https://www.reviews.org/internet-service/satellite-internet-for-boats/ Catherine McNally
Ever wished you could download a work PDF or watch an episode of Gilligan’s Island while you’re 20 nautical miles from shore?
Getting internet on your boat might seem like a big headache, but new technology makes it a lot easier. You can now choose between a few different internet options for your boat: broadband global area network (BGAN) systems, cellular hotspots, or grabbing a land-based public Wi-Fi signal with the help of a Wi-Fi extender.
Let’s dig into the features of each and find out which option is best for you.
3 Ways to Get Internet on Your Boat
BGAN satellite internet systems: Expensive, but largest coverage area
Mobile hotspots: Inexpensive, but require SIM card and cell coverage
Marine Wi-Fi extenders: Cheapest option, but requires public Wi-Fi
1. BGAN systems for internet on your boat Your first option for hopping online is a BGAN system. Unfortunately, this option is also the most expensive, but it doesn’t leave you at the mercy of the marina Wi-Fi and gives you an internet connection most anywhere in the world.
Wide selection of terminals
Rugged equipment designed for field professionals
Slow download speeds
In essence, a BGAN system is a portable hotspot that can be used anywhere on the ground or water. That’s why field correspondents who need reliable connections and need to move frequently often rely on BGAN systems.
Portable BGAN internet service uses a terminal that links to your devices with an Ethernet cable, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or USB. In order for the onboard terminal to communicate with the satellite, it uses GPS, and a clear view of the sky is required for connection.
View on Explorer 510 BGAN Terminal: https://www.groundcontrol.com/BGAN_Explorer_510.htm
View Inmarsat BGAN Hughes 9202:
View Iridium Pilot: https://www.groundcontrol.com/Iridium_Pilot.htm
View KVH TracPhone HTS VSAT:
Different terminals can work at different download and upload speed with BGAN. Paying more gets you a more expensive terminal that operates at a higher connection speed. But before you pull out your wallet, know that you’ll also need a service plan.
Prepaid and postpaid BGAN service plans are available in almost any quantity, with data costs averaging less than $5.00/megabyte. Most shops that sell BGAN terminals, such as Global Marine Networks and Ground Control, will also sell BGAN data plans.
Or you can pay a monthly fee for BGAN access, and you’ll simply get charged for how much data you used. An example of an access plan is Ground Control’s BGAN Standard+ Plus plan.
2. Mobile hotspots for your boat If a BGAN terminal is too expensive for your taste, a hotspot might do the trick for a fraction of the cost.
Small and portable
Signal might be spotty offshore
Need to switch SIM cards if leaving US
The biggest downside is that you’ll start losing your hotspot signal once you’re anywhere between 5 to 10 miles offshore. But if you’re following the shoreline, a hotspot is the least expensive option for an internet signal that comes along for the ride. Here in the US, we typically recommend Verizon Wireless hotspots, since it has the largest coverage area. But keep in mind that if you cruise on over to the Bahamas or another country, you’ll need to swap out your SIM card for a local provider. Here’s a quick look at some marine-friendly hotspot options:
Don’t forget that your hotspot will also need cell service. If you’re keeping to US waters, here’s a look at how the three major cell phone providers compare when it comes to coverage.
3. Use public Wi-Fi with a Wi-Fi extender The cheapest option of them all, public Wi-Fi can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing when you can get a signal, and a curse when your connection is slow or spotty. Luckily, Wi-Fi extenders can help with most of those problems, and some are made specifically for mounting on your boat.
Free or low-cost
Need to be close to a marina
Possible security risks
Connection could be bad
A marine Wi-Fi extender might cost you more than a hotspot device, but it doesn’t require you to purchase a monthly cellular plan or SIM card either.
And if your local marina delivers a strong Wi-Fi connection, it may not be necessary. But others cruising the water have remarked that many marinas struggle to deliver Wi-Fi. So an extender might be beneficial if you’re headed into uncharted territory.
Here’s a quick look at a few marine Wi-Fi extender options.
View Wave WiFi Rogue Pro
Basics for using the internet on your boat
If you’re a boater who rarely ventures far from shore, your cheapest option is public Wi-Fi and a signal booster system that puts Wi-Fi networks in reach of your vessel. And mobile hotspots can offer an internet connection if a marina with public Wi-Fi isn’t in sight.
But for a more reliable, expansive (and expensive) internet connection, BGAN satellite systems are your best solution—and also the most expensive.
Just know that, whichever marine internet option you choose, your online experience won’t be the same as it is at home. Even creature comforts like unlimited web browsing and unlimited ship-to-shore calling cost the equivalent of a decent midsize automobile for a satellite dish that has a diameter of about two feet.
Challenges to getting internet out at sea
For the most part, the challenge of getting satellite internet for a boat is cost, along with the fact that a boat moves.
The movement of your boat requires a satellite that can maintain a connection while it’s rocking in the water.
Distance also factors in, as larger and more expensive satellite dishes are required to compensate for angled signals as a boat veers towards the poles. If you’re looking for a strong signal anywhere in the world, be prepared for a substantial price tag.
Wi-Fi extenders and hotspots don’t face these same challenges, but they do require you to be closer to shore. And public Wi-Fi connections may be spotty, while hotspots require you to pay for cell service and a SIM card.
Now that you know how to get internet on your boat, check these out next.
Live a full digital nomad lifestyle and get internet on your RV too.