Wi-Fi for Sailors Page 2

The term Wi-Fi gets bandied about plenty these days. After all, you probably use it to obtain high-speed Internet access at work, in airports and hotels, or at home, and you’ve probably used it on your boat, likely with varying degrees of success. Built-in Wi-Fi hardware in laptops, or PC Wi-Fi-card adapters (802.11 cards), such as those from Linksys, work fine if you’re close
Author:
Publish date:
Updated on

Marine Wi-Fi systems

There are many manufacturers of marine Wi-Fi systems. Some manufacturers offer the inexpensive kind that plug directly into a USB port or work via a USB-extension cable. Examples include the WaveRV Marine WiFi System from RadioLabs, which is billed as one of the simplest Wi-Fi solutions on the market and is Mac compatible. The 5MileWIFI system incorporates a 1,000mW built-in bi-directional amplifier; the computer supplies the power. The EUB-362 Ext 802.11b/g USB 2.0 Wi-Fi adapter from EnGenius Technologies is another affordable option.

The MWB-200 Version 6 wireless bridge from Port Networks is also portable, like the above units, but it’s not a USB device. Rather, it has built-in Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) capability, requiring only a single network data/power cable connection between the unit and the computer’s Ethernet port. The 12-volt system (it also comes in 110-volt AC) includes a 12-volt PoE injector kit. The company also offers a permanently installed model, the MWB-250.

These units typically run off the computer’s power source and use an external omni-directional antenna. This antenna can be permanently mounted on the stern rail and connected when you want Wi-Fi access, or the antenna can remain portable. Some sailors attach the antenna to sail cars, insert the cars into the mainsail track, and use a halyard to hoist the antenna up the stick. This arrangement keeps the antenna from flapping in the wind and the greater height improves signal reception.

longer_range_marine_wi-fi

No installation hassles and relatively low cost make these systems attractive for use at a marina, on a mooring, or at anchor when long-range access isn’t a major concern, though some of the manufacturers claim a range of up to five miles. Prices for the most-basic USB system start from as low as around $150, but spending more (closer to $500) will buy you a system with greater power and a more effective high-gain omni-directional antenna.

Installations can get labor-intensive with more complicated systems. Mounting the external antenna at spreader height on the mast or at the masthead improves range, but it also means installing a weatherproof transmitter nearby to reduce signal loss that results in long coaxial-cable runs between the antenna and the transmitter. A power and a data cable, or a single PoE power/data cable with 12-volt DC or 110-volt AC injectors, is also required.

Many systems can be mounted belowdeck with an external weatherproof antenna mounted on the stern rail or other location, but range isn’t as great as it would be with a masthead antenna. On the plus side, these configurations are easier and less-costly to install, and they don’t require weatherproof enclosures for the transmitter/receiver, thus reducing the price.

Among the manufacturers offering a variety of powerful Wi-Fi systems with greater range and onboard wireless-networking capability for multiple users are GEOSat Solutions and Radio-at-Sea. These systems obviously cost more than the USB types; some can exceed $2,000.

geosat_solutions_wi-fi

GEOSat Solutions’s Wave WiFi EC-Series includes the EC-AP-HP Ethernet converter and bridge. It has a range of 12 miles and a built-in hotspot to allow multiple computers equipped with integrated Wi-Fi hardware—or with PC card Wi-Fi adapters—to surf the Web simultaneously. Radio-at-Sea’s Syrens Onboard WiFi Systems Max-Power models have ranges of up to 12 miles and access points (hotspots) for onboard wireless Internet from shore-based Wi-Fi hotspots.

There are all kinds of Wi-Fi solutions for your boat, ranging from downright cheap to very expensive, but with so many choices available, chances are you will find the right system at a price that fits your budget. The proliferation of Wi-Fi access at marinas and elsewhere on the waterfront means access to a free (or for pay) hotspot is only going to increase, making all of the information you need about weather, destinations, news, email, stock reports, and much more all just a few keystrokes away.

Resources

EnGenius Technologies

5MileWIFI

GEOSat Solutions

Linksys by Cisco

Port Networks

Radio-at-Sea

RadioLabs

David W. Shaw is the author of seven books. He is a longtime cruiser and contributor to SAIL.

Related

Tilly-1

Gear: Tilley Polaris Hat

A True Blue Tilley Sailing is all about fun in the sun, but it sometimes doesn’t take long to get too much of a good thing, especially when on a prolonged cruise or offshore passage. Enter the Tilley Polaris, the latest lid developed by iconic Canadian hat-maker Tilley. ...read more

Sand-TOWEL_MODEL-3

CGear Sand-Free Beach Towel

Sand Be Gone! The summer is hot and full of terrors—not the least of which is the sand that sticks in your beach towel in the hopes of a free ride back to your car or boat. Fortunately, there's now the CGear Sand-Free Beach Towel, engineered in polyester to not only dry quickly ...read more

01-Blowup-Tiwal2_sailing-(3)

Gear: Tiwal Inflatable Sailing Dinghy

Blow-up Boating A few years ago, the French company Tiwal arrived on U.S. shores with that most improbable of products, an inflatable sailing dinghy that actually sails the way a boat is supposed to. Now, nearly 1,000 Tiwal 3’s later, the company is back with its Tiwal 2, an ...read more

Koozy

Gear: 22 Below Koozie

Killer Koozie For all that sailors love the warmth of this time of year, that same warmth can also wreak havoc on their otherwise icy-cold beers. (Unless, of course, you drink them very, very fast. But we won’t go there.) To help deal with this terrible hardship, North ...read more

Cool-Specs

Gear: Gill's Race Fusion Sunglasses

Wicked Cool Specs Is there anything in the world of sailing more fun than a cool pair of shades? Heck, no! And it would hard to find a cooler pair than these new Race Fusion specs from longtime weather-gear manufacture Gill. In addition to looking great, they include a number of ...read more

North_new

Gear: North Sails Waterproof Pack

A few years ago, North Sails made a big push into the apparel business with all kinds of sharp-looking button-down shirts, shorts and fleeces. That doesn’t mean, though, that the North Sails Collection isn’t still plenty practical, as is evident in its new roll-over waterproof ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Sort the charts  Lying here on the cockpit seat is my iPad, loaded with Navionics charts. It’s a classic example of the benefits of GPS-assisted paper chart navigation and the wonderful electronics ...read more