Does the thought of sailing around the world excite you? The thrill of exploring the ocean and the coastlines, island hopping, and living the life aquatic is enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
Being out on the water for a few days is fun, and it gives you a different perspective on life. Like trawlers and cabin cruisers, most liveaboard vessels come with all the comforts of home to make your time out on the water fly by.
However, you’re probably wondering if it’s possible to get WiFi while you’re on the boat? After all, there’s no internet connection around, right?
Sure, we get that being out on the water is supposed to give you time to unplug from the digital realm (most of us will be living in the Metaverse sooner or later) and connect with nature. Taking some time to relax and listen to the waves’ sounds and the ocean’s motion is a great way to take the edge off.
The reality is that we live in a hyper-connected world, and most of us can’t be away from our responsibilities for too long at any time. The internet not only keeps us connected to global events, but many of us use it for work and for communicating with family or friends.
There’s no reason that needs to stop when you’re on a boating trip.
Technology is amazing, and now you can get internet access from virtually anywhere in the world – even out on the water. You have several options for connecting to high-speed internet from your boat. This post unpacks everything you need to know about getting a WiFi connection to your boat.
Free WiFi at Marinas
Land-based WiFi networks offer you the most cost-effective and stable connection to the internet from your boat. Many marinas provide WiFi packages in their marina fees as part of your amenities and services for using the facilities.
However, the quality of the connection can vary. Some marinas advertise they offer free WiFi, which attracts people who overload the network. Or, the marina may have a low-grade connection and just use it as a marketing tool without providing a reliable, stable, high-speed connection.
It’s a good idea to call marinas and ask them about their WiFi services. Ask them about their bandwidth and line speeds and the quality of the service. Some marinas offer free WiFi, while others offer it for a small fee. Typically, you’ll find that the free services are garbage, but the paid services usually work very well, and they come at a reasonable cost.
If you find a marina offering a stable high-speed service, you might find you have problems with the connectivity range if you stay on the far side of the marina from the admin office holding the router modem.
If you’re struggling to get bars in the marina, then buy a WiFi extender. WiFi extenders or boosters amplify the signal coming from the router. This equipment helps you get a strong and secure signal from any nearby wireless network.
Some boosters extend your range by up to five miles, allowing you to stay connected during nearshore fishing and diving trips. There are several models of extenders available.
Some of our top choices include the Bearify Extender (retail price $55) or the KING KF1000 Falcon (retail price $400). Spend some time reviewing models online and choose the right one to suit your requirements.
The extender is easy to set up in a few minutes, and it works really well at boosting the nearest WiFi signals. Pick out the marina, and connect, just like you would using a normal internet WiFi connection.
- Extend Wi-Fi Coverage - Boost Internet Wi-Fi coverage up to 1200 square feet and connects up to 20 devices - Compatible with Wi-Fi Router, Gateway, Access Point (2.4GHz - 300Mbps ; 5GHz - 433Mbps)
- Eliminate Wi-Fi Dead Zones - Enjoy Lag-Free Connection to any type of devices, including wired devices via Fast Ethernet port. System Requirements - Microsoft Windows 98SE, NT, 2000, XP, Vista or Windows 7, 8, 10, Mac OS, NetWare, UNIX or Linux
- Stay Connected - Expand Wi-Fi Coverage for your Smart Phones, Smart TV, Fire Stick, Google Chromecast, Web Browsing, Alexa Echo, Ring and more
- Easy Set Up - 2 Simple taps and you are ready to connect, smart indicator light helps to install in best optimal location
- OneMesh Technology - Enables the creation of a OneMesh network for seamless roaming when paired with the Archer A7 Router (more devices to be updated in the future)
How to Live with a Limited Data Package
There’s always the option of purchasing a data package and using your mobile phone as a hotspot or investing in a 4G portable router. However, if you want high-speed wireless access through 4G networks, you’re going to have to pay for data bundles.
Mobile data is pretty expensive, and you get bundle options ranging from 2GB to 50GB and more. The bigger the bundle, the cheaper the data costs. Vodafone offers you a 50GB package for around $32 a month.
Living with limited data is challenging, especially if you’re used to an unlimited connection. The chances are that you don’t even know how much data you use every day. It might surprise you to learn that you’re using a lot more bandwidth than you think.
Today’s world of HD streaming and YouTube demands huge amounts of data.
How Much Data Do You Need?
You’ll have to decide how much data you need to get you through your time on the water. There’s usually not much to do after the sun goes down on the water.
If you want to retire to the berth and watch Netflix in HD, you’re going to have a heavier data requirement than someone that only wants to use it to check email, social media, and messages. Visiting 5,000 web pages uses around 500MB of data while streaming a movie in HD is around 4GB.
So, if you’re thinking about using mobile data to stream, you better have deep pockets, or you’re going to end up chewing up a 20GB bundle in a few days. Just one or two movies a night combined with browsing on your phone will be enough to deplete your bundle.
Everyone’s data needs are different depending on their work and need for a connection. 4G might be expensive, but it’s the best way to get high-speed access out on the water. If you’re wondering about 5G, most providers don’t cover the water with it yet, but it’s just a matter of time before the tech extends out onto the ocean.
It Pays to Shop Around
There are plenty of providers, and many offer discounted rates for larger data bundles. Compare the rates from the leading companies, and you’ll find the best value deal for your money.
Most providers offer subscription contracts for data, locking you into a certain usage per month, such as 20GB. If you go over this threshold, they don’t halt your account. They keep charging you at an out-of-bundle rate.
Unfortunately, that out-of-bundle rate is anywhere up to eight times higher than the rate you’re paying. As a result, you could end up exceeding your limit and receiving a nasty bill for overconsumption. Ensure you understand your data consumption and get the right subscription package to suit your needs.
4G Wireless Routers
When you’re purchasing your contract, the provider may include a free router in the deal to get you to sign with them. However, these routers are usually entry-level models. As a result, you don’t get the range and power you need for offshore use, miles out at sea.
Research your options for dongles, antennae’s or routers offering you the best antennae and range possible. It’s also critical that you check the provider’s coverage and check to see if they have cover out on the water where you like to go boating.
4G routers operate using the same SIM card as your phone. They connect directly to a service provider’s cellular network, giving you instant access to the internet. Most providers extend the range of their services out into the water for up to three to five miles, especially around cities, marinas, and ports.
4G mobile routers can cost anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on the quality and functionality of the device. We recommend researching potential models and speaking with a sales consultant before finalizing your purchase.
- Works with Major 4G providers. Insert a SIM card from AT&T, T-Mobile to get download speeds up to 150Mbps. Simply insert a SIM card and get all your Wi-Fi devices connected to the internet, very convenient for places where cable internet is unavailable, such as your holiday cabins or remote cameras. #Note:# This product only work for North America and South America, If you live in European, Africa, Asia, Middle East, please purchase on Amazon European.
- High Gain Antennas For Better Performance. The 4 x 5dBi high-gain antennas boost the sensitivity of the router, improve the signal quality of 4G LTE and Wi-Fi, which is conducive to establishing a Wi-Fi connection at a longer distance.
- Multiple VPN Clients. With built-in PPTP/L2TP/OpenVPN/WireGuard VPN Client, this 4G router can easily establish a connection to the VPN server to transport all your online data and traffic, securing it with its encryption at the same time. Compatible with 20 more DDNS providers, convenient to manage your remote cameras.
- Good Compatibility.Simply insert a BYOD (bring your own device) SIM card and get all your Wi-Fi devices connected to the internet, very convenient for holiday cabins and remote cameras.
- Easy and Security. Simply insert the SIM card in the router and type in the PIN in the web configuration page to start exploiting a stable and fast wireless. Provides an easy-to-use graphical management interface, easy to monitor and manage the network. Support DNS Encryption with Cloudflare or NextDNS or google, protect your privacy, prevents eavesdropping and manipulation of DNS data via man-in-the-middle attacks.
Booster WiFi Antennas
A top-end router has great standard antennae, but it’s probably not going to penetrate a steel hull. So, to compensate for the lack of signal in the vessel’s hull, you can install an external antenna onto the cabin.
These antennas supplement your router’s antennae, and they operate similar to the WiFi extender concept. You have two types of booster WiFi antennas available for your boat.
- The antenna extends your home WiFi signal to distant areas. Ideal outdoor WiFi Extender.
- IMPORTANT: This item can be hooked up only to routers with detachable rod antennas (or an external RP-SMA port).
- Great for Backyard Structures, Offices, Stores, Warehouses, Restaurants and other places
- Boosts WiFi signal to distant security cameras
- WiFi booster, WiFi extender
The directional antenna has a square, rectangular, or flat plate attached to a pole length. You’ll point the pole in the direction of the signal.
While these antennas are effective, they do have a drawback. The need to point the antenna in the direction of the signal means your connection cuts out when the boat drifts out of directional range.
This constant dropping of the connection gets annoying, especially in strong currents that may cause the boat to shift direction. They also tend to cut out when you’re on the way to your fishing spot or destination as the direction of the boat changes.
We recommend the Alpha APA-M25 Dual Band Antenna. This model comes with thousands of five-star reviews, and it has a user-friendly setup.
The omnidirectional antenna is the better choice for boats. This antenna picks up the incoming signal from any direction.
These antennas feature a tube-shaped design, and like the directional model, you’ll install it on the top of the cabin or captain’s cockpit. Connect the antenna to the router, and you have a stable, strong signal that works miles out to sea.
While we recommend using dedicated routers with omnidirectional antennas for your boat’s internet connection, it pays to have a backup plan. Fortunately, you can always turn to the mobile hotspot function on your cellphone if you need access.
However, without using the antennae to extend the signal range, you’ll have to be inside the provider’s coverage zone to get a connection. Providers differ in their coverage zones. So, it’s a good idea to check through the coverage area on the provider’s official website.
Look at the coverage on the water offered by other providers and choose a secondary provider offering your coverage in dead zones. You can keep a secondary dedicated device for use on the boat, with a dual-SIM setup allowing you to switch between providers when the coverage starts to dwindle.
Many providers offer you hotspot data plans for mobile tethering, so it’s another option for nearshore use or in the marina. A few providers still provide you with unlimited data plans for WiFi hotspot tethering.
AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and others have dedicated hotspot data plans available at 4G and 5G speeds. However, you’ll find that they cap your connection at around 30GB of consumption, so check the fine print before signing.
Calyx Institute offers an unlimited 4G LTE T-Mobile / Sprint hotspot plan that many travelers find appealing. This service bills you annually, and it also provides you with a hotspot device with a connection for up to seven devices.
With an unlimited plan, you can watch as much Netflix as you want without worrying about your provider charging you for out-of-bundle data.
Satellite Internet Solutions
As a final option for an internet connection, you can use satellite-based services. While satellite internet is very effective, it costs a fortune for a broadband plan. However, Elon Musk plans to change all of this with his “Starlink” system developed through SpaceX.
The early reports of the Starlink system state that it has a few bugs that Elon needs to work on with his team. However, we’re confident the world’s richest man will figure it out sooner or later. The issue with satellite internet and boats is the constant motion of the boat provided by the action of the sea.
Strong storm systems and clouds may also interfere with your signal, making it patchy at best. For the amount of money you have to pay to a subscription service, you may as well just go with a 4G router and antenna instead.
In Closing – What Do You Need to Do Online?
The biggest part of choosing the right internet setup for your boat is finding the number for your bandwidth consumption.
You can call your ISP at home and ask them about your monthly consumption. Take this number, and add an extra 5GB to it, and you should find that that’s sufficient to cover your requirements.
If you’re planning on working on the boat, make sure you include your requirements for office use as well.