10 Tips for Keeping Crew Connected and Happy (Paradox, Part 2)

Providing Internet and e-mail access to crew members is an important part of onboard crew welfare today. (Photo courtesy of E.R. Offshore)

Using advances in satellite communications technology to improve crew welfare is a big topic in the commercial maritime industry today. Bringing satellite Internet, e-mail, and phone to crew members, and providing access to Skype and to social media sites like Facebook and YouTube,  should ensure better crew welfare, but that isn’t always so, as discussed in The Paradox of Crew Welfare, Part 1.

Here, 10 tips that can help vessel owners and operators see that their crew is happy with crew welfare efforts that involve satellite communications and the increasingly important means of staying in touch.

  1. First, and perhaps most important: Manage expectations. Telling the crew that you are going to give them Internet without informing them of the limitations of bandwidth capacity at sea will definitely generate frustration.
  2. Discuss your budget and goals with your SATCOM provider. What do you want to achieve and offer to your crew (cheap voice calls, free crew e-mails, web surfing, social media, etc.)?

    Providing Internet and e-mail access to crew members is an important part of onboard crew welfare today. (Photo courtesy of E.R. Offshore)
  3.  Choose the right technological partner. Bandwidth is not everything. The set up, the control, and many tools can be deployed to control, optimize, and protect your interest and resources. At the same time they can give the crew an enjoyable Internet experience.
  4. Make sure you are using an onboard web optimization device that not only controls which website or application can be used, but also optimizes web browsing, through TCP/IP compression, onboard and onshore caching, or blocking image-heavy content and advertisements.
  5. Make sure you set up your browser to visit mobile pages. All this will give a much better user experience to the crew when browsing the Internet and will save you precious bandwidth. KVH CommBox, an onboard network management system, does all the above and more. For example, the CNN.com home page, which usually takes 1.5 to 2 MB to download, requires only 100 to 150 KB or less once cached. That’s more than a factor of 10. The crew benefits both from a higher virtual speed and also from saving data – important if there is a data allowance. KVH has also implemented cache pool in every region to avoid delay on public Internet.

    KVH’s CommBox-ACU combines antenna control functions with a built-in CommBox Network Manager, making it easy to manage crew access to the Internet.
  6. Whether you give a data allowance or charge the crew, make sure they know the value of the data. For example, if you are providing 100 MB at $0.99/MB, that means you give a virtual $990/month to the crew. They can see the value and appreciate your efforts. This is very helpful when they compare packages of different shipping companies. Web optimization will give them about 10 times more content for the same volume, hence virtually 1GB worth. Not bad for the crew.
  7. Instead of installing Wi-Fi or limiting the number of IP address that can connect, we advise installing one or two PCs with phone lines that are configured for the sole use of crew welfare. That way you limit the number of people that can connect at the same time. Automatically, the speed of the connection should become better than if you have 15 to 20 crew connected through Wi-Fi with their own devices. KVH proposes its ikiosk, a thin client application that is already preconfigured. Nothing can be installed; it can’t be compromised with virus. It basically only allows Internet access, and if somebody manages to install something wrong, you can just wipe everything and push back the original configuration. KVH CommBox, which is now built into several of KVH TracPhone V-series systems, also allows limiting the time the crew can stay connected, so everybody can use the Internet and everybody can rest.

    broadband use at sea
    Onboard, the demand for broadband is exploding, as mariners want to enjoy social media, e-mail, and video at sea just like they do on land.
  8. Do not enable Internet and Wi-Fi on the bridge. Crew could go on the Internet or on their smartphone and become distracted so that they are not timely in checking an oncoming threat. Onboard network management allows you to open or block ports depending on the VLAN. Bridge VLAN should be a separate VLAN with its own rules.
  9. Set some content filtering. We strongly recommend blocking gaming, which usually involves long sessions using the Internet. It leads to fatigue. Onboard network management allows you to block some content (adult content, gaming, sports, etc.) Also, it allows you to blacklist or whitelist some websites.
  10. Make sure your crewmembers can transport their e-mail accounts and retrieve all their e-mail history when changing vessels. KVH CommBox allows suspending and reactivating any account and switching from vessel to vessel within the same fleet.

Crew members, what are your expectations regarding onboard Internet access? Vessel owners, what benefits are the most important to your crew?

About Chris Watson 93 Articles
Chris is the senior director of marketing for KVH Industries. A lifelong sailor and storyteller, he's a self-professed geek who finds all of this technical stuff fascinating.

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