Enforcement of language requirements on Dutch waterways

The prescribed languages for radiotelephony on the Dutch waterways are Dutch and German. Near the seaports, English is allowed as well.

The traffic density with larger ships is increasing. Therefore, clear communication between ship stations and between ship stations and VTS stations becomes increasingly important.

Enforcement of the regulations

It often occurs that ships are not able to communicate with either VTS personnel or with other ships, because crew members don’t speak the required languages. This can cause very dangerous situations. For this reason the Dutch authorities have started a more strict enforcement of the abovementioned regulations.

Enforcement policy

The Dutch authorities act upon the following policy:

  • In any situation where it's not possible to carry out a normal radio communication* but without immediate danger to other vessels, the authorities will inform the boat master about the current language requirements and the enforcement of these requirements;

    * There has been some discussion about “normal”. What level of understanding is acceptable? It is agreed that VN/ECE Resolution 35 (standardized vocabulary for radio connections) provides a useful reference as to phrases in ship to ship and ship-shore communications which should be understood. At the same time Resolution 35 is not an exhaustive catalogue. Bottom line remains that boatmasters are able to understand and respond to commonly used safety and traffic messages. In daily practice it’s normally quite clear whether this is the case or not.
  • When on a next journey the same offence happens again, a fine will be given;
  • If a ship causes immediate danger - meaning dense traffic situations in which other ships have to undertake emergency measures to avoid a collision, due to failing communication - it will be stopped and not allowed to proceed until the boat master has taken proper precautions. For example, taking aboard a pilot or a crew member that masters one of the prescribed languages.