There is a need to standardize the language used on board ships because navigational and safety communications from ship to shore and vice versa, from ship to ship, and on board ship must be precise, simple and unambiguous so as to avoid confusion and error. This is of particular importance in the light of the increasing number of internationally trading vessels with crews speaking many different languages, since problems of communication may cause misunderstandings leading to dangers to the vessel, to the people on board and to the environment.
In 1973, the Maritime Safety Committee agreed that, where language difficulties arise, a common language should be used for navigational purposes, and that language should be English. In consequence, the Standard marine Navigational Vocabulary (SMNV) was developed, adopted in 1977 and amended in 1985.
In 1992, the Maritime Safety Committee instructed the Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation to develop a more comprehensive standardized safety language than SMNV 1985, taking into account the changing conditions in modern seafaring and covering all major safety-related verbal communications.
In November 2001 the draft of the IMO Standard Marine Communication Phrases (SMCP) that had been adopted by the Maritime Safety Committee in 1997 was amended, following international trials, and adopted by the Assembly as resolution A.918 (22). This resolution revokes A.380 (X), by which the Standard Marine Navigational Vocabulary was adopted in 1977.
The phrases are divided into part A and part B. Part A covers phrases to be applied according to the requirements of Table A-II/1 (minimum competence of officers in charge of a navigational watch on ships of 500 gross tonnage) of the STCW Code, and may thus be regarded as the replacement of the Standard Marine Navigational Vocabulary, 1985. This part is enriched by essential phrases concerning ship handling and safety of navigation to be used in on-board communications. Part B calls attention to other on-board standard safety-related phrases which, supplementary to part A, may also be regarded as useful for maritime English instruction.
A separate pronunciation guide is available as software, on a compact disc, that can be used in a personal computer (minimum requirements are an IBM-compatible PC, running Windows 95 or later, with an ISO-compatible CD-ROM drive, a Windows-compatible sound card, a Pentium II processor running at 450 MHz, and 64 MB of RAM). The phrases can be selected by number, or found by searching words, before they are played. This guide can be used as a learning aid to supplement the book, and can also be used with the French and Spanish editions. These editions each include the phrases in English plus their translations in the other language.