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WiFi on boats … beware the ‘Auto-Update’

Jeff Seigel, founder of ActiveCaptain, writes…

This week we ripped out all of the WiFi components on our boat and installed all new equipment, antennas, and wiring. We changed the way the main router is powered and now use one Power-Over-Ethernet 12v injector for the main router and the outside high-gain modem. We also re-positioned everything to allow for easy changes without ceiling tile removal in the future.

Every setup has different requirements so the specific products we're using might very well be all wrong for you. Still, we know you probably want to know what we're using.

Our main router is the MikroTik RB951Ui-2HnD (great product, lousy name). Our high-gain outside modem is a MiktoTik Groove 52HPn. We were anchored in St Michaels, MD harbour when the re-wiring and switch took place. We had been using our beloved Ubiquiti Bullet M2HP and were blown away when the new setup found 80% more WiFi spots the moment it was turned on. That's a nice way to start.

For us, the MikroTik router is a fantastic solution. It provides for guest access separated from our personal access. It also provides a lot of control, filtering, and sub-router support to allow connection to our full Garmin network of devices. It's a complex configuration but it allows our iPads to be on the Garmin network now as well as connected to the internet through the normal WiFi system. One additional plug for Island Time PC needs to be made – they figured out the Garmin configuration, provided us with support, and are the dealers for all of this MikroTik equipment. And again, Island Time is not an advertiser.

They'll be surprised to see us mention them here. Bob does an incredible job.

We've been moving through much of the Chesapeake Bay with almost no marina WiFi support for the last 10 days. Weren't we shocked when Verizon started emailing us with warnings about our cellular usage.

We bought a new 5510L MiFi device from Verizon this summer and this was the first use we'd put it through. We use both Verizon and AT&T and have a 10 GB monthly plan with Verizon. How could we use up that in just 10 days?

It gets worse…

We didn't just use up the 10 GB. We blew through it with a total of

18 GB of usage. That's equivalent to a monthly usage of 54 GB which would cost about $520.

We know better than to stream anything with cellular access and are very careful at anchor. So what caused the huge data use?

It turns out that it's a great lesson for all of us and therefore needs to be part of this WiFi series. What we didn't realize is that one of our laptops was new and one had it's operating system upgraded. We also added some new devices like the Dell Venue 8 Pro (still loving it) and updated all iOS and Android devices. In Maine, we had cable-internet with unlimited usage and didn't care or watch our internet usage. Here on the boat, we can't live like that.

All of these updates along with changes to Firefox and other products changed some of the settings and preferences without us realizing it.

It happened to almost every computer and device on the boat in just a couple of months. All of them were now allowing automatic updates to download in the background. Some would auto-install without our knowledge. The little Dell alone downloaded about 4 GB of updates over a couple of days.

So the lesson is that you need to be careful when you're on your boat and using cellular access for long blocks of time. No device should automatically download anything. It should ask you for permission giving you the option of waiting until you have real WiFi to download the large data. You have to check every device's operating system and all the major applications you use – browsers, navigation products, Adobe Flash, iTunes, app stores, and more. Some navigation products automatically download chart updates – a wonderful feature. But make sure you're in control of when the updates are downloaded.

The kicker was that even our TV was downloading new updates! We have a SmartTV from Samsung with full internet access through our boat's WiFi network. It auto-connects and "phones home" to see if Samsung has an update waiting and downloads it. It shouldn't do that automatically on a boat.

So for your boat, check all the WiFi devices and their update preferences. Be warned that major OS changes might undo your previous settings. If it bit us, it'll likely get some of you.

By Jeff Seigel

Guest Author & Founder of ActiveCaptain



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WiFi Devices for Boats – Part 5 of 5

Jeff Seigel, founder of ActiveCaptain, writes…

Continuing with our summer series about WiFi on boats, we're going to turn our attention to the central display most of us use when viewing information – a laptop, or quite commonly today, a tablet. We surely don't need to talk about iPads or Android tablets again. If you have a pulse, you know all about them.

This week we want to discuss an important WiFi concept for laptops and tablets – how you should connect them to the internet over WiFi. There are some new

…….Click WiFi Devices for Boats – Part 5 of 5 …. to continue reading


WiFi Devices for Boats – Part 4 of 5

Jeff Seigel, founder of ActiveCaptain, writes…

The previous segments of this WiFi series have tried to provide some WiFi background information. The devices to use today on your boat for WiFi are changing and there's no one set of products that will meet everyone's needs. We'll write more about some background technology later but it's time to start showing some of the incredible things you can do today with WiFi. We'll be writing a few segments throughout the summer describing some WiFi devices that you might not know about.

Today's segment is

…….Click WiFi Devices for Boats – Part 4 of 5 …. to continue reading


Digital Yacht AIT3000 “Nucleus” Class B AIS transponder debuts at Southampton Boatshow


Digital Yacht have launched an interesting hybrid product. Combining Class B AIS transponder with built in antenna splitter and WiFi interface to support Apple and Android tablets and phones.

Class B AIS transponders have made a big impact on small craft navigation, but many potential users or installers are put off by the requirement for yet another VHF antenna.

The new AIT3000 “Nucleus” from Digital Yacht changes that perception as it incorporates not only a full function Class B AIS transponder but also an antenna splitter allowing the main VHF antenna

…….Click Digital Yacht AIT3000 “Nucleus” Class B AIS transponder debuts at Southampton Boatshow …. to continue reading


WiFi Devices for Boats – Part 3 of 5

Jeff Seigel, founder of ActiveCaptain, writes…

Every internet access solution onboard has to consider cellular connectivity. So when you're planning a full WiFi solution, the way that you'll connect to a cellular provider has to be a major part of your decision and planning process.

There was a time when we'd anchor and find many open WiFi routers enabling us to access the internet. Our personal log from spring 2004 shows that we found over 200 open WiFi sites near Melbourne, FL. By spring 2005, there were 4 at that same spot.

…….Click WiFi Devices for Boats – Part 3 of 5 …. to continue reading