Starlink Onboard – and the communication risks

I can imagine some readers breaking out in a cold sweat at the thought of this…
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By Dustin Eno
Managing Director, Navigate Response

Every week I talk to another client who is installing Starlink on their vessels. The benefits of the technology are obvious: better real-time tracking of onboard systems, more efficient coordination with shore teams and improved connections with friends and family for the crew onboard. However, this enhanced connectivity, including the ability to stream live HD video from onboard, presents some risks that require consideration.

While onboard connectivity is not new, Starlink has significantly increased the bandwidth. With this change comes an increased risk of pictures, videos, and other posts from onboard being shared without appropriate consideration.

It’s incredible to think that the devices most seafarers bring onboard today have better cameras and significantly more processing power than a cutting-edge television studio would have had just a few decades ago. A Starlink connection now also gives them more bandwidth with which to broadcast the contents of these devices than land-based studios would’ve had not that long ago.

I can imagine some readers breaking out in a cold sweat at the thought of this, but it’s not entirely a bad thing. Many in the industry, myself included, have long complained that shipping does not receive the attention it deserves from people outside the industry. Recruiting seafarers is challenging, and the work done at sea to make our modern lives possible is often underappreciated. Therefore, I am pleased when I see wonderful pictures and short videos of life onboard shared online.

The concern lies with the careless or ill-considered comments that are also too often shared online and could potentially cause significant problems for the companies, and individuals, involved.

We recently dealt with a case where a vessel was accused of stealing crude oil from West Africa. There was no truth to the allegations, but a series of pictures posted by the crew onboard, showing them hanging over the side repainting the ship’s name, fed into a narrative that the vessel had something to hide. The potential problem with a post often isn’t obvious until after the fact.

It’s easy to find videos on most social media platforms from seafarers that were taken onboard. At first glance, many of these videos look harmless, but when watched back slowly, paying attention to the details, it’s often surprising what’s visible in the background. It’s frequently possible to determine the name of the vessel, information about the crew, the vessel’s whereabouts, and much more. Again, none of this is necessarily a problem. But it can be.

From a crisis communication strategy point of view, there are times when it might be helpful to share live updates from a vessel. For an industry often accused of lacking transparency, in the right situation, in the right context, the ability that Starlink provides to share such updates could be a powerful tool, but it should only be considered with caution. Content without context can be more misleading than no content at all.

So, what should a company that is considering deploying Starlink across their fleet do?

First, have a social media policy. It should provide basic, clear guidance on what’s expected from employees using social media. It should not be threatening or unrealistically restrictive, but should make clear the company’s expectations in terms of:

  • The protection of private information, including details about the vessel and fellow employees,
  • Expectations regarding personal content or conduct, and
  • Clarity as to when and where social media can be used, (e.g. not while actively on duty).


Second, every company should ensure that there is training for their employees. Policies are often ignored unless they are understood and receive some level of buy-in. Simply telling people not to use social media or not to post things on social media is unlikely to be effective for those who have grown up doing so. Training can help understand the rationale, the context, and the risk factors to watch for when considering posting something.

A Starlink connection on board means that every smart phone and every tablet is a potential television studio with an uplink to the world. A little planning and training can help minimise the risks and maximise the opportunities.

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