Staying in Touch with Family while Underway

How often can you contact your family on a typical 4 month tour on an MSC ship? Some guy told me you can email everyday and another said its very limited. Can you use skype while underway? If so, how often?

I have a little girl and I would like to be very involved with her even though I am far away.

Thanks in advance!

This can get tricky. Officially MSC has email and Internet on all it’s ships. In reality it is not so clear.

WWW: On most MSC ships you have a white-listed Internet. You can get to your bank or mortgage company, for example, but high bandwidth sites like Facebook or skype is blocked. Most MSC uses commercial satellites and they do this to keep costs down.

On the AKE class you have unblocked Internet. The problem is that the AKEs piggyback off the USN birds so USN controls the bandwidth. On deployment a total Internet and email outage lasting weeks is common. The Arabian area (with lots of USN ships) is notorious for AKEs going dark.

Email: You must use your (or similar) account to receive email. You will not be able to access your personal email from the ship. Email attachments are limited in size. Usually this is 1 or 2 MB. So a few photos are ok, but a video will bounce. Again, as long as you are not on an AKE your email will almost always work.

Telephone: Some ships have a single public line to make calling card phone calls with. Many do not. In an emergency you can make calls threw the radio room with the captains permission.

Because off-ship comms is dependent on so many factors (ship class, captain, location, number of USN in the area) I personally do not count on it. I own an international cell phone (Verizon does not work well overseas), I have all bills set on auto-pay with my bank, and my family knows the only guaranteed way to reach me is with text messages and snail-mail. (I know many people roll their eyes at snail-mail but a hand written letter is priceless.)

More and more people are buying sat-phones for personal use. It used to be only officers but these days unlicensed will bring their own. It’s still uncommon. Inmarsat Satphone Pro is a good phone, cheap with Internet and text capabilities. You may be able to use a shipmates satphone if you pay them.

Of course when you go ashore you can usually contact family and friends but underway is real hit and miss. A cellphone (not Verizon) set up for international calling and the old fashioned snail-mail will be your best bet.

Good luck.

Thanks Deck Ape,

I’m a long way from getting on a boat but I want to start preparing. The information you provided is very helpful. I will look into getting a sat phone or cell phone.


Get a cell phone service that can be used to tether your cell phone to your laptop so you can go online with your laptop using the cell phone as the modem. Works great when the ship is inport to acess anything you want on the WWW while sitting in yoour stateroom. Fact is I use this method at home when my normal ISP goes down for some reason…
Go with someone like T-Mobile or another GSM cell provider, so when in other countries you can switch to a local SIM card in your cell phone and use the local system to go online and/or keeping in touch with new foreign “friends”; it’s another option along with having an international service from your USA cell provider.

As a general rule, while at sea, daily Emails to/fm family with caveats (i.e. there are a limited number of terminals available and bandwidth is limited, so some ships have to time-share the bandwidth) is very possible. Telephone contact thru the ship is possible on some ships depending on the ship’s set-up and policy. There are other limitations such as EMCON conditions, etc. but for the most part, daily Emails are very doable. What become more difficult is large sized attachments (pictures, etc), which will be stripped from the Email if it is too large. As mentioned above, in port, cell phones work great! Also in port, many people use skype from a hot-spots.

I can’t speak to MSC in particular, having never worked with them, however I have spent a fair bit of time working as a contractor in various spots on the globe. Some were even pleasent…

At any rate, I wound up going with a sat phone with Iridium service. The equipment can be a bit pricey, but the service costs me $40 a month, and about a buck a minute. I can’t count the times it has pulled my bacon out of the fire, both onboard and ashore. (Trying to get plane tickets sorted out with the client in a backwater airport serving the middle of nowhere comes to mind) Even working locally in the GoM now, it stays in my bag for cheap insurance.

Good luck out there.