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10th October 2018

Seafarer study highlights importance of 21st century connections

Connectivity remains as critical to seafarers today as it ever has and for the first time a study has not only asked for the thoughts and opinions of seafarers on connectivity, but also included researchers’ observations on board large container ships where they joined the crews.

The innovative study, Navigating Everyday Connectivities at Sea, funded by Sailors’ Society and Inmarsat, was carried out by Dr Rikke Bjerg Jensen and Dr Olivia Swift, both from the Royal Holloway University of London.

It involved 43 seafarers on board two ships, one with Wi-Fi access and the other without, following them on two ten-day voyages to examine the effect of limited or non-existent digital access.

The study found that internet connections were an integral part of everyday modern seafaring, and having a reliable connection made a positive impact on mental well-being, operational efficiency and safety.

The ability for sailors to stay in touch with their families, even to talk about mundane every day topics, reduced isolation and allowed them to feel included, as well as helping them return back to their home life with ease.  

The researchers said the atmosphere changed on board when crew did and didn’t have internet connectivity and keeping a check on the amount of data they had available had a significant impact on the crew in terms of ‘being in control’.

In one example, an argument between a crew member and his girlfriend at home resulted in tension on board the ship, impacting on camaraderie and cohesion on board which could not have been resolved if the individual had run out of data. ‘Instantaneous messaging’ was described as critical in resolving personal issues which could impact on the ship as a whole.

Contrary to the belief that communications can be a distraction to seafarers, the study revealed that it was uneven and unreliable digital connections that disrupted the patterns and rhythms of everyday life, work and rest, during long periods at sea.

Unsurprisingly, access to onboard connectivity was increasingly said to be a key deciding factor in where seafarers, particularly younger ones, chose to work with technology as a whole impacting on the seafarer’s world. Only food, which everyone would think of as a basic need, was considered more important than having Wi-Fi connections.

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Study into crew connectivity at sea
This study offers valuable insights into the huge impact that connectivity can have on seafarers’ wellbeing, which is of vast importance to the maritime industry."
Sailors’ Society CEO Stuart Rivers