Boat WiFi Options for When The Fish Aren’t Biting

Boat WiFi Options for When The Fish Aren’t Biting


Whether it’s a quiet day on the water, your boss is expecting you to reply to an email or the kids are b-o-r-e-d, WiFi is becoming a need rather than a want.

There are three main ways you can connect to WiFi on board:

-Using marina WiFi

-Satellite internet

-Amplifying cellular data

Each way has its own pros and cons, and they wont all work every time. If you are unsure which option suits you, contact Marine Services to find a supplier in your region and they can advise what will be best for your needs.

Marina WiFi

This is the cheapest and easiest way to connect to the internet on board your boat. Most marinas have WiFi available, and you simply connect like you would any other network. You have to be close to get the signal, or else you can invest in a WiFi antenna/ extender. However, even a good quality extender will be prone to interference from weather conditions and if there are other boats between you and the original hotspot.

To set up you on-boat system, buy a long range WiFi receiver. ‘Wave’ is a great brand and has been developed specifically for use on boats in the marine environment. The entire range is highly sensitive and has strong transmitter output power- a great start. If you are planning for more than one person to use the connection, you’ll need a router connected to the booster.

But what if you’re out at sea for days without returning to a harbour?

Amplifying an existing cellphone data connection

Once you’re out of range of the marina, there is another option for on-boat WiFi. You can switch your phone over to a data plan, and then use a cellular booster to increase the signal strength further. This will often be adequate up to 10km from shore, depending on where the cellular towers are on the mainland.

While that’s fine for one person, if there are many people on the boat who need access to the internet, you’re going to need to either make your phone a hotspot so that people can share, or get a separate sim card or dongle in a modem.

The best option is likely going to be buying a new SIM card with a data only connection. Then, get a modem that can read SIM cards. A marine cellular antenna will help to better receive the signal, while a cellular signal amplifier makes the cell signal stronger.

Try something like this Cellutronics marine antenna AMA1-5. Covers all 2G, 3G and 4G bands, and has a multi angle base and stows away quickly and easily. It works with Vodafone, 2Degrees and Spark. It provides a 20x signal gain with a compatible direct connection device. It’s made for marine use with water resistant stainless hardware and a robust design.

Once you have the amplifier, find a modem that works with both the SIM and the antenna. This Robustel R2000 is an industrial strength router designed for a challenging environment where remote internet access is required. It has dual SIM across all networks and supports DDNS and VRRP.

Once this system is in place, you can happily access the net from most bodies of water in New Zealand as well as most coastal areas. However, once you leave land, you’re leaving the cell signal behind.

Satellite data

If you are not planning to stay at a marina and you’re venturing further from shore than a phone signal will reach, then the only way to get internet is by satellite. The reason that most people don’t do this is that it’s expensive.

Your first option is setting up a BGAN- Broadband Global Area Network. It’s basically creating a portable hotspot on a device, which then connects to a device via Bluetooth, ethernet cable, or USB. Generally, a more expensive terminal will result in a faster connection speed. You can get a prepaid data plan that costs about $5- $10 a megabyte, so perhaps streaming Netflix isn’t a wise thing to do in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

The second option is a satellite dish, which will cost anywhere between NZ$1000 and $50,000, and the monthly costs can be substantial. For instance, 464 kbps connection can cost anywhere between $60- $995 a month for the connection, and a NZ$17,000+ dish! If you are not using data regularly then this isn’t a good choice, but if you have a luxury yacht with extravagant-budget-guests, this is what you need- just expect monthly costs upward of $2,500!

The third option is a small system like IsatHub or Iridium Go. Cheap data makes this a viable option, but it’s not great for high data use, instead, it’s more for researching what the weather is going to do or a little internet browsing. It’s a small box that looks like a radio and only costs around $1000 - $1500. There’s a monthly fee plus data and calling costs.

There are a variety of options but for most recreational boaties, using a marina is going to be enough. Besides, isn’t the whole point of going on a boat to get away from the work, the internet and the real world? If you think you may need some help installing WiFi on your boat, check out our Marine Services Electronics category. For verified experts in all things electrical.

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