Communication is something that landlubbers have at the touch of a button or a screen. With a flick of the keyboard, we send out messages that reach another person in an instant anywhere in the world. A few rings on the phone, and we can speak to the person on the other end immediately.
Information on anything we need is available to us instantly from anywhere, at any time––if we have a secure connection, that is. For seafarers, having a fast, secure connection is not as easily obtainable.
In the maritime industry, communication has often fallen behind what people onshore have the privilege to enjoy instantaneously. Even as the world becomes more interconnected and seafarers continue to deliver 90 percent of goods worldwide, they have been somewhat left out of high-speed connectivity.
Satellite communications bear the burden of heavy traffic at sea, which can become expensive to fleet operators. The information that flows through the Internet of Things (IoT), which is how smart devices talk to each other and exchange critical information, can be costly for fleet operators and lead to conflicts among seafarers over data usage.
Since data usage is expensive, it is frequently controlled or limited due to excessive use, which can cause disputes and grudges between crew members when someone uses too much of it. Not having sufficient connectivity can also prove disastrous. One of the worst oil-spills of 2020 was in July when the Wakashio ran aground on a reef in Mauritius, spilling more than 1,000 tonnes of fuel into the Indian Ocean, just so that the crew could pick up a cell phone signal.
An affordable solution to the lack of connectivity are independent, global networks that utilize high-frequency radio and cloud technology to provide fast, reliable connections for ships to the shore. Some even have military-grade security.
This revolutionary new technology enables operators to read, collect and process data in real-time, giving them full visibility and transparency of ship operations for the first time in maritime history. The networks offer a two-way connection that allows operators to connect with and collect data from instruments, onboard equipment and systems that can then be sent to a data center onshore.
When fleet operators have access to real-time, reliable data, they can consider it in their decision-making process, helping reduce operating costs.
Transparent, reliable data is especially important when fleet operators try to adhere to environmentally sustainable practices and new regulatory requirements. When they can easily understand how their ships are operating, they can better understand what changes need to be made to make their vessel operations more efficient and more sustainable.
Having affordable access to connectivity is also critical for seafarers’ happiness with life at sea.
According to Mission to Seafarers’ latest Seafarer Happiness Index survey, internet connectivity is the most crucial reported factor for their satisfaction with life on board. For those who had internet access, happiness was marked very highly, whereas emotional well-being took a drastic turn for the worse without it. Feelings of loneliness and depression were exacerbated for those who had little to no connection and a source of real unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life at sea.
Communication is essential for the maritime industry to improve and grow. Without real-time communication, it is nearly impossible to play catch-up with a world that increasingly demands instantaneous connections. Having access to real-time data that is reliable and secure gives the industry an edge in tackling several problems, from costs to environmental concerns to fuel consumption to maximizing operations and crew welfare.