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Ham Radio Aboard the Disney Wonder Cruise Ship

As a new ham (got my Technician and General last February), I am excited to try out all areas of amateur radio. Being eighteen years old, I’m also willing to schlep my rig wherever I can. This past week, I went on an Alaskan cruise with Disney Cruise Lines and I decided to try HF while on the Disney Wonder.

I began investigating cruise ship operation via Google, where I found mixed reports of success. It seems a lot of cruise lines don’t allow ham radio use onboard. I found a story from one ham who had success with Disney, so I started by simply sending an email to Disney Cruise Lines. I wrote:

I am a licensed amateur radio operator and I was wondering if I am allowed to operate my radio while I am on my cruise this summer in Alaska. I have heard other people have gotten permission in the past to do this, I would really appreciate the opportunity to. Thank you for your time!

A day or two later, I got a response stating that “Ham Radios may be brought onboard; however, there is no guarantee that they will function.” A little vague, the reply was enough to make me to continue on in my ventures.

Disney’s ships are registered in the Bahamas so I needed a reciprocal license to operate. Of course, I did all of this research way too late. However, I emailed the Utilities Regulation & Competition Authority, which is the responsible party for amateur radio in the Bahamas. To my surprise, they were extremely helpful and said while it using takes nearly a month, if I scanned and emailed the necessary forms, a copy of my passport ID page, a copy of my FCC license, and pay the $35 fee via credit card, I would get approved in time. Still a little unsure, I proceeded.

I still needed permission from the master of the ship, and I thought it would be impossible to prior to the cruise. I decided to write a nice letter and send it to the Disney Cruise offices in Florida as well as the port in Seattle where the cruise left from. On both, I simply addressed it to the “Disney Wonder Captain.”

I was pleased to receive a nice reply from the Florida offices on an official letterhead stating it was no problem as long as I did not cause any interference. About a week later, I received an email from the captain’s assistant stating Captain Thord Haugen “enjoyed reading my letter and has no problem with you operating your radio onboard.”

Now I was really excited! My license officially came via email the day before I left. I packed up my Yaesu FT450D, MFJ manual tuner (thanks to N8PZD, Clark for lending it to me!), and a 15m, 20m, and 40m Hamstick. Once onboard, I set up, mounted the Hamstick on my veranda and grounded it to the ship’s hull. Stupidly, I didn’t take any photos of my setup, but it was pretty simple. I fired up the rig and made a QSO as we left Seattle.

However, that is where my HF experience ended. I turned off the rig, came back later and found my radio wasn’t working. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do anything else on HF. Right now, my rig is on its way back to Yaesu for a warranty claim. All wasn’t lost as I brought my FT60R too and listened to all the port operations. I also worked 2 meters FM in various ports including Skagway, Alaska where the mountain repeater system got me to Whitehorse, Canada (about 100 miles).

In the end, it was quite an experience – both Alaska itself and ham radio. While I was really disappointed my rig died after all the pre-cruise work, I hope some others can benefit from my experience. Plus, I’m sure I’ll try it on another cruise in the future. It was pretty cool to be able to say “Maritime Mobile aboard the Disney Wonder Cruise Ship off the coast of Alaska” and I would recommend at least investigating if you are going on a cruise. I’ve heard Holland America has a written policy allowing ham radios, and they are probably your best bet if looking for a “ham radio cruise.” If you have any questions, feel free to email me.  73!

Tony, KD8RTT

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  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor