Internet on Board

More than 20 years ago, seafarers didn’t have too many options to communicate with their families while they were at sea. Sending a telegram from time to time, letters – which were taking weeks (even months) to reach their destinations – or short phone calls were all they could do to stay in touch with their loved ones.

Nowadays, things are much different from this point of view. The rapid development and spreading of internet made seafarers very happy and keeping in touch with their families became a very simple issue and sometimes an everyday routine. Distances seem to shorten due to this wonderful tool of communication and the long voyages can become more bearable for seafarers and their families alike.

There are few shipping companies in the world which introduced free internet access on board their vessels. Sometimes this access is limited and allows seafarers to use only communication tools like Skype or Yahoo Messenger which is exactly what they need in order to stay in touch with home. In other cases, there is no limitation of using the internet.

On the vessels with no free internet access, the companies allow their seafarers to use the satellite connection only for sending/receiving mails. For this reason, internet cards are available on board and everybody can buy these cards for a very affordable price (10-20$). Every e-mail is charged with 4-8 cents and a 20 $ card may be enough for using during a 4 month contract.

Another available internet option is shore internet. In most ports there is the possibility for seafarers to buy local sim cards to use for calling and internet access. These sim cards are available for buying from ashore or can be bought on the ship – from the agent or some other business men who are visiting the vessel.

If the ship is calling more ports belonging to the same country the sim card can be used in all of these ports for a period of time. Usually, sim cards have a long validity and need only some top ups from time to time. The prices and speed available for internet are different from one country to another, but they are usually more expensive (and slower) than the internet seafarers are using at home. Under the circumstances, nobody can complain. Slow and expensive internet is better than no internet at all and if it brings a little smile on people faces then it is worth paying for. In most cases, there are no sim cards available for a short period of time (like few days, or one week) and seafarers have to buy a sim card valid for one month, even if his stay in that country is only for a day. If 25-30 euros seems like a normal price for one month validity, it can not be the same for only one day of using it.

In the countries where internet is very cheap, the agent (or a business man) can bring wireless free of charge internet for everybody to use (I was quite amazed to find this free internet on board the vessels calling some ports in Ukraine, Romania and Taiwan).

Internet prices (and speed) are not connected with the economical development of a country, sometimes not at all.

The cheapest and fastest internet is available in Europe ( Italy, Spain, Malta, Romania) and the most expensive in Australia and New Zealand.

In few ports in the world, there is wireless internet available and for using it seamen have to buy a card providing a password. In some cases, this kind of internet is very affordable as it offers the possibility of choosing the availability (24 hours unlimited internet can cost between 10 and 15 euros).

In some ports in the USA, the agent can provide wireless internet on board for the duration of staying – one wireless modem can be used by up to ten people and can cost between 30 and 70$.

If even this kind of internet may seem expensive for many seafarers, there is still another option which can be available especially in Europe, USA and in some ports in Australia and New Zealand. This option is called Seamen’s Club.

These organizations – mostly funded on voluntary donations – are spread around the world and try to support and assist seafarers in their needs. They are mostly placed inside the port area or very close to it and they can offer internet access (along with some other services) for free or for very small fees (1$ or 1 euro).

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