Even as engineers work on autonomous ship-handling technologies, skilled and experienced crews are still vital for keeping shipping lines operating. The only snag is that most sailors today have become so used to never being out of touch that they've come to expect similar connectivity while at sea. To help maintain morale and retain skilled crews, Maritime Broadband has developed its C-Bird Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) satellite transceiver to keep sailors connected with their families and the internet.

There was a time when the romance of going to sea involved being cut off from the outside world for months at a time. It was a life where contact between sailors and their families involved things like posting letters in a tin nailed to a post on a barren island in the South Atlantic in hopes that a homeward-bound ship would pick up the packet.

In the 21st century, things have changed. In an age when container ships can circumnavigate the world in 62 days, commercial ship crews are paradoxically less and less willing to put up with being out of touch with their loved ones. According to a survey of crews conducted by Futurenautics Research and released by the Brooklyn, New York-based telecommunications firm Maritime Broadband, the vast majority of commercial sailors give priority to uninterrupted communication links when selecting employment, and that personal communications have a strong impact on morale and retaining crews – especially the more experienced ones.

With crews making up ten percent of the non-fuel-related costs of operating a commercial seagoing ship and the increasing difficulty of recruiting trained sailors, this makes morale a top priority as crews increasingly expect communications with their homes and reliable internet access even on smaller vessels. To provide this, Maritime Broadband developed C-Bird VSAT, which is a lightweight, modular satellite link system intended for smaller commercial shipping vessels.

According to the company, the 400 kg (882 lb) C-Bird is designed to be assembled by the ship’s crew without the need for a crane. It consists of a non-critically balanced, stabilized tracking antenna with a 2.4 m (7.8 ft) diameter dish operating on the C-Band radio frequency. The company says that once the C-Bird is assembled, it’s self-commissioning using a web-based interface. In operation, it can maintain a satellite link in winds of up to 85 knots (98 mph, 157 km/h) and is self-locking in the event of storms. In addition, it’s marinised to resist corrosion.

Maritime Broadband says that C-Bird provides "always on" internet for as low as US$1,300 per month, which the company claims is a 98 percent saving on comparable systems.

The video below shows the installation of a C-Bird unit.

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