The results of a comprehensive survey by Futurenautics Research, produced in association with Crewtoo, PTC, InterManager, BIMCO and ISWAN have been published.
The survey was conducted between April and August 2015, with an excess of 3,057 seafarers from 30 different countries responding to questions about crew connectivity and communications. 59% of respondents were officers, and 41% ratings. This ratio reflects the greater level of Internet access enjoyed by officers, enabling them to participate in the survey, although officers were 20% more likely to rate themselves as knowledgeable about IT, hinting at a widening gap between officers and ratings.
If the main message of 2014's survey was that access to crew communications was "an improving picture but far from good enough" ( K D Adamson), then 2015's survey message is that ship owners are increasingly aware of the benefits of crew connectivity. "The industry is realising that connecting crew to their families is only the beginning." There is a push towards understanding the need for crew connectivity, in order to maintain a happy workforce.
When asked to rate their computer skills, 57% of respondents said they felt comfortable using IT and 33% felt very knowledgeable, totalling 90% of respondents who rate themselves as having strong computer skills. These figures demonstrate that seafarers are a highly IT literate workforce.
This is reflected in the money spent on communications services. Futurenautics estimates that the value of combined shore and sea-based crew communications is worth in excess of $3.3bn per annum, with the average respondent's Internet-related expenditure ashore alone reaching approximately $70 per month.
Interestingly, there was an increase in 10% from last year of seafarers stating that cost was a primary factor limiting their use of communication methods. When asked about what services they would like to see in the future, most wanted to see free Wifi in ports. The respondents showed more interest in cost effective communications than in new or innovative means of contact. However, Whatsapp (which did not feature on last year's survey at all) is a fast increasing method of contact.
Methods of Communication
In terms of method of contact, respondents preferred to access the Internet via smartphone, with 77% of crews taking a smartphone device on board, up by 20% from 2014. This is an interesting departure from last year's survey, where laptops were cited as the most popular device.
Telephones were still the most common form of communications access on board, with 79% of respondents having access to telephone calling. Internet access came second, demonstrating that ship operators have responded to crew demands for this service. Of the 40% of those with access to Internet on board (an increase of 6% from last year), half had it for free. However, the figures showing the general level of access to Internet are distorted by the Passenger sector, where 85% of respondents had Internet access. Text only email was the most popular non-Internet based communications solution, and was the most commonly free service, compared to satellite phone where only 4% of ship operators allow usage for free.
Frequency of Access
There is a significant shift since last year's survey in the frequency of access. 2014's survey demonstrated that the majority accessed services no more than once a week, whereas this year it had changed to a daily basis, with 60% of those with Internet facilities using them daily.
58% of those with communications access had it always, or most of the time, an increase of 20% from last year. The most encouraging figures were to be found in the Car Carrier sector with 0% never having access. However, 7% overall still stated they never had access, and 38% had access only sometimes.
The worst offenders were the General Cargo and Bulk sectors with 14% and 12% never having access respectively. The report underlines that, while some of these seafarers with no access may not fall under the MLC mandate, a significant proportion must.
Respondents were asked if there had been an improvement in provisions since the introduction of the MLC in 2006. 22% said there had been improvement, 38% said a little improvement, demonstrating that, while progress is slow, the general picture is improving.
The survey shows that only 28% of the respondent base use welfare facilities whilst in port. Of this 28%, 34% use the Wifi services provided by seafarer centres, and 6% use the telephone services, including the ability to purchase local SIM cards.
When asked what additional facilities port –based welfare services could provide, 54% of respondents cited Internet or Wifi access, notably the majority of those requesting these services said they would be prepared to pay.
72% of the respondents noted that they are either never, or rarely able to go ashore on port calls, explaining why only 28% use the welfare services available in port. The ability to access communications methods while on board is therefore increasingly important in a life where seafarers spend very little time ashore.
Looking to the Future
The survey warns that communications are becoming an increasingly important factor for seafarers when choosing which shipping company to work for, with 73% stating that crew connectivity influenced their decision.
This momentum cannot be ignored by shipping companies, who are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of providing the crew with good connectivity.
Roger Harris of ISWAN said "This year's survey findings show once again how vital communication is to seafarers. The significant impact that cost has on their access to communication at sea, as well as the large number of respondents unable to go ashore during port visits, gives welfare organisations and others in the maritime industry, a lot to consider."