Starlink at sea: all change for cruisers 

Starlink, Elon Musk’s low orbit satellite network which delivers low cost high speed internet via a portable dish, has shaken up its offering for cruising sailors and other broadband users at sea. Starlink has been hailed as a game-changer by many adopters. Since its launch just two and a half years ago, its coverage has expanded rapidly and many cruisers crossing the Atlantic last season reported full service mid-ocean. Even cruisers in remote Pacific regions have been reporting excellent connectivity while at sea. In March this year, four American sailors were rescued after their yacht Raindancer sank mid-Pacific in what may well be the first Starlink-enabled rescue. While the conventional rescue communication protocols worked effectively, their rescue was accelerated by the fact that several other yachts on the route were made aware of their plight from browsing Facebook while online, and a Whatsapp group was set up to help coordinate their rescue among boats with fast connectivity (see June issue of Yachting World for the full story). However, most recreational sailors have been using Starlink Roam, previously known as Starlink RV (‘recreational vehicle’) – a plan designed for those in touring vehicles, off grid cabins etc, who needed connectivity whilst stationary – and, critically, on land. The original dedicated Maritime version was designed for commerical use, with subscription initially costing around £5,000 per month. Numerous Facebook groups sprang up, populated with instructions on how to ‘hack’ the standard Starlink dish to improve its connectivity on a moving yacht, though Starlink contracts always made clear that using a modified stardard dish and Roam connection whilst sailing was in breach of its warranty and terms of service. However, over the past couple of week cruisers have been receiving emails from Starlink notifying them that the company is cracking down on this usage: “Your Starlink has been used in areas that violate the terms and conditions of your service plan: your plan does not include service on the ocean. Starting as early as May 9th, 2023 you will be unable to connect to the internet on the ocean except to access your Starlink account where you can make updates to your account.” The message then went on to recommend users change their service plan to one of their new, more expensive, ‘Mobile Priority’ plans (though considerably less than the previous Maritime plan). It’s important to note that this crack down is not a change to Starlink’s usage permissions, the company is only enforcing its existing terms and conditions. The notifications prompted a flurry of discusssion on the many Starlink user groups, with some joking that it ‘felt like Y2K all over again’, and concerns that connectivity would be cut off instantly at 0000hrs on May 9 (that wasn’t the case, although some customers have received repeated emails and connectivity warnings). Starlink at sea Starlink maps service areas into 15 mile cells, shown on its service maps as blue and black hexagons, determining whether that area is ‘land’ or ‘ocean’, marked in ‘blue’ and … Continue reading Starlink at sea: all change for cruisers