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Stunning little computer ..for $25!

Those of you who follow this blog know I have an "attitude" when it comes to the big marine electronics companies.

I’m sorry, but very few of them seem to bring any real innovation to the table given the prices that they can command and the captive audience that they can "manipulate" or is it "influence".

Yes, yes I know that the market size is less than that for consumer electronics but I don’t care they could still produce a lot better products than they do… IMHO.

Rasberry PiNow here is a small bunch of people that show the sort of spirit that I am talking about – Rasberry Pi.

It’s a prototype ARM GNU/Linux computer for $25 !

The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video. The intention is that it will be used by kids all over the world to learn programming.

There are two version of the Pi Model A and Model B. The Model B version of the device includes 10/100 wired Ethernet. There is no Ethernet on the Model A version (which they expect to be taken up mostly by the education market), but Wi-Fi will be available via a standard USB dongle

This clip below is from Eben Upton – the brains behind the idea of a miniature computer for kids.


Just like the old days when some of us discovered the fun of programming on Amigas, BBC Micros, Spectrum ZX, Commodore 64 and even the old Apple pc…

…do you think kids are really interested? – lets hope some of them are – I want to know that there will be people alive who can still fix stuff when I am 80 🙂


How many WiFi hotspots can you see?…

Wave ec-hpIts not at all unusual for cruisers whether they are weekenders or blue water adventurers to have a laptop, iPad, or smartphone – or even all three on board. Many people are expected to be in touch with work email 24×7 and if you have the younger generation on board with you, they will be Facebooking and surfing non-stop!

I am of course assuming that you are cruising in coastal waters, not too far from  some civilisation and not actually transoceanic. If you are 20 miles plus away from land then of course we would be talking SSB or satellite and that is a whole different kettle of fish!

A chance conversation with some blue water buddies got me thinking. They already have their Iridum phone and satellite connection for trans oceanic use, but when their supplier, Mailasail, offered a WiFi booster for “only” 900GBP ($1,400) to improve their Wifi connection when in a marina – it got me thinking – surely it cant be that expensive!

How do you get the most out of your wireless on board? and how can you make it the best it can be – without spending a fortune?

As usual the most advance systems are available in the USA and a quick trawl brings up the following systems:

It has to be noted that the “improvement” that you should expect will depend on several factors such as distance from the wireless access point you are trying to connect to (up to 2 miles is possible – 5 miles if it is a super WiFi hotspot with good transmitting equipment); the number of other people connected to the hotspot already (contention with other users can reduce the bandwidth available to each user dramatically); and finally the line of sight or obstructions between your aerial and the access point. I wont even start to go into other factors such as the weather…!

I prefer the Ethernet connectivity route to the extended USB – so I would recommend the Ubiquiti bullet 2HP or the Rogue Wave – unless you are confident with networking – in which case use the links in this table to assemble the components for yourself.

What are the components that you require?

Component Recommended Alternatives Notes
High gain omni directional antenna, and WifI amplifier


Galaxy 5248


Data Alliance

Alpha Signal Booster

ANT-012ON 12dbi

Digital Antenna

Site the antenna vertically, and at least 1 to 2 metres above the deck
Transmit Gain = 8db
Receive Gain = 8dB
Max power = 1W / 1000mW
Be careful about getting even higher gain antennas, more is not necessarily better. The high gain signal booster may ignore local marina hotspots and instead connect to more distant access points with greater probability of disruption.
Network Bridge Rogue Wave

Ubiquiti Bullet 2HP

If you want to go the USB route then try…
Alfa Network R36 AWUS036H

The Wirie USB System

There are two ways to go. (A) Create an Ethernet connection direct to an Ethernet port on a router (B) Use USB (such as the Alpha and Wirie systems) and link to an USB port on your laptop/wireless card.

The blue chip way to go is to use the Ubiquiti Airmax Omni Antenna plus their RocketM base station – may be too expensive for most boaters though! Also, most boaters may find the excellent AIR OS V software a bit overkill – great for us geeks however …

Power over Ethernet Injector (PoE) L-Com PoE Splitter

Data Alliance
There are literally hundreds of these…
Marine grade outdoor CAT5e cable Gel Filled CAT 5e   The cable run outside should be UV resistant and have a Static Drain Wire (Ground Wire) attached to an overall aluminium foil shielding layer.
CAT5e cable for inside the boat Shielded CAT5e   You dont necessarily need shielded – just belt and braces. Your cable runs internally in the boat are probably going to be quite short – but if you are worried about interference – use shielded cable.
Network router Netgear WGR614

Linksys WRT54G

Teltonika RUT105 (3G as well)

Cradlepoint CTR35

You can go further and have a 3G connection as a failover to the WiFi using systems from Teltonika OR  Cradlepoint. For the more technically savy use the
Buffalo G300NH router. BUFFALO has decided to use famous DD-WRT firmware as the factory default for its HighPower Routers WZR-HP-G300NH, WHR-HP-G300N and WHR-HP-GN distributed in the US and the EU. Combine the router with a CDMA or GSM broadband modem and you have a 3G and a WiFi router.

Make sure you use encryption such as WPA2-AES or other local boats may connect on to your network degrading the bandwidth !

You can also boost your cell range using the Wilson kit – USA only.

Brackets Shakespeare Stand off Bracket (Echomax)

Marine parts


Scanstrut T Pole



Note that when buying equipment that you want to site on the pushpit, mast or on an equipment post that “Outdoor” grade is not the same as “Marine” grade. IP67/NEMA6 are the standards to look for. It is shocking how many “marine” products are IP65 or less! Otherwise get used to using clear Rescue Tape or Bandit clear silicone tape

If you need handholding then Land & SeaThe Wirie and Island Time PC have good reputations in helping boaters get up and running with their recommended kit. But I hope the table above will help you understand what they are selling you and why they recommend their favoured products.


Sailing Junk…

Having just come back from a holiday in Turkey it was disheartening to find that I could not open the front door of my house ..why?… there was a pile of junk mail and other “useful” offers that just beggared belief ! So when that thoroughly good chap Jeffrey Siegel emailed from Active Captain to describe the very same problem that he has in the USA, it was very interesting to read about Jeffrey’s solution.

Catalog_ChoiceI am simply reprinting his comments here…” The first time we left our land-based home for an extended cruise, we weren’t sure how to handle the mail. Fortunately, we have a wonderful caretaker who watches our house and who gathered the First Class mail to send to us every month or so. Everything else was left for our return 6 months later. We were stunned by the mass of catalogs, credit card applications, and other solicitations that awaited us. Overwhelmed by the thought of calling hundreds of companies to get off of mailing lists, Karen searched the internet for help and found Catalog Choice on the web which was just starting up their service. Their mission was to provide a quick and simple way to manage the catalogs that flow through your postal mailboxes. Years have passed and our time onboard has grown to 9 months while the mass of junk mail that awaits us has shrunk to a manageable pile. In the meantime Catalog Choice has expanded to include phone books, fliers, and all manner of unsolicited mail. …..”


What a great idea ! Its a pity it only applies to the USA but that is a great start. Catalog Choice appears to have been in operation since 2008. They are a non profit corporation based in Berkeley, California. They now have over one million members and hundreds of participating companies.

Here in the UK things are not so good. But I would like to highlight one lone campaigner that deserves huge credit for his work. Check out the site Stop Junk Mail.

Junk_BusterStop Junk Mail is a free one-point-stop for contacting opt-out schemes it is also a one-man campaign.

  • Using the site you can :
    1. Get opt-out forms for the three main opt-out services for junk mail
  • 2. Cancel the Yellow Pages, Thomson Local directory and/or BT phone book

Of course in the UK you can also use the law if you want to contact each and every sender that plagues you. The Data Protection Act 1998 gives you the right to ask any UK organisation to stop ‘processing your personal information for direct marketing purposes’. This makes contacting individual junk mailers a very effective way of stopping junk mail. A data protection notice is a request to stop using your personal details for ‘direct marketing purposes’, made with reference to section 11 of the Data Protection Act. It’s a legally binding demand to stop (or not begin) sending you junk mail. Organisations that ignore a data protection notice can be referred to the Information Commissioner’s Office (the body enforcing the Data Protection Act)

But I am sure you would agree that life is too short for this approach….

My advice is to search out and support organisations like Catalog Choice and Stop Junk Mail – if there aren’t any in your country perhaps you could start one! I am pretty sure that whoever the poor soul is that agrees to look after your mail while you are away will thank you for doing your best to stop all this other type of “sailing junk”… Smile


Sorry to carp on about this…

I am pretty sure it isn't April 1st today – but this video just took the biscuit, and I had to share it – why don't the fish do this off the coast at Brighton !

If you take your boat along the Spoon River, which is tributary of the Illinois River, you may get more than you bargained for but watch out because the fish can weigh up to 45kg.

A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency said that boaters have suffered broken bones, black eyes, cuts, back injuries and concussion as a result of being hit by the fish.


More support for Active Captain…

ActiveCaptainTo my knowledge ActiveCaptain was the first to build a UGC (User Generated Content) product independently of any mainstream supplier of maritime chart plotters or related product. Using this platform you can record local data like Rocks, Wrecks, Obstructions, Buoys, Beacons & Signs, Lights, Shops & Repairs, Ports & Marinas and Anchorages, Moorings and even upload your recommended routing and waypoint data.


I believe that ActiveCaptain is also the most successful. Although there is a preponderance of Stateside data, I and many other UK sailors have been uploading data for our local marinas, routes and other useful info about sailing in UK waters. I encourage you all to participate in this platform – it is cheap and you can only gain from the wealth of local knowledge that is already, and will continue to be, stored on this platform.

Obviously to make it easy to benefit from the UGC layer, it is essential that you can easily integrate access to ActiveCaptain from within your chosen chart plotting software and that the data remains accessible when you are offline or unable to connect to the internet.

One of the most important products to do include such integration to ActiveCaptain was the MaxSea TZ product that I reviewed extensively here.

Many chart plotting software products have followed suit and included integration to ActiveCaptain. The list of products includes software for PC, Mac, Linux, iPhone and Android  – here is the list so far…

I jumped in and bought the iPhone app from Navionics pretty early on because it was the brand I used on my fixed Raymarine chart plotter and because they had a UK chart version available for only GBP14.95.  The chart plotting software is  Navionics Gold UK/Holland and it works perfectly well on my iPhone, but unfortunately for me it has its own UGC layer (User Generated Content). Strangely you have to submit additions to their UGC layer using an online form on the Navionics website and it is not integrated with another product other than Navionics own chart plotting software  – so why bother with their own, limited, UGC community!

If you are interested in the UGC concept … which one should you use? – well surely its a a case of the biggest UGC community combined with good integration with a wide range of chart plotting software wins. I would put my money on ActiveCaptain – so sign up if you have not done so already, and start exploring the user content stored there – more importantly if you have UK or European local knowledge – be community minded and type it in !…