Survey of WiFi onboard ships in the Port of Vancouver April 2021


by Peter Smyth, Senior Port Chaplain, Mission to Seafarers, Vancouver

In April 2021, The Mission to Seafarers in Vancouver, BC undertook a small research project to determine what Internet needs seafarers had in the port.

The survey was conducted in conversation with seafarers on board 89 ships that visited the Port of Vancouver during the month. Ship visitors from the Mission to Seafarers and our ecumenical partners interviewed seafarers and recorded their answers. A representation of the diversity in the types of ships, seafarer nationalities, and positions onboard was reflected in the data.

Some of the key findings included:

  • Approximately 50% of the ships provided a WiFi Internet connection at no cost.
  • On container ships, our survey noted that the amount of free WiFi given varied from daily 2 – 3hrs or weekly 100MB – 500MB. On other types of ships, we had answers of monthly 400MB – 2GB of free WiFi.
  • When there was no free WiFi, but seafarers could buy it, it cost between $15USD – $20USD for amounts between 100MB and 1GB.
  • On about 1 in 6 ships, there was neither free Wi-Fi nor the option to buy any onboard.
  • An option in Vancouver and other ports is to buy SIM cards that seafarers purchase at home, from a business person onboard, the agent or the seafarers’ centre. (There was no data gathered on prices or MB/GB in other ports).
  • Most seafarers use text messenger apps like Messenger and WhatsApp mainly because of ease and cost. There are many different apps that are used: as one example, Chinese seafarers use primarily WeChat.
  • A number of seafarers commented that WiFi was slow and reception poor even when provided onboard and free.
  • In general, our survey found that the best ‘Free’ WiFi was found on tankers, then container ships and last, bulk ships.

This survey was conducted during a period of COVID-19 restrictions. It is anticipated that another survey ought to be deployed again when restrictions are substantially eased.

The mandate of the Mission to Seafarers in Vancouver is “to promote and provide for the spiritual, moral, physical and mental well-being of all seafarers and their families.” The Mission’s work is a ministry of ‘presence’ and ‘hospitality’ done by visiting seafarers on their ship, listening and letting them know we care, by providing welcome at seafarers’ centres. Providing free WiFi in our centres or on board ships – in partnership with the Vancouver Port Welfare Committee – fits neatly into our desire to help seafarers stay in contact with their families.

For more on the Mission to Seafarers Vancouver see:

Photo: Robert’s Bank seafarers’ centre – Mission to Seafarers Facebook


NAMMA members receive a print copy of The MARE Report, NAMMA’s annual magazines for seafarer’s welfare professionals