A new report looking at crew connectivity on ships has revealed the emotional and operational impact on professional seafarers working at sea with limited opportunities to interact digitally with friends and family.
Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London, conducted the ‘Navigating Everyday Connectivities at Sea’ study in conjunction with maritime charity Sailors’ Society and with Inmarsat, using an immersive study approach on board two container ships for 10 days, one with on board Wi-Fi capabilities and one without.
The researchers 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 report showed that access to Wi-Fi, even in a limited capacity, helped to reduce some of the emotional stresses that come with separation from families.
However, the research also showed that where there were weekly limits to connectivity seafarers felt forced to ration their allowance to certain periods or to prioritise contact among friends. Restricting usage meant that domestic issues could not be resolved immediately or in real time, adding to personal stress or anxiety.
Another of the report’s key findings demonstrated how connectivity is becoming a significant factor in recruitment, particularly for those newly entering the industry. Young people brought up with constant connectivity are viewing the ability to get online as a significant deciding factor as to whether they commit to a career at sea.
The argument that connectivity disrupts work and rest patterns was not backed up by the research, which actually showed that not having reliable onboard internet itself impacts such patterns – if the only method of digitally engaging with personal networks is through 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,” said 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.”
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