Mode of communication at ships 30-40 years ago
If we talked about the shipping industry 30-40 years ago, life on board ship was callous as there weren’t any means of communication to contact the family.
What I have heard is, Family members used to write letters and send them to the office; thereafter, whenever someone joins the ship, the letter got delivered to the seafarer.
In reply, seafarers used to write letters for their family members which were taken by off signers.
In a nutshell, for a single communication between the seafarer and his family, it used to take about 1-2 months.
Now, you can imagine how tough the lives of seafarers were 30-40 years ago.
That was when there were no strict rules of MLC, ISPS, and people used to stay on board for an indefinite period.
Evolution of Technology
With the advancement of technology, satellite phones were introduced in the shipping industry, which was only meant to be used at the time of emergency.
Satellite phones at that time were costly, but communication while sailing became possible with satellite phones.
As the technology evolved, ships started installing satellite broadband connection, but that used to be so expensive in its initial days that even a single email costs about 10’s of dollars to the company.
As demand for internet on board ships increased, different companies started coming up with their Satellite broadband connections, which created competition in the industry, and prices started dropping.
Mode of communication at ships 15 years ago
Almost 70% of the companies started installing satellite broadband connections on their ships. But, to save the cost of operation, only emails were allowed to be sent, which is also in text form only.
The procedure for sending emails to the family was-
One has to type the email in notepad and give it to the officer in charge at bridge, and then the mail was fed in the system, and after that, whenever the master of the ship used to connect to the internet, the mail reaches its final destination.
Similarly, when the master connects to the internet for the next time, the reply from the family is received and given to the respective seafarer.
With this type of system, imagine if someone feds a mail in the system in the morning, and master connects to the internet in the afternoon, so this email reaches the family in the afternoon (considering time zone is the same).
Then the family replies to that email, and master once again connects to the internet in the night time, so email reaches in the night and seafarer will get it by next day morning.
NOTE: This is when time zones are same, if time zone differs, which generally is in the marine field, the time taken for a single conversation increases further.
By this time, satellite calls also became somewhat affordable (30 minutes for 50 USD), this rate differs from company to company.
How seafarers contact their families while on the ship (PRESENT SITUATION)
Nowadays, the cost of the internet has reduced to a great extent, and access to the internet on ships has become mandatory as a part of MLC guidelines.
More than 90% of foreign going vessels have internet installed on them, and the remaining ones are in the process of installing.
Some of the companies offer unlimited internet access to their crew members via Wi-Fi.
That means seafarers can access the internet directly on their mobile phones.
Most of the social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, and email are accessible to seafarers on their mobile devices, helping them to connect with their families on the go.
Moreover, the cost of satellite calls also reduced drastically. Now you can make a satellite call to anywhere in the world by just spending 10cents a minute.
NOTE: These charges differ from company to company.
My personal experience
I joined my first ship as a Trainee Marine Engineer in November 2014 that ship has the facility of sending emails in the same manner as I explained (giving email in notepad file at the bridge).
That ship also had a satellite phone, which costs about 30 USD for 30 Minutes.
My second ship in 2016 has amosconnect installed on the ship; it has a cool feature that, everyone has their own login id and password to access their email account.
So, one could write an email by accessing his account from any of the computers connected through LAN. Like from Engine Control Room, Ship’s Office, Bridge, etc.
Then all the emails go to the main server, and whenever the master used to connect the main system to the internet, all the emails were sent, and other emails got received to the respective email accounts.
That ship has a satellite calling phone, which costs about 20 USD for 30 Minutes.
If you have read my experience as a fourth engineer on board ship, I have clearly mentioned that I have done the same ship twice as fourth engineer.
The second time I was on that ship, Wi-Fi was installed, but it was very expensive, it cost around 10 USD for just 25 MB of internet.
Then on the fourth ship, I used to get 100 MB of internet free for a month and for extra data, it cost me around 20 USD for 100 MB.
I hope this article explains to you how we seafarers contact our family members while on board ship.
Please share this post with your friends and do let me know in the comment section below about your personal experiences.
ALSO READ: My experience of joining a ship by Helicopter.