As unrelated as it might seem, boating increasingly demands connecting to this virtual reality. Going on a cruise with family makes it more of a necessity than a luxury. There are ways however, to retain access to YouTube, Twitch, and your Netflix subscriptions while sailing. The solutions mostly depend on price range and your specific situation, but there is guaranteed to be a solution tailored to you.
Staying connected at sea with full internet capable of streaming movies and shows, with one of three main options:
- Marina WiFi
- Amplified cellular data
Option #1 – Marina WiFi
For those sailing close enough to shore, a fairly common option is to use WiFi provided at most marinas. This option is also the least expensive of the three. The first thing you need to know however, is that signal quality is highly variable.
Another issue with marina WiFi is that even at maximum signal strength, the quality rapidly diminishes as one pull away from the shore. There is a WiFi booster antenna (extender) though that can help retain the signal strength for longer.
Not all WiFi extenders are made equal, so the distance you experience over which the signal can be strengthened may differ from the manufacturer’s claims. A combination of strong WiFi signal, excellent weather conditions, minimal interference, and a direct-line-of-site are often important to attain the manufacturer’s claimed distance. That said, extenders would generally improve WiFi signal range greatly even if there are any variations between distances claimed and the actual range experienced.
There are popular models of marine WiFi booster antennas and extenders and setting them up ordinarily requires a good deal of technical sophistication, especially now that it’s a boat environment. This means extra equipment might be required for a complete installation. The basic equipment remains the same anyway.
Option #2 – Amplified cellular data
It is possible there’s no WiFi available. There is no need to get too anxious. Your cell phone company will likely offer a data/LTE (Long Term Evolution) plan. Simply switch to that and boost the signal further. Your mobile internet is available on your boat for as much as 8-10 miles away from the shore.
The required tools to set this up includes:
- SIM card – Often available from the cell company. You will need a data plan for your needs. Some cellphone companies offer regional data plans, so it may be wise to purchase a SIM for the area in question. Others offer international data plans and rates.
- Modem to read the SIM card
- Marine cellular booster antenna for improved signal reception
- Cellular signal amplifier to amplify signal strength
Concerning SIM cards, many companies provide international SIM cards usable globally. Purchasing local SIM cards may be more cheaper and provide superior service quality. As you switch between areas, you can swap them out of your modem for better service.
Unlocked modems that can read SIM cards for more carriers (cell phone companies) are usually preferable, especially if visiting various regions. Unlocked modem versions are sold online.
Regardless of whether you use WiFi or a cell connection, a router is needed to “route“ the internet to your device. Many routers provide the option to switch automatically between WiFi and cell connection, whichever is available. Priority is however given to WiFi.
Using a router, you can bring WiFi and cell data internet on one module and transmit the signal to your devices. Once you rein in the signal from either WiFi or cell data booster antennas and convert properly, a router is the means through which you will share this signal to all your devices on-board.
Option #3 – Satellite
If you are close enough to shore, the previous two options – marina WiFi and cell data, with appropriate equipment – will suffice. But knowing your knack for adventure, you’d soon be cruising beyond 10 miles away from shore. This is out of hotspot range and you will need to settle for satellite internet.
Satellite internet options are the most stable for boating purposes and are available in almost any location, but the biggest snag is the heavy price tag. No other option comes close at all. It is worth the expense if you can afford it though.
The satellite dish alone will set you back a minimum of $1,500, and in some cases up to $50,000. Monthly rates are equally high – a truly premium service at premium price. This article will help you compare marines satellite solutions and pricing.
A note on WiFi boosters
If you’re only using one laptop or desktop computer, simply boost marina WiFi signal with a signal booster made up of a waterproof high-gain antenna and a long cable, terminating in a USB connector. This takes priority over the PC’s internal Wi-Fi card once the USB is plugged in. You can select and connect to your preferred WiFi hotspot using the software user interface supplied with the antenna.
There are two variants of high-gain antennae – directional and omni-directional. The directional type often comes as a flat box holding a simple flat plate or two within. It can be inclined towards the preferred signal source, basically tuning it to the transmitter.
The omni-directional is often a tubular pole type and does not require any such alignment in any particular direction.
The equipment for on-board internet access like other marines services accessories can be readily purchased online. So, plan your cruise for wherever you want it to be and stay connected just like you were on land.
Article written by James