Internet on board while sailing ,or rather : how do we communicate with the outside world while cruising on our yacht

I am sure that these days everyone has internet on-board, whether for e-mail, gribfiles , weather routing or as we do , schooling , youtube for the kids school assignment or just researching the next place we think we are going
“Old Salts” may say “I’ve never needed it 30 years ago , it didn’t sink me , and I don’t need it today” but as you have noticed times really have changed and internet / email access does make life (and cruising) a lot easier than it was 30 years ago.

So I am going to break it down and will try to explain what we use , how we use it and why we use it that way

Onshore or close to shore :

1) Wifi :

If you are lucky enough to be in a Marina , or close enough to a Marina , that has good wifi, life is good . Find the Marina hotspot , log in with a password (if it is password protected) and off you go. Wifi and internet bliss and everything works (aside from the few frustrating moments when its really slow and it takes 4 days to download the last 350Mb episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ ) But what if you’re further away ? you can see all those Wifi access points , you have the wifi password from this wonderful app that people collect passwords from restaurants and access points , but you’re just too damn far away to establish a connection !

To the rescue comes our ‘Ubiquiti bullet’ , I know that Ubiquiti doesn’t have a good name ,  most marina’s use their equipment and the connection is basically .. how do I say this nicely .. crap . Cant connect , dropped connections etc. But the Ubiquiti bullet is a nice Wifi extender that will extend your range from 100meter / 300 feet , to a few km’s / miles ! combined with a proper antenna you can actually connect to hotspots a long way away . The downside to this nifty little thing is .. its not for amateurs . Its a serious piece of kit and when used without a layer of ‘consumer friendly’ software its hard to set up and use . So unless you are fairly comfortable with networking , NAT , Proxies, DNS’s , etc find yourself a Wifi extender package that uses the Ubiquity bullet (and a user friendly software layer on top) to make life easier. It certainly is worth it as it does work ! and you can connect to hotspots miles away. Just go get a drink at that restaurant , ask for their password , go back to the boat and connect to it.

As an addition to the Ubiquiti we recently got an ALFA wifi extender , works fantastic and almost as good as the Ubiquity and MUCH easier to set up and use

2) mobile 3G / 4G / LTE

This option is not free but most likely the easiest option and will fix your internet craving

Just buy a local SIM card with a data package , most local providers have something like a month of unlimited data for 30/50 USD-Euro or less.
Pop the sim card in your phone , enable your phone to be a hotspot and connect all computers , laptops , iPads, etc to this hotspot and now you have internet on the boat 🙂
easy peasy

3) Google Fi

When we were in Charlottesville Tobago, and had to rent a car to get a local sim card , I personally had enough of trying to find a local sim card dozens of miles away from where we were. And an old idea popped back into my mind ‘get a Google fi card’ .

Now a google FI sim card is great idea . you contact google , have them send a sim card to you , you activate it and it will give you a data and speech connection in 200+ countries around the world for a maximum of $60 a month. The downside is that is  a) its a $60 a month and b) they will limited your data speed after 15Gb.

And it is a bitch to get and set up if you don’t have a USA ‘connection’

If you are from outside the US and still think this is an interesting proposition , this is how you do it:

1) have a look at the website , don’t register or anything like that , just read and see if this works for you , and then you decide that this is something you want
2) *important* if you decide this is something you want,  you need to set up an email address from the US , so it needs to be done from the US with a US IP address. We did this by asking a friend in the US to go to gmail and make an email account for us , and send us the password for the email account (or for the internet savvy , fire up your VPN account , connect to a USA server and make a gmail account while VPN is connected through the USA server)
3) log into the gmail account that you just set up and verify it works , possibly change the password to something you can remember
4) make an account with using the email address you just made
5) order a google fi sim card (weirdly enough they will accept credit cards from outside the USA)
6) have the sim card send to the same friend that made the email account for you
7) ask the friend to send the sim card to you (wherever you are) , a week to arrive
8) send a bottle of wine to friend when card arrives (or not !)

now you have the card , what do you do to activate it ?

This is another ‘interesting’ problem. Google fi is only available in the US and you can only activate the card in a phone that is compatible . in our case we have a iPhone and this is complicated as well as you can only download the app from the USA app store ! and since we’re from Europe we don’t have access to the USA app store ! .

luckily google themselves came to the rescue 😉

9) and type in ‘how to set up your computer with a USA App Store account using iTunes’
10) follow instructions
11) download the app from the apple USA app store
12) follow the instructions in the app to activate the SIM card
13) wait for the text and confirmation that the card is activated
14) off you go !

Now not every phone will have all capabilities that Google fi offers but there are loads of websites detailing which phone does what and why , just have a look. Our iPhone 6 works beautifully as an internet hotspot with the google fi card.

If you have an Android phone you should be able to download the android app from wherever you are , but test this first ! most android / java phones are compatible but our back-up phone wouldn’t download the activation app as it was too old / not compatible

These are the 3 options we use for near-shore cell and wifi

Now Offshore (10+ miles away from any land)

4) Iridium Go!

When we left The Netherlands we bought a Iridium Go!
This wonderful piece of equipment connects to the Iridium satellite network for data and the Go! acts like a wifi hotspot so you can connect your phone , tablet , laptop to it
We use a ‘unlimited data’ package through Predictwind . We actually bought several sim cards that we activate when we need them and end the subscription when we don’t need satellite connection
beware : Iridium go is slow ! an email send and receive will take several minutes , but I can send pics and messages out to the blog ! predict wind weather takes 30 minutes or more . Web pages loading ? … ermm..yeah right
but its enormously cool to be able to ‘call home’ when the closest other people are the ones flying around above you in the ISS space station 😉

If you want to know how to set it up , sailing Totem has some good pointers

5) Garmin Inreach

We also opted to have a Garmin Inreach on board, this is our sat tracker and backup for the iridium go. I must admit that I have used it quite a lot for its simplicity and the monthly cost. I am quite happy with it after using it over a year as it will do messages , It will do email (sorta) I can update the blog , the weather app seems quite accurate and the tracking is great !

6) SSB
Even though we do have an SSB I have not used it yet , ever ! The Iridium and Garmin are soo much easier to use ? , maybe when we’re on the pacific I will give it a go

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