Communicating with ships at sea has never been as easy as it is today thanks to satellite technology and a regulatory requirement for almost all vessels afloat to be equipped with it.

In less than twenty years since GMDSS became mandatory, the shipping industry has not only done the minimum necessary to achieve compliance – although a significant number of shipowners do follow just that strategy – but has embraced the whole range of possibilities that modern communications permit. GMDSS itself is in the process of being modernised although it may be some years yet before the changes are put into effect and as things stand no new carriage requirements are envisaged.

In less than twenty years since GMDSS became mandatory, the shipping industry has not only done the minimum necessary to achieve compliance – although a significant number of shipowners do follow just that strategy – but has embraced the whole range of possibilities that modern communications permit. GMDSS itself is in the process of being modernised although it may be some years yet before the changes are put into effect and as things stand no new carriage requirements are envisaged.

There are sectors of shipping that are more proactive than others but this can be attributed to the diversity of shipping and the demands of customers be they cargo owners, service contractors or passengers. The offshore and passenger sectors have been the most demanding as regards welfare services while container operators have seen the benefits of telemetry in allowing cargo owners to monitor shipments and their progress in the logistics supply chain.

Where crew welfare comes in the list of priorities generally tends like most other things to depend upon the stature and altruism of the ship operator. Some see it as a benefit to their operations while those lower down the ranks may not be so generous. Service providers have done their best to devise options suited to a diverse range of operators so most seafarers do have some access to the modern world of communications with family and friends.

Remote monitoring and management of assets is at an early stage but is already being practiced and the lessons learned are being used to drive the development of autonomous ships. Autonomous ships may mean that crew welfare and operational communication needs will reduce but their development would not be possible without the instant and reliable connectivity that satellite communications allow.

As new concepts such as autonomous ships and e-navigation are explored, the communication options seem to increase. While most recent attention has been on VSAT, new uses for radio are also being found with VDES and MBR being very good examples. Both are covered within this guide along with more conventional technologies and the uses they are being put to.