Its 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:
- 5Mile Wifi – USB Type
- The Lynx 2-M Plus – USB Type
- Radio Labs Wave RV – USB Type
- The Wirie – USB Type
- Bad Boy Xtreme (Bridge) – Ethernet Type
- Port Networks MWB (Bridge) – Ethernet Type
- Ubiquiti Bullet 2HP – Ethernet Type
- Rogue Wave – Ethernet Type
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?
|High gain omni directional antenna, and WifI amplifier||
|Data Alliance||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||If you want to go the USB route then try…
Alfa Network R36 AWUS036H
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
|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||
Teltonika RUT105 (3G as well)
|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)
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.