How do Seafarers Contact their Families while on Board Ship?
Last updated on November 9th, 2023 at 10:49 am
To contact your families on land is very easy as we have got the internet, phone calls, mail etc. But can you imagine your life without internet or cell phones network or what will happen when you are in the middle of the ocean, how will you contact your family?
Well, this thing has been faced by seafarers for decades, when there was no network, no internet and nothing. Seafarers would have to wait for the ports, so that they could call or send a letter to their families but there were many problems related to this.
Till early 90s…
I remember talking to my chief engineer on my first ship. And he was telling me an anecdote about how he used to contact his family in the 1990s. The modes of communication were limited back then and those were:
1. Satellite Phones
But there were problems that came along with that. Making a call from satellite phones was really costly and back then, there was also a question on the availability of telephones in households. Very few households used to have telephones. So, this medium of communication was of very little use when it came to contacting your family.
This medium was vastly used by seafarers to contact their families or loved ones. But, this way of contacting took a long time. Families used to send letters to the company and when the company used to send the spare parts and provisions to the ship, they used to send those carry letters along with that Seafarers would reply to the letters and such letters would be send back to the company, post which the company would post the same to their respective family. But this whole process would take 30 – 45 days, which is extremely long.
Seafarers would read those letters numerous times till the arrival of the next letter. For seafarers to contact their families till the 90s was pretty hard.
Late 90s – 2010
Well, there was a little advancement in technology in the 2000s. E-Mail had become the main mode of communication. The satellite phones were still there but the price to make a call was still very high.
I remember when I joined my first ship back in 2007. The cost of making a satellite call was 2 dollars per minute and my salary was 415 dollars. I used to make a call only 2-3 minutes per week. But the main medium that I used to communicate back then was e-mail and they were free of cost.
Well, there was one more way that I have used to communicate and was affordable and that was:
1. Sim Cards
Whenever ships would arrive at ports, agents would arrange the local sim cards for the seafarers so, that they could contact their families and loved ones, and it would cost around 4 dollars along with the top-up and we could use it for several hours. This medium is being used till date in situations where companies are being unable to provide seafarers with good internet connectivity.
In this period of time there was a huge advancement in the technology as compared to the past decades. Mails got better, satellite phones got a little cheaper, and the internet has become more affordable, thanks to JIO in India. We didn’t need to wait for hours to receive any mail like it was before.
In 2010, I was sailing with BP shipping, the company provided seafarers with good internet facilities which was free of cost and the service could be used anytime [24*7]. Apart from this, we were also provided with 20 minutes of free satellite phone calls.
But the problem with this facility was that, it wasbeing provided by the top notch companies only. In many companies the satellite phone calls were still expensive like a dollar per minute and this would vary from company to company.
At this time there was a new technology that came up and helped many seafarers to get connected with the world and that was:
Global Sim Cards
These are the special type of sim cards that have been used by many seafarers to contact their families when they are nearby any country. These SIM cards are required to be recharged with the top up plans prevailing in the respective country. One such global sim card that I can remember was the ‘Chilli Sim Card’.
Well in today’s time there is a huge advancement in technology. With the help of high-speed internet and different social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram we can video call, voice call our families anytime and also get connected with the world.
Some of the mediums that has been used by seafarers today are:
Internet in today’s world is on a boom. Some companies provide it for free but some restrict it to some extent. And as per Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), companies need to provide seafarers with internet. And as per Nautilus International 88% of the ships have internet.
My previous ship was provided with 2GB internet data per month and if you want more than you would have to pay 15 dollars to get an extra GB. And this medium is really good as the communication can happen both ways, as your family can even contact you first, with an ease.
2. Global Sim Cards:
There are many companies that have come up with the concept of a sim card that can be used when you are at sea but the only problem with that is you need to be near a country or you should be in the coastal waters of a country. Some of the examples are: One Sim Card, Sim for Crew.
The vastly used medium back in 2000s to early 2010s were e-mails. But now with the advancement in technologies very few ships used this as the medium to contact their family. It is more of a use for official purposes.
4. Satellite Phones:
Nowadays, the satellite phone has also become cheaper but not cheap enough that it could be replaced by the internet. On my last ship, the cost of making a satellite call was 15 dollars for 60 minutes. But it can’t be forgotten that this medium is also very important and this medium is only used when all the other mediums fail.
Despite all these communication facilities, contacting your family can be hard sometimes. Mostly it is because of rough weather, and due to this reason, you cannot have the internet connectivity for 3 to 4 days at a time. So, there is still a room left for the improvements. And someone can even count it as the cons of joining the merchant navy.