Koninklijke Vereniging - Société Royale



Connectivity – A Critical Element in Seafarer Recruitment and Retention

Seafarers want to be in contact with home as regularly and affordably as possible. While there has been a moral and regulatory imperative t provide a link to families and home, there is a clear commercial drive too – without connectivity, owners and operators are struggling to recruit and retain high quality and well trained officers and crew.

A Digital Reality Check

The commercial shipping industry is rapidly approaching a major personnel challenge. According to Drewry Shipping Consultants, the maritime industry will require an additional 42,500 officers by 2019. On top of this will be the need to supply sufficient crew for existing and new ships.

Together, these factors raise serious concerns about the future recruiting challenges to fill these berths. It will no longer be enough to simply have a position to fill and expect that you’ll attract the best personnel. Seafarers of all stripes are increasingly taking into account working conditions, welfare issues, professional development, and especially digital connections to shore, family, and friends.

For example, when seafarers were asked whether communications onboard influenced their employment decisions, 73% of respondents answered in the affirmative . This is a statistic that no shipping company can afford to ignore.

Challenges in Connecting

Traditional radio communications and even many current satellite communications make crew connections difficult and costly. As a result, while the rest of the world is connected like never before, seafarers are being left behind. Ship owners and operators, all of whom are likely familiar with being connected via smartphone, tablet, or laptop at all times, need to take into account that people will not choose to work in a profession that relegates them to second-class status within the digital sphere.

For example, there is a disparity in personal data usage between ship and shore. At home the use of video,                          

Skype, Facebook, web surfing, instant messaging, and emailing leads to data use as high as 50 GB per person consumed each month. At sea, monthly data usage per person plummets to around 0.4 GB – less than 1 % of that ashore, driven by higher costs and lack of availability.

While digital connections at sea will likely never be as inexpensive as broadband connections at home, there needs to be a means of providing the connectivity seafarers crave. Seagoing job satisfaction and Internet access are intrinsically and inescapably linked.

New options, driven by the emergence of compact, global VSAT systems and services, offer a range of options never before available to the maritime world – dramatically higher speeds, significantly lower per MB costs, and huge amounts of entertainment, news from home, sports, and more, delivered affordably by multicasting technology.

Gain a Competitive Advantage by Understanding What Seafarers Want

The personnel cost of replacing a seafarer is incredibly complicated to work out, and does not necessarily fit any model ashore. The figures are too imprecise, and the very notion of seafarer productivity is not fully understood. Making a ship move safely, efficiently, and securely is not easily accounted for compared to other quantifiable positions in white collar or trade professions ashore.

When considering a seafarer, crewing and manning professionals need to take into account a complicated set of criteria, including:

What is the rank being replaced? By some measures, there are at least 14 or more ranks, each with different pay scales and expectations.

Where is the seafarer being replaced from? Wage expectations vary by country.

What ship type are they experienced on? Vessel types can vary considerably in profitability and the demand for and subsequent variables in compensation of skilled officers and crew will reflect that.

If you’re going to the trouble to recruit and train a rating or officer, isn’t it worth the effort to ensure that they want to stay with you? Reducing crew turnover:

Increases the efficiency and effectiveness of your crewing and manning efforts, which can then focus more on professional development and training rather than on filling berths

Leads to better shipboard performance and safety due to a better trained and happy crew

Reduces administrative and “lost production” costs
As we’ve already seen, connectivity is a central factor for current seafarers. It has also gained prominence within the industry itself. The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), which covers such seafarer rights issues as food, health, and wages, also addresses connectivity. The MLC recommendation is that seafarers should be granted “reasonable” access to Internet facilities, where available.

In its Crew Connectivity 2015 survey, Futurenautics asked seafarers whether there had been an improvement in communications since MLC. While a small majority felt there was improvement, the single largest group (39%) believed it had not improved, with another 3% stating that it had actually worsened.

Kimberly Karlshoej, Head of the ITF Seafarers Trust, recently claimed that crews are increasingly highlighting a “deficiency” in the supply of Internet access onboard.

While speaking on corporate social responsibility recently, Elias Ladas, of Danaos Shipping, stated that, “seafarers are increasingly asking whether vessels are connected and they will not choose to sail on those which are not.” 3
The January 2016 Crewtoo Seafarers Happiness Index saw a large number of responses on the effect of connectivity on seafarer happiness:

Time and again, across the vast majority of responses it was stated that Internet access and Wi-Fi onboard with a decent Internet speed is necessary these days. Without that, contact is ineffective – and seafarer happiness is affected... Again, there were calls from seafarers to make the provision of Internet access mandatory – not just a recommendation.
Crewtoo Seafarers Happiness Index survey respondents called for faster, more reliable, and cheaper connections onboard ships. Where these are lacking, it is a source of frustration and irritation.

It is increasingly apparent that being perceived as a good, progressive, enlightened employer that seafarers want to work for rests in part on providing seafarers with Internet access.

Digital Expectations Being Driven by Emerging Digital Nations

Understanding the effect of nationality and culture has long been seen as vital at sea, especially in an age of multinational crews. In the past, not all seafarer nations enjoyed widespread connectivity on shore, but that has changed in recent years as connectivity has grown rapidly in the significant labour supply nations.

For example, given that many seafarers are from India and the Philippines, it is significant to note that Internet access has accelerated in both countries. According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), India will have 500 million Internet users by 2017. The recent Global Web Index report states that the Philippines has the fastest growing Internet population in the world, experiencing 531% growth in the last five years. Soon the brightest young recruits will consider it second nature to be online, while those already at sea will find disconnection from home increasingly unacceptable.

There are generational issues too. While the highest shipping company roles are still likely to be baby boomers or Generation X, it is important to realize that “Gen-Y” seafarers are moving quickly into higher ranks. This affects planning and operations. The evolution continues, and with “Gen-Z” or “millennials”, a truly digital native population, soon to leave school, connectivity will become even more important and indispensable in the years ahead.


Seizing the Recruiting Advantage – Digital Connections and Crew Welfare

The means by which seafarers are attracted and motivated to stay at sea have to be considered as a priority. To recruit, the offer has to be attractive; to retain, the reality has to be persuasive and compelling. Connected ships are a hugely significant and positive part of this equation.


We were looking for a solution to support our vessel-to-vessel and vessel-to-shore business communications, as well as for longer term web-based fishery management programs currently in development. In addition, we have seen a boost in crew morale due to the increased opportunities for them to stay in touch while being gone for extended periods.

There are health and wellbeing issues to consider too. Wiebke Schuett, Managing Director Wallem Europe, recently spoke of the terrible toll and effect of fatigue on seafarers. She stressed that monotony, social deprivation, and boredom are major causes of fatigue. Connectivity can alleviate these problems.



Five Key Strategies to Provide Effective and Affordable Crew Connectivity

  1. Consider one of the increasingly popular maritime VSAT satellite communications services, which offer fast, affordable connections that outstrip older SATCOM solutions, whether your vessels operate on a regional or global basis.
  2. Make certain that your chosen SATCOM solution offers easy, integrated crew access management, which permits administrators or shipboard managers to allocate data to crew members on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. This allows officers and crews to use their data as they wish without exceeding the ship’s monthly data package.
  3. Ensure that your SATCOM solution offers flexibility in how officers and crew access the Internet and other content, such as via smartphone and tablet, not just onboard PCs.
  4. Consider that SATCOM-based connectivity not only supports entertainment and personal use, but also professional development and training through e-Learning services, adding even greater value to the investment.
  5. Choose a SATCOM solution that offers the ability to multicast digital content – movies, sports, daily news from home and international news, TV, music, and more – for easy, affordable onboard access without consuming the ship’s monthly data package.

What This All Means

It is clear that connected ships are incredibly powerful tools for recruitment and retention. Allowing seafarers the access to communications and information they want is the right thing to do, and it shows the company cares. Soon it won’t be an option. As more and more fleets and vessels are connected, those lacking connectivity will fall behind competitively. Ship owners and operators are going to need to address connectivity, and the time to do so is now.








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