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Connected on Board: How to get and improve WiFi at sea

It’s really no longer a luxury to be connected–it’s pretty close to a necessity. Even when you put out to sea, whether for an afternoon cruise or a multi-port voyage into new waters, you need to be connected to the Net, to your email and text messages, to your music, to your friends, family and business associates.

There are basically three ways to get connected: pick up a signal from your marina or another land-based WiFi source; use the connectivity from your cellular phone; or install your own satellite connected marine WiFi network. 

Marina Hot Spot. 

This is the easiest way to get connected, but it has its limitations. Your marina may not have the best WiFi connections and there’s not much you can do about it. Also, connecting to a marina or other land-based source has one big problem: when you cast off and head out to sea, the strength of the connection quickly erodes. 

You can buy a marine WiFi antenna or extender which will help keep your boat connected to the land-based WiFi hot spot for up to several miles. But you need to be in line-of-sight with the signal origin. So motoring into the next bay or inlet may cut off your signal. That’s when the kids start complaining!

Products like the Shakespeare WiFi2 WebWhip (about $309), the Wave WiFi Rogie Pro (about $439) or the Wave EC Extended Range (from $1,879) are antennas that are installed on your boat and boost the range of shore-based WiFi signals.

Use Your Cell Phone. 

Option 2 is to use your cell phone’s Internet connections, which usually work as far as 8-10 miles offshore. This assumes you have a data/LTE plan for your phone.

There are some drawbacks here, too. You might need to add a new line to your phone plan and use the SIM card from that line to plug into a modem that can read SIM cards. Or, you might need to purchase a marine cellular antenna to boost signal reception and an on-board signal amplifier.

Digital makes a four-foot dual band cell antenna (about $250) that will bring in a strong signal. The Shakespeare SuperHALO Cellular booster kit (around $1,089) is a marine grade 2G, 3G, 4G and LTE voice and data cellular reception solution. Its 5-band compatibility makes it compatible with AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon networks. Plug your microSD card into the Netgear AirCard 340U USB Modem (around $100) and you can get download speeds of around 100 Mbps.

Marine Satellite Service. 

If your cruising habits and boat use take you out of range of the other two methods above, you might consider investing in your own boat-based satellite connections. This can get pricey, but it is the most reliable way to stay connected at sea.

You can find systems from Raymarine, KVH, Inmarsat, Furuna amd Iridium that can be installed on your boat. You will need a marine satellite dish (prices start at around $1500) and lots more internal equipment. Most sat systems are provided with a monthly lease or operation fee.

If you’re interested in exploring your options for an on-board WiFi system for your boat, please call our stop in to our Service Department. We will explain all the options and help you find the best solution to your connection needs.