Smart Phone Use onboard

I’m starting this thread to expand on @john’s pod cast.

Back in the Nextel days, you could switch over where the phones would work as stand along walkie talkies with no need for cell service. On one vessel a bunch of us had Nextel phones and found that this worked pretty well.

So, here’s my idea. I wonder how hard it would be to install a system onboard a vessel to allow Cell Phones to work inter-ship? Let’s face it every crew member has a cell phone and IMHO, it makes sense to make use of this while at sea. It would allow you to reach out to everyone by calling their phone. Now I know that a lot of vessels use radios but this would take it to the next level. If texts were used there would be a record of who called who including content and date and time. I also realize that this is thinking way out of the box but with some of the advances that have come in the last 10 years or so maybe it’s time to think about something like this.

If a system like this was setup, I would want it to make it so the phones were only used on the vessel system. This might help stop the use of cell phones during watch. I’m glad that I am retired as I saw what was happening even before “smart phones” and having crew that were glued to their damn phones.

So what are your thoughts?


Imagine the pilot on your ship calling their colleague on another ship on their cell phone to make passing arrangements. Those two pilots might have a clear understanding of what will happen, but all other vessels in the area will not. Using the VHF for making such arrangements allows other vessels to share in your situational awareness. Not only have I seen this discussed in courses, but have also seen it play out in real life.

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This is why I stated that it would be for use on THAT vessel only. I do not and never will believe that allowing crew (Officers or Unlicensed) to use personal cell phones on watch!

I agree with the Pilot using a cell for passing is a really bad idea and your post is more inline with @john’s podcast rather than my idea.

I assume he meant intra-ship. The technology already exists in the form of voice over IP (VOIP) with things like WhatsApp. Whether there was will to use it, meh…

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Having the ability to text other crew aboard ship would be very helpful. Sometimes the ship’'s phones are a pain.

For example when the E/R is getting things ready and I want to know how long before I can use the main engine or whatever when I call the engineer he has to stop what he is doing to answer the phone.

Or something as simple as the bunker times for example. Sometimes the bunker times (hose hooked up, pump started etc) are hard to track down, there are on a slip of paper in someone’s pocket. A text, “0908 hose connected” would be easier and simpler.


If the ship’s phones are that bad, perhaps there is a potential larger issue with communication during an emergency. The concept of using cell phones for crew communication is great as long as there’s cell service. On the flip side, most companies are discouraging carriage of personal cell phones during work (tell THAT to the millenials).

There is nothing wrong with the ship’s phones.The problem with fixed ship’s phones in general is the requirement for both parties to be in a place with a phone at the same time.

For example if the bridge calls the duty engineer while the engineer is in the lower engine room the phone requires that engineer leave and go to in the control room where the phone is. The ability to text removes this requirement.

The other advantage over both phone and UHF radio beside is the same time/place thing is the record of both time sent and text are saved for later use.

No smart phone required for texting, could be a $20 burner phone.

wrt cell service, not needed if the ship has wifi or similar, for example goTenna


Cell phones are very handy tools, but like any tool they can be misused.

We are probably headed toward wearable phones with wireless heating aid type ear pieces and mics. Eventually, we, or at least you young fellows, may see implantable cell phones with implantable heating aids and mics that charge wirelessly and automatically.

Cell boosters are common on boats. There are reasonable cost devices that act as local cell towers. When I pass a cruise ship in the middle of nowhere I can make a cell call off their onboard cell service (for a reasonable fee).

Text messages are very handy onboard. They are also big time savers and confusion eliminators for the office.

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It’s an interesting idea, but there are technical issues. These include a system that could be used anywhere (i.e.outside carrier coverage) and also restricted to the ship (engineer doesn’t know if that buzz of a text arriving was from the captain or friend ashore, therefore has to check). Also, that burner phone requires up to 3 key strokes per character and won’t stand up long to the engine room/deck environment.

Is this an idea where technology is being used (or suggested) for technology’s sake? Or is there really a communications void to be filled?

I was thinking of a strictly ship board system, not personal phones, calls or text. Just be a distraction.

As far as not holding up, how much are UHF radios? $400 a pop? They get beat up bad, especially the engine guys, they are basically a consumable.

Text messages are easy to find, they are on my phone, not on a slip of paper in the pocket of the engineer in heap of dirty clothes in his room. Also they leave a good record with time sent, unlike phones and UHF.

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I like receiving those “need coffee” texts and sending those “where r u” texts.

Although it doesn’t take a text for anyone to know that I always need more coffee, sending a text sure beats having to go look for a deckhand that I haven’t see for awhile.

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Thanks, I was talking about a stand alone system that has NO connection to any other cell service besides that vessel.

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Cellphones are a fact of life today. Everyone is using them onboard. Most of the time most people can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Sometimes I wish I could flip a switch and turn on one of those cellphone jammers.

Two words “intrinsically safe.” Last time I looked, the options for UL listed cell phones is pretty short, expensive, and pretty shitty. Unless somebody wants to come up with a case for mariners’ phones that are intrinsically safe, I’m seeing this as a non-starter for QHSE departments (and regulatory agencies) everywhere.

And yes, I’m perfectly aware that your phone really won’t blow you up at the gas pump (most of the time) but that UL requirement is there for a reason on ships.

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There are many apps that will turn your smartphone into a 2-way walkie-talkie. Not sure whether they still rely on a cell phone signal or not.

They could work on ships WiFi without a cell signal.

Unless we are talking about tankers or tank barges carrying flammable cargos, requiring intrinsically safe cell phones is total BS. And most people are already using their cellphones anyway.

They still hire smokers, but worry about it intrinsically safe cellphones. Give me a break.

It would make more sense to require that manufacturers make all cellphones intrinsically safe. Mass produced it would not add significantly to the price.

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Never said it wasn’t BS, but it is what it is. You forgot about all the poor sods on here that are on contract with an oil major on vessels other than tankers too. Drill rigs are notoriously paranoid about crap like that, and sadly, a 1000’ drillship is exactly where this idea would be most useful.

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I don’t really see the use considering how bad anything and everything gets beat up in the engine room environment. You can barely keep radios working.

I guess I don’t see what the real advantage would be over a radio, especially in an engine room. I’ve tried using my cell phone as an alarm clock in the engine room while underway. Couldn’t hear it at it’s loudest, couldn’t feel it vibrate while moving around. I just leave it in my room or office now.

Also, if stopping what I’m doing to answer the phone is inconvenient, how’s that going to work when I need to respond to a text message? At least while I’m walking to the phone I’ve got time to grab a rag and wipe my hands off. And quit pestering the engine room (:slight_smile: Instead of calling down to find out when they’ll be ready, call down and give them a time to be ready by. An engine department worth it’s salt will be ready and if they’re not going to be able to meet that time you would have already gotten a phone call.

What’s worked really well for me when I was bunkering is two radios, one on the bunker channel, one on the mate’s channel. I’ll then relay the bunker start/stop times to the mate on watch as they happen (while also jotting them in my notebook).

I’ve sailed on a vessel that had a repeater tied into a satphone. You’d buy precharged sim cards on board that would allow you to make satphone calls from your phone. I’m sure it wouldn’t be that large of a leap to make an onboard network, but I think you’re complicating things more than they need to be.

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