the distance to the vessel ahead by increasing one’s own speed

Compatibility (of goods):Indicates whether different goods can be safely stowed together in one cargo space or in an adjacent hold.

(Vessel) constrained by her draft:A vessel severely restricted by her draught in her ability to deviate from the course followed in relation to the available depth and width of navigable water

Convoy:A group of vessels which sail together, e.g. through a canal or ice

Course:The intended direction of movement of a vessel through the water

Course made good:That course which a vessel makes good over ground, after allowing for the effect of currents, tidal streams, and leeway caused by wind and sea

COW: Crude Oil Washing – a system of cleaning the cargo tanks by washing them with the cargo of crude oil during discharge

CPA/TCPA:Closest Point of Approach/Time to Closest Point of Approach: limit as defined by the observer to give warning when a tracked target or targets will close to within these limits

Crash-stop:An emergency reversal operation of the main engine(s) to avoid a collision

Damage control team:A group of crew members trained for fighting flooding in the vessel


(i)The most probable position of a search target at a given time

(ii)The plane of reference to which all data as to the depth on charts are referenced

Derelict: vessel still afloat, abandoned at sea

Destination:Port for which a vessel is bound

Disabled:A vessel damaged or impaired in such a manner as to be incapable of proceeding on its voyage

Disembark (to):To go from a vessel

Distress alert (GMDSS):A radio signal from a distressed vessel automatically directed to an MRCC giving position, identification, course and speed of the vessel as well as the nature of distress

Distress/ Urgency traffic:Here – the verbal exchange of information on radio from ship to shore and/or ship to ship / aircraft about a distress / urgency situation as defined in the relevant ITU Radio Regulations

Draft:Depth in water at which a vessel floats

Dragging (of anchor):Moving of an anchor over the sea bottom involuntarily because it is no longer preventing the movement of the vessel

Dredging (of anchor):Moving of an anchor over the sea bottom to control the movement of the vessel

Drifting:Being driven along by the wind, tide or current

Drop back (to):To increase the distance from the vessel ahead by reducing one’s own speed

DSC:Digital Selective Calling (in the GMDSS system)

Embark (to):To go aboard a vessel

EPIRB:Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon

Escape route:A clearly marked way in the vessel which has to be followed in case of an emergency

Escort:Attending a vessel to be available in case of need, e.g. ice-breaker, tug, etc.

ETA:Estimated Time of Arrival

ETD:Estimated Time of Departure

Fathom:A measure of 6 feet

Fire patrol:A member of the watch going around the vessel at certain intervals so that an outbreak of fire may be promptly detected; mandatory in vessels carrying more than 36 passengers

Flooding:Major uncontrolled flow of seawater into the vessel

Fire monitor:Fixed foam/powder/water cannon shooting fire‑extinguishing agents on tank deck, manifold etc.

Foul (of anchor):Anchor has its own cable twisted around it or has fouled an obstruction

Foul (of propeller):A line, wire, net, etc., is wound round the propeller

Full speed:Highest possible speed of a vessel

Fumes:Often harmful gas produced by fires, chemicals, fuel, etc.

General emergency alarm:A sound signal of seven short blasts and one prolonged blast given with the vessel´s sound system

Give way:To keep out of the way of another vessel

GMDSS:Global Maritime Distress and Safety System

(D) GPS:(Differential) Global (satellite) Positioning System

Half cardinal points:The four main points lying between the cardinal points: north east, south east, south west and north west

Hampered vessel:A vessel restricted by her ability to manoeuvre by the nature of her work

Hatchrails:Ropes supported by stanchions around an open hatch to prevent persons from falling into a hold

Heading: The horizontal direction of the vessel’s bows at a given moment measured in degrees clockwise from north

Hoist Here: a cable used by helicopters for lifting or lowering persons in a pick‑up operation

Icing: Coating of ice on an object, e.g. the mast or superstructure of a vessel

IMO Class: Group of dangerous or hazardous goods, harmful substances or marine pollutants in sea transport as classified in the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG Code)

Inert (to): To reduce the oxygen in a tank by inert gas to avoid an explosive atmosphere

Initial course: Course directed by the OSC or other authorized person to be steered at the beginning of a search

Inoperative: Not functioning

Jettison (to) (of cargo): To throw goods overboard in order to lighten the vessel or improve its stability in case of an emergency

Launch (to): To lower, e.g. lifeboats, to the water

Leaking: Escape of liquids such as water, oil, etc., out of pipes, boilers, tanks, etc., or a minor inflow of seawater into the vessel due to damage to the hull

Leeward: On or towards the sheltered side of a ship; opposite of windward

Leeway: Vessel’s sideways drift leeward of the desired course

Let go (to): To set free, let loose, or cast off (of anchors, lines, etc.)

Lifeboat station: Place assigned to crew and passengers to muster before being ordered into the lifeboats

List: Here – inclination of the vessel to port side or starboard side

Located: In navigational warnings – Position of object confirmed

Make water (to): To have seawater flowing into the vessel due to hull damage, or hatches awash and not properly closed

MMSI: Maritime Mobile Service Identity number

Moor (to): To secure a vessel in a particular place by means of wires or ropes made fast to the shore, to anchors, or to anchored mooring buoys, or to ride with both anchors down

MRCC: Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre: land-based authority responsible for promoting efficient organization of maritime search and rescue and for co-ordinating the conduct of search and rescue operations within a search and rescue region

Muster (to): To assemble crew, passengers or both in a special place for purposes of checking

Muster list: List of crew, passengers and others on board and their functions in a distress or drill

Not under command (abbr. NUC): a vessel which through exceptional circumstances is unable to manoeuvre as required by the COLREGs

Obstruction: An object such as a wreck, net, etc., which blocks a fairway, route, etc.

Off air: When the transmissions of a radio station, etc., have broken down, been switched off or suspended

Off station (of buoys): Not in charted position

Oil clearance: Oil skimming from the surface of the water

Operational: Ready for immediate use

Ordnance exercise: Naval firing practice

OSC On-Scene Co-ordinator: A person designed to co-ordinate search and rescue operations within a specified area

Overflow: Escape of oil or liquid from a tank because of a twofold condition as a result of overflowing, thermal expansion, change in vessel trim or vessel movement

Polluter: A vessel emitting harmful substances into the air or spilling oil into the sea

Preventers: Ropes or wires attached to derricks to prevent them from swinging during cargo handling operations

Proceed (to): To sail or head for a certain position or to continue with the voyage

PA-system: Public address system: loudspeakers in the vessel’s cabins, mess rooms, etc., and on deck through which important information can be broadcast from a central point, mostly from the navigation bridge

Recover (to): Here – to pick up shipwrecked persons

Refloat (to): To pull a vessel off after grounding; to set afloat again

Rendez-vous: An appointment between vessels normally made on radio to meet in a certain area or position

Reported: In navigational warnings: position of object unconfirmed

Restricted area: A deck, space, area, etc., in vessels where, for safety reasons, entry is only permitted for authorized crew members

Resume (to): Here – to re-start a voyage, service or search

Retreat signal: Sound, visual or other signal to a team ordering it to return to its base

Rig move: The movement of an oil rig, drilling platform, etc., from one position to another

Roll call: The act of checking how many passengers and crew members are present, e.g. at assembly stations, by reading aloud a list of their names

Safe speed: That speed of a vessel allowing time for effective action to be taken under prevailing circumstances and conditions to avoid a collision and to be stopped within an appropriate distance

SWL :Safe working load – maximum working load of lifting equipment that should not be exceeded

Safe working pressure: The maximum permissible pressure in cargo hoses

SAR: Search and Rescue

SART: Search and Rescue Transponder

Scene: The area or location where the event, e.g. an accident, has happened

Search pattern: A pattern according to which vessels and/or aircraft may conduct a co‑ordinated search (the IMOSAR offers seven search patterns)

Search speed: The speed of searching vessels directed by the OSC

Seamark: A navigational aid placed to act as a beacon or warning

Segregation(of goods): Separation of goods which for different reasons must not be stowed together


(i) Length of chain cable measuring 15 fathoms

(ii)U-shaped link closed with a pin used for connecting purposes

Shifting cargo: Transverse movement of cargo, especially bulk cargo, caused by rolling or a heavy list

Slings: Ropes, nets, and any other means for handling general cargoes

Speed of advance:The speed at which a storm centre moves

Spill: The accidental escape of oil, etc., from a vessel, container, etc., into the sea

Spill control gear: Anti-pollution equipment for combating accidental spills of oils or chemicals

(Elongated) spreader: Here – step of a pilot ladder which prevents the ladder from twisting

Stand by (to): To be in readiness or prepared to execute an order; to be readily available

Stand clear (to): Here: to keep a boat away from the vessel

Standing orders: Orders of the Master to the officer of the watch which he/she must comply with

Stand on (to): To maintain course and speed

Station: The allotted place or the duties of each person on board

Stripping: Final pumping of tank’s residues

Survivor: A person who continues to live in spite of being in an extremely dangerous situation, e.g. a shipping disaster.

Take off (to): To lift off from a vessel’s deck (helicopter)

Target: The echo generated, e.g. by a vessel, on a radar screen

Tension winch: A winch which applies tension to mooring lines to keep them tight

TEU: Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit (standard container dimension)

Track: The path followed, or to be followed, between one position and another

Transit: Here – the passage of a vessel through a canal, fairway, etc.

Transit speed: Speed of a vessel required for passage through a canal, fairway, etc.

Transhipment (of cargo): Here – the transfer of goods from one vessel to another outside harbours

Underway: Describes a vessel which is not at anchor, or made fast to the shore, or aground

Union purchase: A method of cargo handling by combining two derricks, one of which is fixed over the hatch, the other over the ship’s side

Unlit: When the light of a buoy or a lighthouse are inoperative

hours hours UTC: Universal Time Co-ordinated (GMT)

Variable (of winds): A wind that is constantly changing speed and direction

Veering (of winds): Clockwise change in the direction of the wind; opposite of backing

Veer out (to)(of anchors): To let out a greater length of cable

VHF: Very High Frequency (30-300 MHz)

Walk out (to) (of anchors): To reverse the action of a windlass to lower the anchor until it is clear of the hawse pipe and ready for dropping

Walk back (to): To reverse the action of a windlass to ease the cable (of anchors)

Waypoint: A position a vessel has to pass or at which she has to alter course according to her voyage plan

Windward: The general direction from which the wind blows; opposite of leeward

Wreck: A vessel which has been destroyed, sunk or abandoned at sea

b. VTS special terms

Fairway: Navigable part of a waterway

Fairway speed: Mandatory speed in a fairway

ITZ: Inshore Traffic Zone (of a TSS): A routing measure comprising a designated area between the landward boundary of a TSS and the adjacent coast

Manoeuvring speed: A vessel’s reduced speed in circumstances where it may be required to use the engines at short notice

Receiving point: A mark or place at which a vessel comes under obligatory entry, transit, or escort procedure

Reference line: A line displayed on the radar screens in VTS Centres and/or electronic sea-charts separating the fairway for inbound and outbound vessels so that they can safely pass each other

Reporting point: A mark or position at which a vessel is required to report to the local VTS Station to establish its position

Separation zone / line: A zone or line separating the traffic lanes in which vessels are proceeding in opposite or nearly opposite directions; or separating a traffic lane from the adjacent sea area; or separating traffic lanes designated for particular classes of vessels proceeding in the same direction

Traffic clearance: VTS authorization for a vessel to proceed under conditions specified

Traffic lane: An area within defined limits in which one-way traffic is established

TSS: Traffic Separation Scheme: a routeing measure aimed at the separation of opposing streams of traffic by appropriate means and by the establishment of traffic lanes

VTS: Vessel Traffic Services: services designed to improve the safety and efficiency of vessel traffic and to protect the environment

VTS area: Area controlled by a VTS Centre or VTS Station

Further details are available in IMO Publications

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