North P&I Club is encouraging its shipowner members to consider the importance of internet access on their ships to ensure they continue to attract, recruit and retain high quality crews. Head of loss prevention Tony Baker said that ‘like most other people today, seafarers expect to have 24-hour, seven-day-a-week access to a good quality internet service, adding that ‘engaging with friends and family and maintaining relationships via social media is now seen as the norm. In a competitive market for officers and crew, shipowners therefore need to do everything they can to provide good connectivity at sea.’
The Crew Connectivity 2015 survey report by Futurenautics Research found that 73% of seafarers say the level of on-board internet access influences which company they work for. Baker said that ‘the importance seafarers place on internet access, and how that affects their choice of employer, means that the shipowners should seriously consider whether they have good internet access on-board.’ He accepted that low speeds and high cost were a factor, but noted that ‘as satellite communications technology becomes more advanced and bandwidth limitations disappear, the cost of providing internet access at sea is becoming more affordable. Coverage, reliability and speeds are improving all the time’.
North said that investing in suitable satellite systems could give shipowners a competitive edge in the seafarer recruitment market as well as ensuring their officers and crews are happier and more productive at sea.
However, Baker noted that ‘an increase in online communications brings with it new risks. Viruses and malware are real problems and both shipowners and crews must play their part in preventing them’. Another potential problem with increased connectivity could be that it would lead to less interaction between seafarers while on board, potentially leaving them feeling more isolated, said Baker. ‘A balance is needed between the seafarer’s connection with the outside world and their connection with their fellow crew members, he said.’