Are Cell Phones Allowed on Oil Rigs: Rules?

In this article we will explore everything about using cell phones and computers on offshore oil rigs, including where they are allowed, do oil rigs have WiFi, whether you can Facetime and how far offshore cell phones work:

For the most part, personal cell phones and computers are only allowed to be used in a designated safe space within the oil rig.

Typically, that safe space is the living quarters, but it could vary depending on the design of the oil rig.

Using electronic devices outside of these spaces can be incredibly dangerous.

So if you want to learn all about how phones and computers can be used on offshore oil rigs, then you’re in the right place.

Let’s get into it!

What Is an Offshore Oil Rig?

Oil and gas drilling rig where cell phones are typically not allowed.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, let’s talk about offshore oil rigs for a moment.

These are large structures, situated in the ocean, that are designed for the express purpose of extracting oil from the ocean bed.

They’re usually 100 miles (160 km) or more from the shore.

Typically, to get to the rig, you have to take a boat or a helicopter, so they’re not exactly easy to reach.

And, because they extract oil, they can be rather dangerous places.

Considering all of that, most oil rigs have strict rules regarding the use of personal electronics while you’re there.

Ultimately, each rig will set its own rules, but they tend to follow the same themes, and that’s what I’m going to discuss today.

Are Cell Phones Allowed on Offshore Oil Rigs? (3 Things)

Worker in protective safety jumpsuit using a digital tablet on oil rig that does have WiFi but does not allow cell phones in most areas.

When it comes to personal phones, there’s basically one rule. 

Cell phones are absolutely not allowed on oil rigs except in designated spaces.

In most cases, living quarters are the designated safe space, but depending on the rig, the safe space could be somewhere else.

There are a few reasons for this, the largest of which is that phones are a fire hazard on oil rigs.

I’ll take you through those reasons individually, but the general lesson here is simple.

If the phones are allowed at all, they cannot leave the designated space.

How do you get the phones to the safe space in the first place?

For starters, phones have to be completely turned off before you get to the rig.

In many cases, they’re actually locked in boxes that protect against fire danger.

Once the box makes it to the living quarters (or other space), then the phones can be retrieved, but they cannot leave that area unless they’re powered off and in the safe-transport container.

That covers the golden rule, but we really need to explore why this rule is in place.

#1 Fire Hazards of Phones Allowed on Oil Rigs

Fire on flare at oil and gas central processing platform.

The primary reason for strict rules regarding personal electronics comes down to the issue of fire.

You’ll see this again when I talk about laptops, but oil rigs have abnormal levels of fire danger.

Let’s put this in perspective.

Oil rigs mine oil.

Oil is something we burn to power . . .well . . .everything.

The point is that oil is quite flammable.

More importantly, removing oil from the earth releases a bunch of gasses, and many of them (most notably methane) are also flammable.

If you’ve ever seen an oil field on land, you might have noticed that a bunch of the small rigs have plumes of flame.

That’s because they’re burning off the excess flammable gasses that come up with the oil.

An offshore oil rig runs into the same issue.

Extracting oil releases a bunch of flammable gasses, and it’s hard to control those gasses.

As a result, personnel on the rigs have to be extremely careful in how they deal with fire, and that means that personal electronics, especially cell phones aren’t allowed anywhere on the oil rig except in special, designated safe areas.

The simple act of a cell phone trying to establish a connection can put enough energy into the air to spark the flammable gasses and cause a genuine catastrophe on the rig.

So, the most important rule about personal phones is that they are only allowed in designated areas. Otherwise, the whole rig can go boom.

#2 Distractions from Cell Phones Allowed on Oil Rigs

Young smiling engineer talking  on smart phone on an oil platform

Let’s imagine for a moment that there was a modern phone that was safe to use on an oil rig.

Such a phone doesn’t really exist, but if it did, it would still be banned from most places on an offshore rig.

That’s because phones can be distracting.

If you’ve ever had a job, you already know.

People find opportunities to sneak a look at their phones pretty much all the time.

When your job consists of mopping floors, sneaking a few glances at the phone probably won’t hurt anyone.

But, when you’re working on an oil rig, you’re in a dangerous environment, and pretty much every job on the rig is tied closely to safety.

If workers are distracted at all, it can be a major problem.

So, even a safe phone would be a problem in most cases on an oil rig, and it’s another reason why phones are banned from the rigs (except in designated spaces).

#3 Secrets

operator recording operation of oil and gas process at offshore oil rig in an area that does not allow cell phones.

Here’s something you might not know.

Cameras are also largely banned from oil rigs.

Now, part of that is because your average camera is just as much of a fire hazard as any phone, but there’s a little more to it.

There actually are cameras that are designed to operate safely on oil rigs, and they’re important for specific tasks.

But, the cameras are closely watched, and that’s because there are a lot of secrets on an oil rig, and those secrets are important.

Probably the main reason why cameras are so closely watched is that oil rigs are a high-value target for terrorists and foreign attacks.

If you want to bring a country to its knees, knock out its sources of oil.

Because of that, the precise location of oil rigs is often hidden, and you’re not allowed to take pictures (for the most part) on oil rigs.

Any of that information could get out and be dangerous.

Beyond that, oil production companies are in fierce competition with each other, and they might have secrets aboard their rigs that they want to protect.

All of this is to say that on top of safety concerns, phones are closely regulated to protect secrets on an oil rig.

What Are the Rules About Personal Computers on Offshore Oil Rigs? (3 Orders)

laptop and blue safety helmet on wood table at an oil rig offshore

That covers phones.

Are personal computers very different?

Largely, personal computers follow the same golden rule.

If they’re allowed at all, you can only use them in designated spaces—usually the living quarters on the oil rig.

A lot of the reasoning is the same, but it’s not exactly identical.

After all, there are work computers on most oil rigs.

Also: Here’s how to ask for a new laptop at work.

Those computers are designed to operate safely, given the circumstances, and they’re still important.

So, computers can be safe on an oil rig.

Despite that, they’re banned from the vast majority of places on the rig.

#1 Fire Again

offshore oil rig at Cook Inlet, Alaska

The primary reasoning still ties back to fire dangers.

I mentioned that there are specific computers that can function safely, but they are specially designed and built.

Your average personal computer is a huge fire risk on an oil rig.

In fact, it’s substantially more dangerous than a phone in this regard.

This is because computers generate more energy, and their batteries are larger.

Any way that a phone could spark a fire, a computer could do it 10 times over.

So, yeah.

Computers are completely forbidden outside of designated safe spaces.

#2 Practicality

offshore oil and gas industry

Aside from that, there’s another reason that you don’t want personal computers in random places on an oil rig, and that comes down to practicality.

A lot of oil rig work is very physical, and the space on the rig is pretty tight in a lot of places.

So, you don’t really have the room and freedom to leave laptops lying around all over the place.

It really doesn’t make sense to ever have a personal computer outside of the living quarters.

If a certain aspect of work requires a computer, it will be a specialized device provided for the worker.

Even disregarding safety, it’s a weird idea to take your personal computer around on an oil rig, so it’s not really allowed.

Do Allowed Cell Phones and Computers Work on Offshore Oil Rigs? (2 Aspects)

engineer working on electronic devices

If your phone won’t work, why even bring it?

There are two aspects to this.

Personal devices will work to some extent on an oil rig.

Typically, you have the means to power the devices.

But, we’re talking about offshore oil rigs, so connecting your devices with the internet or other devices can prove tricky.

Allow me to really break this down and help you see whether or not the devices are even worth bringing in the first place.

#1 Cell Phones Allowed on Oil Rigs

male technician or engineer on a phone call

Phones usually have very limited functionality on an offshore oil rig.

There are a couple of things to know.

First, most offshore rigs are far outside of the range of any cell towers.

Because of that, the phones cannot send calls or texts in normal ways, and they cannot connect to cellular data networks.

Sure, you can pre-download some media on your phone, and that will work fine on the oil rig, even without wifi.

After all, the rigs do have electricity to power the phone, but without connectivity, phones are a lot less useful.

That said, some oil rigs do have internet connectivity and WiFi.

It doesn’t run through cellular networks.

Instead, offshore oil rigs tend to favor satellite internet.

If a oil rig has satellite internet, then you might be able to connect your phone to that wifi network and you could potentially connect with family over Facetime.

You can basically use your phone in WiFi mode in that case on the oil rig.

So, it can work, but it’s never going to have full functionality.

#2 Computers on Oil Rigs

A pair of offshore oil wells off the coast of california

Personal computers are actually a little more functional than phones on an oil rig.

For starters, a computer can connect to the same wifi network as a phone, so if the oil rig does have internet access, your computer will work just fine with it (although oil rig internet can be pretty slow at times). You may even be able to Facetime on the oil rig.

On the other hand, personal computers tend to offer a lot more when there is no internet access (as compared to phones).

You can download a bunch of movies to the computer before you go to the rig, and that helps you pass downtime.

You can also install offline games and other sources of entertainment.

In that way, a personal computer might be a better thing to bring than a phone.

Of course, it still depends on the specific rules of the rig, but it’s something to consider.


  • Yukio McDonough

    Yukio McDonough, co-founder of TechWithTech, combines his expertise in audio engineering and tech entrepreneurship to lead a tech blog dedicated to offering actionable tech advice. After success in tech repair and IT with Tech Medic, he now aims to make TechWithTech a top source for understanding and leveraging technology to enhance daily life.

    View all posts