What is Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta Foxtrot?

marine alphabets

Have you ever witnessed someone trying to convey an e-mail address or a complex name over the phone? The speaker can jangle, lisp, be cold, there may be a poor communication channel that can give rise to a lot of confusion.  With the development of radio communication in the 1920s, the necessity for the unification of codewords for spelling emerged. The system of writing—a spelling, or phonetic, alphabet—was created.

Since then, radio communication systems have come a long way and became more sophisticated, but the alphabet is still in use in case of bad reception, error, or confusion to ensure that the correct message is received, transmitted, and understood.

The Nato Phonetic Alphabet (or Marine alphabet) is used by airline crew, military, law enforcement, emergency, armed, and rescue forces, to identify letters accurately when orally communicating abbreviations or initials, or spellings of words. The spelling alphabet is generally used in marine transport and logistics as a unified and precise spelling to avoid any confusion.

‘Alpha Bravo Charlie’ – What is it?

‘Alpha Bravo Charlie’, is another name for the spelling alphabet, which is a collection of codewords that substitute the name of the letter with which it starts. 

What is the Spelling Alphabet?

The phonetic, or spelling, alphabet—also called NATO phonetic alphabet, Marine alphabet, Alpha Bravo Charlie, radiotelephony alphabet, voice procedure alphabet, phonetic language—is a set of words widely accepted and used in military and civilian situations to represent the letters in oral communication. 

It is a system of writing adopted in the US in 1969 when the 26 codewords were assigned acrophonically to the 26 Latin letters of the English alphabet they begin with.  Individual codeword represents its initial letter. Here it goes, the original major standard: 

What is Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta Foxtrot?

The spelling alphabet was settled on only after it was extensively evaluated and scientifically tested for comprehension. A high level of adherence to the assigned spellings— which includes the intentionally misspelled “Alfa” and “Juliett” as well—is needed to avoid confusion that the code is intended to eliminate.    

Many adaptations of the original spelling alphabet exist. The Western Union has its version developed to use when dictating telegraph messages over the phone. 

Other languages have come up with their own versions of spelling alphabets with entirely new coding, e.g. Russian phonetic alphabet based on the Cyrillic script.  Japanese and Mandarin have designed their own letter-based alphabets (Kana and Pinyin, respectively) in addition to the logographic scripts.

What is the Spelling Alphabet Used for?

The paramount purpose of using the spelling alphabet is to ensure intelligibility of messages sent over the phone and to avoid misunderstanding because some letters sound alike, for example, F & S, or M & N. The confusion increases in case of interference. 

The NATO Phonetic Alphabet is a globally recognized system that has enabled the aviation industry, military, and emergency services to avoid miscommunications and save lives. The ‘NATO Phonetic Alphabet’ is the most popular name because the naval signals used by NATO and the US have become global. Globalization is making it imperative for many people to communicate across borders and even across languages. Worldwide trade means doing business with different nations. It’s easy for communication to break down, particularly with a lack of visual cues and various accents involved.

Created initially for the military, the phonetic alphabet is utilized in civilian situations and its usage grew exponentially post-WWII to ensure error-free transmission of messages over phone or radio links. It has been widely used in IT to communicate reference codes or serial numbers by voice. In the retail industry,  the NATO alphabet is used, for example, to take down a customer’s name, address, email, phone number over the phone. Most air carriers use the NATO alphabet to facilitate air traffic communication and communicate passenger data internally. It is often used in medical situations, where accurate communication is a matter of life and death. 

Certain combinations of the codes created based on the spelling alphabet have become known in popular cultures, such as Zulu Time or Checkpoint Charlie. 

What are the phonetic numbers?

There is a phonetic digit system in place as well. Numerals are conveyed digit by digit, using standard English number words (zero, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine) with the modified pronunciation of four numerals (tree for 3, fower for 4, fife for 5, niner for 9). 

How to Use the Alphabet for International Maritime Mobile Service?

The International Maritime Organization uses the phonetic, or Marine, alphabet for marine communications. It is a part of the International Code of Signals and Standard Marine Communication Phrases. Memorizing this alphabet allows to broadcast a clear message and increase safety at sea. This standardization of exchanges between the parties involved remains the guarantee of good communication. The Marine Alphabet is employed to improve the understanding of words (abbreviations, ship’s names, cargo details) transmitted. 

Communicating Internationally Using Spelling Alphabet

Businesses ranging from banks to freight forwarders are all operating less and less in-person and more online or over the phone. As a result, it is quite important to broadcast an error-free message.

Example of Marine Alphabet Usage: How Do You Spell “Phonetically” CREDO TRANS?

C-R-E-D-O T-R-A-N-S with the letters in that precise order. Or, if you want to share your new skills, you could say:

Charlie, Romeo, Echo, Delta, Oscar, Tango, Romeo, Alfa, November, Sierra!”