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Crew connectivity at sea

A recent study shows the effects connectivity has on seafarers’ social cohesion and domestic relationships…

A new report looking at crew connectivity on ships has revealed the emotional and operational impact on professional seafarers who are away from home for long periods at a time with limited opportunities to interact digitally with friends and family. International maritime charity Sailors’ Society and Inmarsat have been working with researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London, to examine the effect on seafarers who have limited or non-existent digital access.

Researchers for the study ‘Navigating Everyday Connectivities at Sea’ used an immersive study approach on board two container ships for 10 days, one with on-board Wi-Fi capabilities and one without. They looked at how seafarers use mobile phones and other digitally-enabled devices in their daily lives during long periods at sea, and the opportunities and risks that such usage introduces. The results revealed the fundamental importance of reliable connectivity and the impact it has on mental well-being, operational efficiency and safety, as well as its critical role in attracting new talent to the industry.

The report showed that access to Wi-Fi on board ships – even limited – helped reduce some of the emotional stresses that comes with separation from friends and families. The research also showed that, where there were weekly limits of connectivity, this forced seafarers to ration their allowance to certain periods, or to prioritise contact with friends. Restricting usage also meant that domestic issues could not be resolved immediately or in real time, adding to personal stress or anxiety.

The research also showed that, where there were weekly limits of connectivity, this forced seafarers to ration their allowance to certain periods, or to prioritise contact with friends.

The ability to connect with family and friends on a regular basis while away was also understood to ease transition into home life when returning from sea. In particular, being in frequent contact allowed people to keep up-to-date with everyday mundane events and activities at home, minimising the feeling that they were missing out on important life events.

In addition, one of the report’s key findings was how connectivity is becoming a significant factor in recruitment for those entering the maritime industry. Young people who have been brought up with constant connectivity are increasingly viewing an ability to get online as a significant deciding factor as to whether they commit to a career at sea.

One of the traditional arguments in the wider maritime industry for not providing on-board connectivity has been that it disrupts work and rest patterns. However, this latest research shows that not having reliable on-board internet impacts such patterns. It found that if the only method of digitally engaging with kin and friendship networks is through personal mobile phones, seafarers would connect when the ship was within mobile signal range, regardless of the time of day, external factors, work or rest hours.

“Digital connectivity at sea has been one of the major talking points of the decade in the maritime industry, which has been slow to adopt technology enabling improvements in connectivity across the world’s commercial fleet,” says Dr Rikke Bjerg Jenson, one of the principal researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London. “While several studies have used surveys to try to establish the rate of these improvements and their wide-ranging implications, none – to our knowledge – has taken observations of crew behaviour and conversations with seafarers as their starting point.”

While in many cases the superyacht industry may be ahead of commercial shipping in terms of connectivity – as most owners have already established reliable connectivity on board for themselves – many yacht crew are still faced with restrictions, particularly during long deliveries. This recent study offers valuable insights into the significant impact that connectivity can have on crew well-being, and is therefore important information to bear in mind when it comes to looking after the crew.

The full report can be downloaded here.


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