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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 & Sea,  The 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.


Tracking GPS for £149 and 3G bundled in …

WPT250 facing left

We’ve all had those niggling worries about tying up our boat whilst we head ashore for a bite to eat and the thoughts of it not being there when we get back!

Tetra Boats are launching a new product called TenderTrack at the 2011 London Boat Show. TenderTrack is about the size of a box of matches and incorporates a highly sensitive 50 channel GPS and GSM data modem to allow the location of your tender to be constantly monitored on your smart phone. It’s waterproof and has an internal rechargeable battery that can offer up to 72 hours of operation.

Simply mount the unit on the tender or outboard (it can take temperatures of up to 70C, so can even sit inside an outboard cowling) and access its functionality through either sending SMS commands to the unit or through a simple web interface.

I don’t see why you couldn’t use this on your car or motor bike or even on your prize pot plant in your front garden – what a great gadget!

Tracking GPS for £149 and 3G bundled in … → Click here to continue reading →