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Five Things to Consider for Onboard Communications

Today, connectivity is everything. When determining the right communications service for your vessel, evaluating the options for different service types, providers and equipment can be overwhelming. The key is to start by outlining your requirements in order to design a package best suited for your unique needs. Whether you’re outfitting a yacht, merchant ship, offshore supply vessel, liftboat, rig, platform or tanker, here are five factors to consider when choosing a communications package for your vessel:


1. Bandwidth Requirements

Consider the true demand you’ll be placing on your communications service. What applications will need an always-on connection and what will require more intermittent in use? What applications will you have running that require data and how much? This can vary greatly from vessel to vessel. Core data-intensive applications and equipment must have priority, but what level of access will crew or passengers be provided?

Be sure to spend time with your provider to design a network that will deliver maximum ROI for your operation. A VSAT system custom-fit to your needs can efficiently accommodate all of these requirements. With multiple tools including prioritization, virtual local area networks (VLANS) for compartmentalization, content filtering, as well as bandwidth monitoring and management applications to control what bandwidth is used for, how much is used and by whom, your ship or platform can be outfitted for optimal connectivity.  

2. Match coverage with equipment

The area of operations directly impacts service requirements. Some vessels or platforms may stay primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, but many others travel the world, from the North Sea to Africa, Europe, the Middle East or Southeast Asia. In contrast, a lift boat may become stationary upon reaching its destination while commercial fishing enterprises or shipping vessels may continually move through areas where receiving coverage may be challenging.

Keep in mind that the area of operation for your vessel or platform will affect the size and power of equipment needed to provide you with coverage. Space onboard ships and platforms are always at a premium, so examining your vessel’s space constraints can help determine what equipment can be used.

You should also take into consideration the design of your vessel or platform as well as the areas you’ll be traveling through. Some vessel layouts and travel routes may create blockage areas. To ensure that all these factors are taken into account, it is recommended that you have a site survey completed prior to choosing a VSAT package.

3. Service Terms

Service terms can make or break communications packages. Depending on your vessel’s needs, you may have seasonal requirements that require service flexibility with temporary upgrades or suspensions for additional guests onboard or short-term contract-based work. On the other hand, your operation may need year round service.

Ideally, you should look for service plans with unlimited data rates and no Fair Access Policies (FAP). These policies allow your service provider to decrease bandwidth speed once certain data limits are exceeded within a set time period, sometimes charging overage fees for additional data used. Ultimately, choosing a service plan with unlimited data and no FAP will guarantee you the most consistent data stream and monthly statement.

In addition to setting unlimited data rates for your vessel, some service providers may also include bandwidth management control tools for optimizing the availability of your bandwidth. These monitoring applications allow for real-time access to throughput data and usage, allowing you to control device usage on your network.

4. Backup Solutions

Although Ku-band VSAT communications can offer increased bandwidth speeds at a reasonable cost, severe weather conditions can affect transmission. A backup or failover system, however, can provide standby communications services, ensuring continuous connectivity. In short, integrated failover systems like Out-of-Band Management (OBM), Iridium or FleetBroadband (FBB) can act as a secure backup system so operations continue. Once these system backups are installed, charges will only be incurred in the event your vessel has to use failover data. If your vessel or platform works in an area that sees frequent storms, this may be a necessary feature to include in your package.

5. Cybersecurity

Cyber attacks continue to pose serious threats to not only onshore networks but could be potentially more dangerous when affecting vessel networks that are not only tied to corporate infrastructures but also operational systems. With the advancement of malware, spyware and ransomware programs, gaining access to sensitive data and systems can be simple if effective cybersecurity measures are not taken.

Implementing authentication, authorization and accountability protocols are essential first steps to protecting your network. Choose a VSAT package that utilizes permission limits, password controls, firewalls and encryption to secure your data, while also providing communications safeguards through virtual private networks (VPNs).

When a cyber threat occurs, not only are traditional computer systems at risk, but potential cyber access to navigation and operational systems should also be considered. Explore the maritime cybersecurity solutions available to meet your operation’s needs.

VSAT Services

When shopping for VSAT packages, seek out a service provider who offers continuous monitoring and support as well as unlimited VSAT service plans to fit any budget or usage pattern. At BlueTide Communications, we allow our clients to experience our services on a trial basis with around the clock support from our 24/7 Network Operating Center. To browse VSAT package options or design a custom communications solution for your vessel, call 800-565-0817 or complete our online contact form.

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