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



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.