Written by: Amanda Borroughs and Andrew Holland
It remains a romantic thought for liveaboard voyagers to set sail after retirement; to turn off their cell phone and ignore emails, however, innovations in internet connectivity options are opening doors for sailors who desire a life at sea much sooner while continuing their careers.
One potentially transformative program initiated in mid-February of 2018 when SpaceX launched two satellites, Microsat-2a and 2b, into orbit as the first of a planned 4,425 satellites that will one day provide a global internet network.
How would this impact a sailor’s life?
With remote employment becoming more common and many businesses having the flexibility that never requires an employee to walk into the office, setting sail and working from sea becomes a real possibility with improvements in global networks. These innovations would allow sailors to earn a salary to support his or her living, even while underway or in the most remote parts of the planet.
Internet availability on a boat is not a new concept, and while this is a possibility in today’s world, substantial internet connection prices, poor quality, and limited competition where there is no cap on what companies can charge per bit can make the dream of embarking sooner unrealistic for most voyagers. Most providers today relay connections from around 20,000 miles above Earth leading to very low bandwidth speeds, especially on boats that are constantly moving as satellites remain stationary. Even those with closer options do not have satellites with enough global reach to offer better service.
Currently, companies use a similar system to sell the same product – be that slow-speed internet connections at high prices. The initial price tag for a dish or modem can run anywhere between $1,500 to $50,000 and unless a sailor is willing to pay additional $1000’s per month for video chatting, working from sea has not been a realistic option for most professions.
Sample of hardware and plan options currently available:
What’s different about the SpaceX program?
Elon Musk’s plan for SpaceX would initially orbit 4,425 satellites between 600 and 800 miles above the planet, followed by a secondary fleet of 7,500 orbiting around 200 miles up. The sheer number of connections would eliminate lag speeds that currently plague boaters at sea as they move away from the nearest satellite. The increase in volume of satellites would allow boaters to bounce stronger signals from their current satellite connection to the next closest satellite as they continue to move around the world.
The increase combined with the intercommunication of inner and outer satellites would increase internet speed, as there would be closer options for dishes to connect with and more reach from the satellites that are further from Earth.
Think reliability and speed in cell phone connections in 1998 as it compares to 2018. The performance improvements in cell phone speed and coverage were directly related to an increase in the number of cell phone towers around the world, and that same logic would apply to the coverage and speed of satellite connections with an increase in satellites and bringing the connection closer together. The promise from the program is for speeds available up to 1Gbps, and while there is little known about plan prices, SpaceX told the Wall Street Journal that the company anticipates 40 million customers by 2025 that would lead to around $30 billion in total revenue. There are also other companies, such as OneWeb and Boeing that are hoping to launch similar satellite programs and the increase in competition should impact the market price for most other services that are currently offered to boaters as well.
What does this have to do with the sailboat market?
Not all sailors would enjoy or have the option of working out of an office setting. However, with the increase in the number of remote employees and virtual offices that many companies now offer, coupled with technological advancements the dream to set sail sooner than one might have previously envisioned is realistic possibility now more than ever. Some people live to sail, and as technology advances, it’s possible that there could be an increase of liveaboard sailors after 2020 who work as they explore. Only time will tell, but at this point it’s a matter of when these innovations occur, not if. There are many perks coming with the SpaceX program, though ignoring your cell phone and ignoring your emails may no longer be one of them.