Internet on board: how to connect in and offshore
This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)
A fast and reliable onboard connection is a major advantage for the modern sailor. Weather forecasts are available in real time and you can also work on board your boat.
This article explores the main connectivity options when sailing in- and offshore, in Italy and abroad.
Smartphone with SIM card to be used as hotspot
This is the cheapest and most convenient connectivity solution when sailing in-shore. Telephony service providers offer several Internet plans that make 3G or 4G surfing quite easy. Coverage often extends for several nautical miles from the shore, which allows for good connectivity during in-shore daily trips. A personal hotspot – a net for Wi-Fi data sharing between smartphones, tablets, laptops and other devices – can be created by almost all smartphones and service providers. More than one device can usually connect to the hotspot net.
When travelling to farther countries or crossing oceans, local SIM cards can be purchased in every single country, especially when you plan to spend a long time in every place you get to, provided that the local roaming provider accepts a marina or a hotel as local address. As usual among seafarers, ask for advice to those who have already visited the same countries, look for suggestions in online forums and ask mooring neighbours.
Another cheap solution is the purchase of an omnidirectional Wi-Fi antenna. This device connects to the Wi-Fi networks available in a range up to a couple of miles and therefore extends the regular connection capacity, which is usually limited to a few tens of metres. For an even more powerful signal, install the Wi-Fi antenna on an elevated spot of your boat: on the spreaders or on the backstay in sailboats, on the fly-bridge or on the antenna turret in motorboats. A modem located inside the boat receives the signal and sends it to the onboard devices for connection.
The Wi-Fi antenna allows for connection to password-free public networks located ashore. If you dock for a coffee or a beer, ask the bar or restaurant for their password so you can go on surfing when back aboard. But mind: remain nearby the network chosen, surfing while boating isn’t possible.
Here follow some options available on the market:
This plug-and-play device is simple to install and inexpensive. The CaptiFi antenna is powered by a 9.5-m long cable to be plugged into the USB port of your PC. Only 24 cm tall, CaptiFi connects to Wi-Fi networks up to a maximum range of 5 miles offshore.
The Rogue Wave antenna has a range of approximately 7 marine miles from the coast. Compact and easy to set up, when connected to a wireless router or computer by means of a single Ethernet cable, the Rogue Wave provides Internet connectivity with no need to install any software. The antenna has to be installed 4.5 to 7.5 metres above waterline.
This built-in router antenna provides long-range connection to Wi-Fi networks by simply installing it at about 1.2 to 2.4 metres above the deck. Unlike Rogue Wave, The Wirie eliminates the need for Ethernet cable: it allows all onboard Wi-Fi enabled devices to connect to the local Wi-Fi network.
It comes in two versions: The WirieAP+ – a simple Wi-Fi antenna with a range of 7.5 marine miles from the coast – and The WiriePRO – that integrates a 4G data modem allowing long-range connection up to 20 miles offshore. The WiriePRO support any standard format data connection.
Other 4G antennas include:
- Webboat 4G Plus, very powerful dual-SIM system provides connectivity to up to 32 devices.
- Wi.Boat, whose land Wi-Fi range is smaller (2 to 3 miles).
- Neptulink New Version, very compact.
- Hubba X4-Duo with dual SIM.
Apple SIM for iPad
An excellent and most convenient connectivity solution when sailing close to the shoreline both in Italy and abroad is to use an Apple SIM to create your personal hotspot. In this way a single SIM can be used in 180 countries – the Dominican Republic, the USA, Panama and Vanuatu among others – when embedded in or supported by your iPad. Once you enter a foreign territory, buy a local mobile data plan valid for the time you’ll sail within its borders via your iPad. This is an ideal solution for those skippers dreaming to sail around the world.
A sat phone is a must when you plan to sail offshore or in case of ocean crossing. Your family will follow your route, you will receive minimal messages from home and will also be able to download grib files needed to check the crucial marine weather forecasts. There are several models on the market but the Internet connection is so expensive that it is recommended to use data connection only to get information about navigation.
Iridium phone network consists of 66 cross-linked satellites covering the entire globe. Iridium offers several devices and data plans such as a weather package updated in real time. The SOS key, that all Iridium phones are fitted with, is a major feature.
This phone produced by Garmin uses Iridium’s powerful worldwide network to send emails, texts and communicate on the social media. InReach features an SOS key for distress calls developed in collaboration with GEOS. In addition to the most convenient data plans, inReach proposes its own offer of marine weather forecasting service.
Second only to Iridium and launched to offer offshore communication, Inmarsat sat phones feature global coverage (poles excluded) as well as performance and operating costs similar to Iridium’s. The company owns 13 satellites.
Globalstar coverage applies to the entire Northern hemisphere, Australia, Asia and South America. The company offers sat phones similar to those by Iridium and Inmarsat. Monthly or annual data plans are available at affordable prices.
Thuraya network enables coverage in Europe, Northern and Central Africa, the Middle East, India and Central Asia. The British company offers fixed and mobile sat phones as well as a wide data connectivity solution range.
For some time now, some satellite communication companies have been offering offshore connectivity via a 4G router that, no matter where you are, generates a Wi-Fi network you can connect to using your smartphone, computer or tablet. A data connection is expensive but some providers offer monthly plans at reasonable prices for those who cannot do without.
Here are some providers of satellite Wi-Fi services:
- Iridium – Iridium Go! is the most popular device. Small and lightweight, it allows you to stay connected anywhere you travel. Iridium Go! has an SOS function. Download the dedicated apps to stay connected on your favourite devices.
- Inmarsat – IsatHub is very similar to Iridium Go! and is accessed from your smartphone through the control app. It features no SOS key but connection to the Wi-Fi network is possible from PC.
- Globalstar – SatFi2 is a compact satellite hotspot for connection of several devices. Integrated SOS function.
- Thuraya – two fast-connection models are available, both are easy to install and need only one cable.
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