Tailoring data for coastal fishing
Inmarsat’s entry-level Fleet One satellite communications service has been developed to meet the needs of coastal operators who want to maintain cost efficient connectivity without the unpredictability of cellular coverage.
According to Inmarsat, service uptake is not just about technical innovation, as they have listened to the needs of smaller fishing vessel operators and devised airtime pricing plans reflecting those requirements. With Fleet One Coastal, which is available to vessels under 500gt in key coastal regions, Inmarsat does not commit owners to lengthy contracts, while occasional users can suspend services altogether out of season.
One of the satisfied customers using the service is Manuel Laranga Sanles, owner of fishing company Vidiña Pesca, which operates out of the town of Ribeira on the coast of Galicia in the northwest of Spain. Ribeira has been one of Spain’s most important shallow water fishing ports for two centuries. It is also close to Vigo, which receives landings annually totalling 800,000 tonnes and worth €1.5 billion.
Manuel Laranga has been fishing off the Galician coast for over a quarter of a century and much has changed in that time, not least in the level of regulatory controls, and for Manuel and his fellow fishermen going without access to reliable communications is simply no longer an option. Internet and email are indispensable working tools, and patchy, limited range marine radio and cellular networks are not up to the job.
He had been using various Inmarsat services on board his 28m trawler Rinchador for four years before Inmarsat introduced Fleet One as a more flexible, cost effective solution for seasonal low data users.
“We were looking for a terminal with enough bandwidth but with a lower monthly fee,” he explained. “I knew I wanted to stay with Inmarsat because of the reliability of the network and the wide range of terminals available.”
Local Inmarsat service provider Satlink SL installed the 32cm diameter antenna and compact below deck unit in February 2017, taking just a couple of hours, so there was no disruption to Rinchador’s fishing routine. With plug-and-play functionality, Manuel was instantly able to get back online, using Fleet One in a range of ways, from weather forecasting and routing apps to keeping up with emails and negotiating a better deal on a catch by contacting the market before returning to port at Riveira A Coruña.
Crucially, constant connectivity allows him to meet EU fisheries controls regulations requiring vessels to report catch, landing, sales and transhipment data. This is done through the electronic recording and reporting system. ERS rules now require that a daily catch estimate must be transmitted before a vessel docks.
It’s not just the skipper who benefits. For Manuel’s five-strong crew, having Fleet One on board means they are not out of touch from home for the long hours they are at sea.
“In addition to work applications such as weather forecasts or ERS transmission, relieving the isolation so often felt by seafarers is a key benefit of improved satellite communications,” said Javier Andrés Lois, regional sales manager for Satlink, which serves a large number of fishing vessel and fleet customers. For ease of use, Fleet One comes with built-in WiFi, allowing crew members to stay connected via smartphones and other devices. Security is maintained by an integrated firewall.
Until recently, access to satellite communications was affordable only to large commercial tonnage. In the fishing industry, it was mostly confined to deep-sea vessels. By allowing these boats to readily obtain the latest meteorological data and better manage their activities, electronic communication soon became an essential tool in day-to-day operation..
Advances in technology combined with greater bandwidth availability thanks to long-term infrastructure investments by satellite companies such as Inmarsat have made connectivity at sea more accessible and affordable than it has been at any point before in history. As an example, Inmarsat’s Fleet One delivers simultaneous voice and IP data at up to 100 kbps to vessels when they move outside MF/HF radio and GSM coverage. The service is delivered using the Inmarsat I-4 satellites over the world’s most reliable commercial L-band satellite network, maintaining over 99.9% availability. Fleet One also offers a lifeline in urgent situations in the form of Inmarsat’s 505 distress calling service.
“If the worst happens and they require emergency assistance, all they need to do is dial 505 free to get straight through to a Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre,” he said.
By avoiding worries about cellular coverage or network roaming charges, Fleet One has enabled Manuel Laranga to halve Rinchador’s monthly airtime bill on the prepaid plan while still accessing all the services he needs.
“I’ve not had any problems but I know Satlink is always available should I need support, and they have a good technical service distributors network all along the Spanish coast if I need spares,” he said. “For me, Fleet One is the perfect match between terminal and airtime cost and the quality and services available.”
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