There are a few different ways to get internet when living on a boat. You can use a Wi-Fi extender (such as Glomex’s Webboat 4G Plus), a dedicated marine-based system like a cellular booster, or your cell phone to access cellular data.
Using your cell phone to surf the internet on your houseboat can work well if you are close to shore and have a strong signal, but it’s not ideal for those who regularly sail offshore.
When you decide to live on a boat, you may want or need a connection to the internet. Whether you work remotely, check in with family, or simply enjoy browsing and surfing the web, staying connected is essential. Thankfully, onboard connectivity is no longer a luxury, and there are many ways to bring Wi-Fi to your boat.
The first thing you’ll need to consider is exactly how much and where you plan to use the internet on your boat. If you’re just staying in the same marina, or even the same state, and don’t plan to go far offshore, you might only need a portable hotspot to pick up with your phone. If you’re planning to sail far from shore or to a different country, you’ll need a more complex and expensive solution that includes satellite service.
Most modern electronic systems come with built-in Wi-Fi, and most manufacturers offer some form of plug-in that can extend or boost the range of your signal. Those that don’t have this built-in option can often find that marinas or other ports will offer free Wi-Fi, though it can be slow and unreliable. Some boaters can also access a Wi-Fi network from their home or work, which is a viable option if you don’t plan to go too far away from land.
For those who want to stay in close proximity to shore or a mobile hotspot, the best option is often to use cellular service. If you choose to do this, you’ll need a new phone or tablet with a cellular data plan that supports your desired network and the capability to act as a hotspot. While there are options to keep the cost of cellular down, it’s generally still quite expensive compared to other options.
If you’re looking for the most affordable and reliable option, then satellite is the way to go. However, it’s not for everyone, as the initial costs can be prohibitive. Some companies provide global satellite internet, but this is usually only available to larger boats. In other cases, you can opt to purchase a small satellite dish and a monthly data plan that gives you access to high-speed internet anywhere—even at sea!
Cellular data is the way to go if you want to stay connected on the water and aren’t concerned with Wi-Fi coverage. This option requires a SIM card, a cellular router, and an external antenna, but it’s the best way to stay online even when you’re 10 miles or more from shore.
The first step is to find a mobile hotspot that will work while you’re at sea. Many mobile devices come with built-in hotspots, which you can use to surf the web and access apps. However, this only works when you’re close enough to the hotspot or shore, and it can be expensive if you go over your data limit.
A better option is to purchase a dedicated boat internet system. These usually consist of a dome with multiple antennae inside, a router in the antennae itself or wired in belowdecks, SIM cards, and software to juggle different cellular systems to maintain the strongest possible connection. Several companies make these systems, and they range in price from under $1,000 to several thousand dollars, but they can provide high-speed service at sea for years to come.
Another option is to buy a satellite dish and subscribe to a marine internet service provider. This will be a significant expense upfront, and the monthly subscription cost can also be astronomical. It’s only worth considering this option if you are a frequent cruiser or if you have a business that needs to be kept in contact with clients.
If you’re just an occasional cruiser, then your current Wi-Fi and cell phone options should be adequate. By becoming familiar with how much data each app uses and by using your cellular data sparingly, you should be able to avoid overage charges and keep your data limit under control. You can even save money on your bill by changing your plan with Consumer Cellular. There are never any fees to change plans, and you can always switch back to your old plan if you decide it’s too expensive for you.
The thought of kicking back in your sailboat, pontoon boat, or speed boat to read a book or watch a show while sailing away from shore may be the ultimate yachting experience, but for those who need to work remotely, stay in touch with family and friends or just surf the web for answers or weather information, connectivity is no longer just a luxury. Fortunately, there are options to bring onboard Internet for boats, depending on your budget and how far you intend to travel from the port.
The cheapest way to get internet when living on a boat is to tap into cellular data by using your phone as a hotspot. Cellular service offers high data rates, and many carriers allow you to pay for a monthly plan or buy data on a pay-as-you-go basis. However, it’s important to remember that upload speeds can be a tenth of download speed, so if you plan on uploading large files or streaming video, this might not be the best option.
Another option is to buy or rent a satellite satcom device. These devices are the same as the ones that are used on commercial vessels and have an internal router, built-in or external antenna, and a SIM card slot to plug in a mobile data SIM. These systems are more expensive than tethering from a cellphone, but they offer higher upload and download speeds and can track location on a GPS map. One example of this type of device is the Garmin inReach Explorer+ which uses the Iridium satellite network to provide global coverage and includes two-way text messaging, interactive SOS, and 24/7 search and rescue monitoring.
For the ultimate yachting connectivity solution, satellite-based network services offer always-on connectivity at a premium price. These systems require a large satellite dish to be installed on your boat and can cost more than $1,800, including installation. Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress, for example, is the top-of-the-line service seen on superyachts and offers speeds up to 10mbps for always-on connectivity with no data caps.
In the modern world, having the internet is almost a requirement. It’s how we communicate with our family, friends, and work. It’s how we get directions when traveling and how our children are entertained. While some may want to fully disconnect while on a boat, most people will find there are times when they need internet at sea. This isn’t always easy or cheap, but it is possible.
The easiest place to access the internet when on a boat will be at a marina where they already provide Wi-Fi. This is also likely the cheapest option. There are ways to use your cellphone to surf the web for those who don’t have a marina near where they sail, but it can be tricky. If you have a smartphone with a decent amount of data, you can connect it to your laptop or tablet using a device such as WebWhip. This is an easy-to-use and inexpensive device that will enable you to tether your cell phone and surf the internet as long as there is a good cellular signal nearby.
Another solution is to purchase a portable MiFi device with built-in Wi-Fi, allowing you to connect multiple devices simultaneously. These are similar to regular mobile hotspots and can boost the cellular signal on your phone to allow you to surf the internet while at sea. These tend to cost a few hundred dollars and require you to have a cellular plan that charges monthly, just like your landline phone.
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive solution that will give you internet while at sea no matter where you go, there are satellite options available. These can be quite expensive, but they are the most reliable and will offer you the best coverage for the greatest number of miles that you sail. This is a bit of an investment, but it may be worth it for some people who spend most of their time at sea. It’s important to remember, though, that getting a full-service marine satellite Internet connection will cost you at least a grand plus a monthly subscription fee.