While many boaters like the idea of being disconnected from everyday life and leaving their phones and internet connection behind for a few hours, there are times when having the internet on board your boat is a must. You might be planning to sail around the world, living on your boat, using it as a work space or wanting to host friends for a weekend on your boat. Whatever your reasons for needing to stay connected to the internet, there are a few internet for boats options available to owners. Here we take a look at the varying costs, connection speeds and methods available for how to get internet on a boat at sea.
1. Land-Based WiFi
This is the simplest and cheapest option for getting internet access on your boat when you’re visiting marinas or are cruising near to shore. The idea is straightforward, you simply tap into the WiFi offered by a marina, restaurant, cafe or hotel in the same way that you do when you are land-based. The pros are that it is often free (or included in the price of berthing) or rarely there is a small daily charge, and while download speeds can be hit and miss, for the most part they are usually usable and reliable.
The cons are that the signal is often weak or the network is overloaded by many people using the same service in which case you’ll need to invest in a range extender or a WiFi booster. They are relatively inexpensive and once installed in your boat can amplify the signal coming from on-shore networks to your boat. Some of the better ones can extend a router’s WiFi range by five miles or more if there is a clear line of sight. So you may even be able to use land-based WiFi when anchored off shore.
If you plan to rely on land-based WiFi then it’s always a good idea to do some research before setting on an extended cruise. Call ahead and ask marinas whether they offer WiFi and ask about bandwidth and coverage, and read reviews online to hear about other people’s experiences with their services.
2. Mobile/Cellular Hotspot
This option uses your mobile phone data package to hotspot to other devices on your boat such as laptops and tablets. There are a couple of ways you can do this, the first and most simple being to tether directly from your phone to a device of your choosing. Another option is to invest in a WiFi hotspot device which allows you to use your phone’s data allowance for several different devices. These are inexpensive and easy to set up.
To use hotspot tethering on your boat you’ll need to make sure that you have a good amount of data allowance with your contract or phone package, as downloads and surfing the web can easily use up large amounts of data, especially if it’s being used by lots of people and devices. You’ll also need to ensure that your specific phone provider offers signal in the areas that you will be cruising in. Unlike land-based WiFi, it’s possible to get mobile phone signal up to 10 miles off shore, but only if you have coverage. A good tip is to get a dual sim phone which allows you to have two sim cards from different providers. As no mobile providers offer perfect signal everywhere, having two different ones will double your chances of receiving signal when you’re cruising or even close to shore.
3. Satellite Internet
Our third option for getting internet on a boat is via satellite. When you’re far off shore and mobile hotspot won’t reach, your only option of staying connected is to invest in a satellite system. However, it’s not cheap to get satellite internet at sea, and the systems are complicated to install and usually found on larger superyachts and commercial boats. Expect a hefty layout for the initial set up and satellite, and further expensive data plans to keep you connected.
Satellite internet systems are evolving at a fast pace, and the age-old issue of needing a stable platform from which to operate a satellite antenna (difficult on a moving boat) are improving. Wind, rain and fog can also interfere with the signal, all hazards of being at sea. But while things are improving, there is still some way to go before affordable, reliable satellite internet is available on smaller boats.
Keep in Mind
While there are several good ways to get internet connection to your boat and be able to watch movies, listen to music, download files, send emails, share photos and keep in touch with people, your experience won’t be the same as it is when you’re at home and it’s difficult to get high speed internet on a boat. We easily get used to our lightning fast connection that we receive through our home routers or via 4G and 5G in areas of strong cell signal on land. With WiFi and mobile tethering, you will need to expect patchy signal and much slower download speeds. But it’s a small price to pay for the unforgettable experience of being out on the water and soaking up the joy of boating with your friends and family.
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