- The January issue of The Triton is on the street and online. Find out what captains think about harbor pilots, how prevalent the Internet is on yachts, and what is up with S/Y Legacy. Theres also an update of the old M/Y Sea & H, and dozens more pages of news and information. Find a copy at your nearest marina, shipyard or crew-friendly business. If you cant find one, visit www.the-triton.com and download a copy to read at your leisure offline. And let us know so we can make sure your marina has the paper next month..
- Make a New Years resolution to make more professional contacts. Theres no better place to do that than at The Tritons networking events, held from 6-8 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month. In January, were meeting at Claires Marine Outfitters in Ft. Lauderdale on Jan. 7. Everyone is invited. Find Claires behind Lesters Diner at 2921 S.W. Second Ave. For more details, see the interview with Claires owner Marc Burton on page C3 of the January issue, or click here.
- Lucy is hosting The Tritons monthly captains luncheon next Thursday, Jan. 8, in Ft. Lauderdale. If you make your living as a megayacht captain, e-mail Lucy for an invite (firstname.lastname@example.org). Space is limited, so if youve been meaning to come, e-mail her today.
On particular article in The Triton was of interest – it was an E-Survey: Yachts rely on Web dockside and at sea. Not sure that much of it is big news for Alan Spicer Marine Telecom since providing Internet systems is a big part of what we do – but it was an interesting read. Perhaps in 2009 we can be a big part of uncomplicating some of this stuff related to Internet on yachts – and provide support for more boats that need ongoing help with our Consulting and Support Agreements by the year. Anyway here goes…
It really shouldnt surprise many readers of The Triton that a strong majority of yachts operating today have some sort of Internet connection onboard; 91 percent of the 144 captains who took this months survey.
Not much farther behind was the all-desirable wireless connection, which 79 percent of vessels in our survey offer their owner, crew and guests. (Was it really only a decade ago when it was unusual to have such service?)
Perhaps the surprising part is in that short amount of time, not only has Internet access become an important tool in a captains effective performance, but a full third of respondents consider 24/7 access critical to their jobs. Seventy-five percent considered it at least very important; and 92 percent proclaimed the Internet at least somewhat important in their ability to function effectively as a captain.
“Just like GPS, captains are becoming more dependent on e-communications,” one captain said. “Its great when available and likely to become more ubiquitous and affordable. But, just as with navigation, the skills for traditional methods of communication and acquiring weather should not be lost.”
“One truism on any boat: Its always better to have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it,” another captain noted.
So what kind of systems do yachts carry, what are captains minimum onboard requirements in 2009, and what equipment if time and money were no object would captains most like to have onboard?
Current systems strongly leaned toward land, with the top two systems of our respondents either cellular networks or marina wi-fi kits, giving a majority of vessels Internet access at the dock or as they traveled within sight of land.
The teenager in the mix the VSAT finished a strong third on about 23 percent of vessels, followed by the granddaddy of them all, the Inmarsat.
Respondents remaining systems were mostly the newest systems available, including the 1-year-old mini-VSAT, the even newer B-GAN, and the newest kid on the block, long-range wi-fi WiMax (on just one vessel).
More than a few captains used the open comment area to let us know that their vessels have more than one system aboard, which we didnt ask for specifically. Considering those responses, 28 percent of megayachts today have more than one type of system, either providing stronger and faster service in certain areas or serving as redundancy to ensure backup where access is critical.
“We have multiple systems on board,” one captain wrote. “It is critical for the owners. It is their requirement.”
Speaking of critical, we asked how important 24/7 access to the Internet was for captains in performing their jobs efficiently. A full third said it was critical and 42 percent more said it was very important. Only 0.7 percent of respondents (1 of 144 captains) said it was not important at all, and 7.7 percent (11 of the 144) said it was not that important.
“I carry my own personal laptop, and wireless is shaky when I can find it,” noted a captain. “When I purchase it, it helps to stay connected to friends and family and is great to eye weather. Id rather have it than be without.”
“For a busy charter boat it is invaluable,” another captain said. “Weather reports are critical, e-NOAs, business, etc.”
“For ISM- and ISPS-regulated yachts, a reasonable speed is a must for sending reports and info to the DPA [designated person ashore],” said a third.
We were surprised to find that of the 47 captains who noted that 24/7 access was critical, only 16 just more than a third noted that they had multiple systems. That isnt much higher than the 28 percent of respondents as a whole who said they had multiple systems. We expected a higher percentage there, given the importance to these captains.
“Internet is a pain,” one captain said. “We all rely on it too much and feel our throats are cut when the service is down. We got on fine before, if you remember back. People often ask me didnt you read the e-mail I sent to you? It is now taken for granted that we all sit for endless hours on the Net behind our computers; not something I am proud of but the computer and Internet now have a huge control over our everyday lives.”
“The most important reason for having Internet access onboard is for weather forecasts and all weather data,” a captain noted. “All other Internet needs are secondary and really not needed until we arrive at a port.”
We also werent prepared for the level of satisfaction captains have with their service. Almost 80 percent were either mostly satisfied (67.6 percent) or very satisfied (11.8 percent) with the Internet system onboard.
“The Internet is great onboard, when it works,” one captain noted. “You just cant rely on it 100 percent of the time.”
We thought wed learn something from those 16 respondents who were very satisfied with their systems that maybe all of them had one kind of system, for example, or on the largest vessels with presumably better budgets but when we looked closer, we found no consistencies. Nearly half had the VSAT system, but four had cellular, three used marina wi-fi kits, one had B-GAN and one Inmarsat.
Those respondents also werent on the biggest vessels, but a mix of sizes.
Of the respondents who were not completely satisfied, a majority cited sporadic availability as the primary reason, followed by slow service and by poor customer service.
“I get more complaints from guests that the service is too slow or sporadic,” another captain reported. “We typically will use the wi-fi available at the marinas where we dock. Personally, I have an iPhone, which is a wonderful tool for getting weather updates and e-mails.”
Many captains wrote in that maintaining the systems were the worst part, complaining of complicated set-up and time-consuming trouble-shooting.
“Sometimes I need to be an IT to figure things out.”
Only a few chose cost as a cause for dissatisfaction in the survey, but in the comments section, many more wrote that service, especially cellular service, was too expensive.
“It doesnt matter how much money the owner has, the price of Internet cant be justified,” one captain noted.
Of the 26 respondents who were dissatisfied most of the time with their connection (and identified a system), more than half (14 respondents) used a marina wi-fi kit. The remaining 12 captains are sprinkled between six types of service.
We also wanted to know if a vessels use played much of a part in a) what kind of system the vessel had and b) how important Internet was to the captain. So we asked captains which of these 10 regions they regularly took the vessels: U.S. East Coast, Bahamas, Caribbean, Mediterranean, U.S. West Coast / Alaska, Mexico, Central America, South America, Australia / New Zealand, South Pacific / Southeast Asia.
All 39 vessels that traveled in four or more of those regions had Internet service onboard. Half of them carried the VSAT (20), followed by marina wi-fi kits and/or Inmarsat (six each), cellular and/or the mini VSAT (three each) and one has the Iridium system.
These captains who traveled the farthest placed a higher degree of importance on their Internet access. More than half (51.2 percent) called it critical versus the 33 percent of all respondents; 38.5 percent called it very important, and the remaining 10.3 percent called it somewhat important in enabling them to work effectively.
None of them considered it “not that important” or “not important at all,” compared with 8.4 percent of all respondents.
Again, though these captains said access was more important to them than the overall respondent, just 12 of the 39 (31 percent) noted they had multiple systems onboard, only a tick above the 28 percent of all respondents who did.
It may say something that 12 of the 13 captains who have no Internet onboard traveled the U.S. East Coast. The other traveled the U.S. West Coast.
Does size make a difference in a captains need of access or type of system? A little. It was interesting to see the average size of the vessel increase as the importance of 24/7 access increased. The average size of the vessel of captains who said 24/7 access was not that important was 78 feet, critical was 131 feet.
But the type of system didnt really break along new vs. old technology lines, nor did it break with purported stronger vs. weaker service. Vessels with the sought-after VSAT averaged 155 feet, followed by those with the tried-and-true Inmarsat system, which averaged 118 feet. Vessels with the newest technology averaged 106 feet (with the mini-VSAT system) and 99 feet (with the B-GAN system). Vessels that relied on marina wi-fi kits averaged 102 feet, and those with cellular averaged 92 feet. Does that mean smaller vessels stay closer to shore?
So, what would captains have onboard if time and money were not an issue?
Most who responded to this question chose satellite systems, VSATs or mini-VSATs. A few simply said they wanted more bandwidth for faster, more reliable service and didnt identify a preferred system for it.
“Money is not the problem,” one captain said. “I just need to know what is better and available.”
“The same system the cruise ships have,” another captain said.
Several captains thought outside of the box and said they wanted a full-time Internet technician as part of the crew. One jokingly said he wanted his very own satellite.
Surprisingly, more than a few captains said they were happy with what they had and needed nothing else even though money and time were not an issue and they could have any system they wanted.
“Exactly what I have now,” said a captain with an Inmarsat system, “except I would invest in Wi-Max to extend it to the Caribbean and the remainder of the Mediterranean.”
“Nothing different,” said a captain with a twin-system VSAT. “However, were always looking to upgrade to better technology.”
“What we have is perfect,” reported a captain with a cellular (3G) system and a DSL connection.
When time and money are an issue, minimum requirements include reliable access, better than average download speed, access at the dock, and the simple desire “to be able to check e-mails at least once a week.”
“I would settle for anything that actually worked consistently with decent usable signal strength,” one captain said.
A few captains who viewed Internet as more important in their jobs suggested satellite and at least one redundancy for minimum needs.
One thing we didnt ask about was how Internet access played into the work environment on a vessel. Weve heard anecdotes from captains who say that, when asked if they have any questions, job candidates only want to know if they have Internet in their cabin. Its becoming that common.
“Its been both positive and negative,” one captain noted. “Positive in crew morale being able to communicate with family and friends inexpensively; negative in abuse of privilege during work hours.”
“Get whatever you can,” another said. “Crew will base a decision of whether to stay with a boat that travels a lot on the Internet facility on board. I was brought up in the days of letters and the post office, but this is the new reality so I may as well get used to it.”
We conduct our monthly surveys online. All captains and crew members are welcome to participate. If you havent been asked to take our surveys and would like to be, log in to www.the-triton.com and you will automatically be added to our database.
Alan Spicer Telecom / Alan Spicer Marine Telecom
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