Phone on a ferryBBC Three

Data roaming at sea - don’t get caught out!

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Now, we all know that roaming charges for data, calls and text messages can be astronomical when we go abroad.

So we turn our roaming off and use WIFI or buy bolt-on travel packages so we can download data abroad for an affordable set price. Aren’t we all clever?

But lots of you have been shouting "Bills ahoy!" because it turns out if you travel by ferry on your hols, it’s not necessarily plain sailing when it comes to using your mobile phone.

Mark Stokes from West Yorkshire took a cross channel ferry a few months ago with Brittany Ferries. He knew he’d be using his phone, so paid £1.99 a day for a bolt-on package with O2. This allowed him to get all the data, minutes and texts he needed in Europe without being stung with a large bill. At least that’s what he thought. The following month he received a bill with a charge of £340. Mark says "I just didn’t understand how I’d incurred the extra cost. I’d paid extra to use my phone in Europe. The bill came as a complete shock. I paid extra for the bolt-on. Why did I get a massive bill?"

Mark got on the ferry at Plymouth and before he left the port, he downloaded some data onto his mobile phone. He did so in the belief that he was still in the UK and it wouldn’t be any different to downloading data had he been on dry land. Not quite the case.

Mark Stokes had a shock when he received this bill from O2.Mark Stokes

It turns out that ferries usually have their very own phone network, operated via satellite. So if your phone can’t connect to 2, 3 or 4G network it may seek out the satellite connection, which is much more expensive. The bolt-on tariffs like the one Mark bought from O2 don’t apply so he’s being charged at an international rate. Mark says:

"I had no idea I had been switched over to a different phone network. If I had known I was going to incur such high charges, I would have waited until I had got to France or found an internet café." He thinks more should be done to alert people to this problem and says he didn’t receive a text informing him of the charges.

And this isn’t just O2, we've had complaints across different mobile networks about high charges when you're sailing the open seas.

FerryBBC Three

Is data roaming about to get free across Europe anyway?

Well, the EU is set to ban all roaming charges within Europe from June 2017. But, after Brexit, we might be outside of this agreement. It’s unclear what will happen. Regardless, Ofcom, the telecommunications regulator, has made it clear that capping does not apply to ferries and cruises. So, even if you are cruising in European waters, you will be charged for rest of world rates. Bolt-on packages which apply to Europe will not be valid. See here for more details guide to using your mobile abroad.

How to avoid getting caught out at sea:

- Switch off your data roaming, unless absolutely necessary

- If you think you’ll need to use your phone at sea, check with your provider before you travel how much it will cost via a satellite connection

- Lots of ferry companies have free wifi - use it. If it’s not free, it’ll probably be cheaper than the satellite service

- Forget all about it. Turn your phone off. Enjoy the view. I know. Crazy

PhoneBBC Three

Brittany Ferries told us that while it is not responsible for charges set by phone network providers, it does make it very clear in guides handed to every customer on check-in, as well as on its website, that 'high data/call charges' will be incurred if they choose to roam. It adds that it also provides completely free-of-charge wifi on-board all ships for passengers to use during their journeys.

O2 disagrees with Mark and says that it does send text messages to let customers know the costs for calls, texts and data for the network they have roamed on to when aboard a cruise ship or ferry. To help keep control of mobile data costs, it recommends customers use the ship's wifi (where available) or switch off mobile data on their phone.

This article was first published on Wednesday July 6th, 2016