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Charles Haas on: How Ship Captains Regarded Wireless
Charles Haas Q: How were captains like Sealby regarding wireless at that time? Was it with some degree of suspicion?

CH: I think really the captains of the era sort of divided themselves into two camps as far as wireless and its potential usefulness or impact on their lives. There was one group that viewed it with great suspicion. The idea that perhaps the office would constantly be contacting them, directing them basically from land. Some captains, I think, actually viewed wireless as being a bit of a threat to their authority. On the other hand, you have captains such as Captain Sealby who actively embraced the technology. They were very quick to use it for receiving navigational instructions or navigational warnings of dangers that were in the area, ice warnings for example, derelict reports and so forth. So, in a way, it was a two-camp approach. But it was a curiously separate thing because the wireless operators in those days were not actually a part of the ship's crew. They were still employed by the Marconi Company. And while the wireless operators were still responsible to the captain in terms of ship's discipline, they were actually being paid by someone else. So you had a kind of curious dichotomy between the authority of the Marconi Company and the authority of the captain.

Q: Tell me about the captains who had some hesitancy about wireless?

CH: I think part of the problem was that the captains themselves perhaps did not really know what the potential of radio was. And so, as a result, all of a sudden you have a piece of your deck being dedicated to this contraption. You have someone who's under your control but yet you don't know what he's doing and as a result of that, there was a kind of suspicion in terms of what was the purpose of this? Why is it here? Why is it disrupting my shipboard routine and so forth? I think also, there was a little bit of concern that the companies ashore might actually get into micromanaging the captain. And since the captain was the sole master after God of every ship, I think some of them probably viewed this as maybe a slight erosion of their power. But in the long-run, I think captains certainly realized the importance of receiving up-to-date weather and navigational information by means of wireless. And these were done in the form of master service messages which actually were sent free of charge by the Marconi Company in exchange for their presence of the radio operator on the ship.

Q: What was it used for in its initial period? The captain was using it probably as much as passengers, right?

CH: It was mainly a money-maker because quite frankly, the radio message service was a fairly expensive one. You paid very dearly for the privilege of communicating from one ship to another or from one ship to land. So it was a revenue generator and there was an agreement between the Marconi Company or whatever company it happened to be to share that revenue with the steamship company. The steamship company agreed to provide the radio operators with their quarters and their meals and in exchange for what were, in essence, for a little bit of the money that these messages would be generating. Now alongside that, the Marconi Company basically offered a free message service in terms of messages that were dealing with navigation and the safety of the ship. So, in other words, the commercial side of the traffic actually supported the sending of messages on behalf of the ship and its safety and its location.

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