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Having Wi-Fi on a boat brings benefits such as using meteorological websites even when you are in the middle of the sea. Otherwise, when you leave the port you will only have the boat’s radio. In this article, we will tell you all you need to know about internet for boats.
 
A Wi-Fi connection on board provides a multitude of benefits, for example: access to meteorological websites to check the weather forecast for rain, temperature, swell, receive AIS data, send emails or obtain nautical information in real time. However, once you leave the port and disconnect from its Wi-Fi network, the options for having internet access in the open sea are reduced. Even so, there are options available. Here we will walk you through all the options, so that you can choose the one the best fits your needs. 
 

How to get Wi-Fi on a boat

There are various possibilities, however, none of these are possible without an adequate telecommunications system on the boat. This system is made up of the following elements: 
 
  • A strong Wi-Fi access point. This is the most important element of all. Its objective is to maximize the Wi-Fi connection for all the boats that connect to it (for example, the port’s Wi-Fi). It is capable of multiplying its range up to ten times.  
  • An omni-directional antenna. This stays permanently connected to the aforementioned Wi-Fi access point. It can face any direction, with the objective of capturing the signal. It is therefore necessary to install it on the ship deck.  
  • A wireless Wi-Fi router. This can be a conventional router, meaning one identical to those used in homes. It connects to the antenna using a Pol Ethernet cable and it distributes the Wi-Fi signal inside of the boat. Computers and mobile phones can connect to this during the voyage in order to use the internet.
 
This system’s advantage is that it not only allows you to continue enjoying internet access, even several nautical miles away from the nearest port, but also allows interconnectivity between devices onboard. This is possible since all the devices are connected to the same wireless router and it means that they can continue transmitting information to each other and can access information stored in other connected devices. 
 
Woman using a laptop on a boat
To get an internet on your boat, you need to have a good telecommunications system.
 

Is there an internet connection in the open sea?

 
Obviously, the further you sail from the coast, the more difficult it is to have an internet connection on your boat, and the options you can choose from will be significantly reduced. In fact, Wi-Fi boosters are installed by the main company operators of this service which are found on land and have a limited range of coverage. 
 
As we will see further on, there are various ways to extend this signal as much as possible. However, there will be a point where it is absolutely impossible to continue enjoying having an internet connection on board. In this case, the only alternative available is to rely on satellite internet equipment for boats. It will require special devices and it is a relatively expensive service which can only handle a reduced volume of data. Although, it can be very useful in the open sea. 
 
Making the most of the port’s Wi-Fi is an excellent way to enjoy Wi-Fi on your boat. In any case, it alone cannot provide you internet connection at all times. For that, you will need one of the following alternatives available:  
 

Use of mobile data

 
You have probably used your phone as a Wi-Fi router to give internet access to a friend or family member whose data plan had run out on at least one occasion. This is an alternative which most current devices allow and it can be very useful for browsing the internet in the open sea.  
 
Generally, the operators’ boosters give internet access several nautical miles from the coastline  to smartphones and tablets that have a data plan. If you do not often venture into the open sea, this could be a useful option. You only need to activate the option to convert your device into a Wi-Fi router to give coverage to the rest of the boat’s terminals. 
 
Pros
What are the advantages of using a mobile data plan to get internet access on your boat? Let’s take a look: 
  • Excellent coverage in areas near the coastline.
  • Very easy to configure and use.
  • It does not require installation of other amplifying equipment.
  • It is possible to give coverage to a large number of devices.
  • Good browsing speed.
 
Cons
Nevertheless, this system also comes with a series of disadvantages that should be mentioned. Only then can you find the option that suits you best: 
  • It relies on the boosters on land and therefore does not provide internet access in the open sea.
  • High consumption of mobile data. If you do not have an unlimited data plan, you will quickly use it up, no matter how big the plan. This could mean that later you would have to pay additional charges in your phone bill.   
  • The connection is not the most reliable. 
  • The devices that are connected must be close to one another. In general, the range of coverage is around 10 metres.  

 

Man using an iPad on a boat
This is an alternative which most current devices allow and it can be very useful for browsing the internet in the open sea.  

 

Installation of equipment 

 
Previously, in the section titled “How to get Wi-Fi on a boat” we explained the necessary elements for using a wireless connection to the port once you have sailed away on your boat. These elements being: a strong Wi-Fi access point, an omni-directional antenna and a Wi-Fi router. 
 
Pros
Choosing this system will also bring you a series of undeniable benefits:
  • The internet connection will be free of charge. In general, connecting wirelessly to the port does not bear any costs for those who dock their boats there. 
  • A sufficient bandwidth to satisfy all the boat’s needs. 
  • The equipment is not overly pricey and once it is installed it has limitless usage.  
  • It requires very minimal maintenance and technical knowledge. 
  • It is very easy to install.
 
Cons
Now for the disadvantages of choosing this internet connection system for your boat: 
  • The network is usually saturated. Remember you are not the only one connecting to the port’s Wi-Fi. Lots of other boat owners also use it and it is therefore not uncommon to be left without bandwidth at any given time.
  • You will need to reconnect each time. If the connection is unstable and the device disconnects from the network, you will have to manually reconnect to it. 
  • It is prone to errors. Unfortunately, these internet connections are often not well maintained and tend to fail regularly.  

 

Satellite internet for boats

 
The last alternative left to mention is how to install satellite internet. This is actually the only option that will give you internet access in the open sea from any part of the world, given that its operation does not rely on boosters on land, but on satellites which orbit the Earth. 
 
But how can you get satellite internet? The first thing you have to do is to sign up to a plan with a company that provides this service. We will take a look at a few of these companies later on. However, on top of this, you will need compatible devices, for example, satellite telephones and internet signal boosters for satellites.   
 
Pros
In summary, satellite internet for boats brings the following benefits: 
  • Internet access from any part of the world, including the open sea.
  • Lots of compatible equipment with this system.
 
Cons
It is important to remember that this method also has certain issues: 
  • It is quite an expensive service.
  • You need to buy specific equipment.
  • The bandwidth available is very reduced.
  • The devices should be permanently facing the satellite that is providing the internet coverage.
  • Slow browsing speed. 

 

Laptop with open browser in front of a boat
This is actually the only option that will give you internet access in the open sea from any part of the world.
 
Wi-Fi On Board offers Wi-Fi routers, antennas and boosters for both larger sea-faring boats and smaller in-land waterway boats as well as for motorhomes. Their products range from USB Wi-Fi antennas for PC and MAC suitable for a single device to a 4G Router with Twin High Gain Antenna that allow up to 64 devices to connect. 
 
In our opinion, digitalyacht.co.uk is a great option. It uses equipment for internet connection on boats that is based on 4GConnect technology and allows access at a maximum distance of 9km from the coast. Additionally, the antennas and routers used have a range of up to 30 metres which make it a highly recommended option for relatively large boats.
 
More information on: Top 10 Boating Apps
 

 

Boats and Outboards Team
Published on 2021-04-13