Today’s modern world clearly embraces two essential “life tools” to scratch a humanity itch. We (humans) are inherently social creatures. The cell phone and the Internet are, frankly, first world mainstays that enable Interacting with other human beings, whether you know them or not. These tools certainly do wonders for the mind and soul – making loads of information easily accessible when we need it whether for problem solving or just for social pleasures.
On SV Take Me There, we definitely need information for the “problem solving” tasks associated with cruising. There are apps and Internet resources that just make sailing and planning easier. We also have family and friends that enjoy following our cruising lifestyle for which we have this web page and our YouTube channel. Likewise, we have a personal desire to share what we know, learn and experience with others that may benefit from our knowledge.
Communicating with the rest of the world from a cruising boat is a convenience we really enjoy. Do we need an advanced capability?…no, but that depends upon desires and willingness to spend precious cruising kitty ($$$) on gadgets to do so. What’s so special about our set up? It fits our needs. We think we have a moderately resourced communications enterprise aboard that is agile and cost effective. Sharing how we do it may help someone else mold theirs to meet individual needs. Here’s how we do it:
Our three essentials for cellular-based communication are signal range, battery life and access to the internet. We need to be able to reach available cellular infrastructure (signal towers) so we have a signal booster. Our Smoothtalker dual band wireless booster/amplifier antenna is atop our 63.5 ft main mast for maximum reach.
We use our phones for many every day tasks with apps, lists, reminders, schedules, alarms and the like (including apps with GPS features) so charging ports aboard are in every cabin and the cockpit. We even have a portable solar charger!
Access to the Internet is only possible when we have the right signal to do so. The booster helps. When we can, we connect to local free WiFi using our omni-directional parabolic WiFi antenna (max about a mile).
We have a Sprint business account that costs us about $340 per month for 4 lines of unlimited voice, text and 40 Gb of data. Sprint has generous international roaming options in the 3G range where text and data are free. Voice service, roaming through foreign carriers, is mostly subject to $0.20 per minute rates. We also have a web-based fax service that is handy for doing customs coordination. Our cell phones are “unlocked” to permit using local SIM cards to save $$$.
We have a mobile hotspot aboard that links all computers and Internet dependent stuff to the web
when signal is good. The hotspot is directly connected to the cellular signal booster. Each of our phones, and the IPads, have WiFi “assist” so we leverage the boosted hotspot WiFi signal aboard to amplify our phones (in WiFi assist mode) around the boat.
When we can, free WiFi is our preference. WiFi is especially important to our ability to upload videos to our Vlog. We are often pumping up to 2 GB files to YouTube or our website. We use a WiFi signal amplifier (made by Alpha) that really boosts a weak signal to useable levels that allows us to connect from the anchorage. This amplifier is connected between our directional parabolic WiFi antenna and router to serve all devices on the boat.
Another helpful gadget is our Chromecast device (about $40) that is connected to our TV HDMI 2 port permitting us to “cast” (display) anything on our phones to the big screen for the crew to see, discuss, plan.
We cobbled this communications “enterprise” together with small, specific gadgets to meet our needs. It’s not hard to do if you can read instructions in each manual and obtain the Hardware connections to stitch it all together (mainly boosters and routers to appropriate antennas). Much of our system (below the antennas) is connected wirelessly.
Cost wise, our set up initial costs were $600. That includes the following plus hardware and cables and the DIY time to install it all:
– 1 x Smoothtalker Mobile X Dual Band Wireless Booster/Amplifier at this URL: https://www.smoothtalker.com/cellular-signal-boosters/mobile/wireless50/
– 1 x Alfa Network Long Range USB Adapter Model: AWUS036NHA at this URL: https://www.alfa.com.tw/products_show.php?pc=34&ps=20
– 1 x Antenna World G2421 Directional Compact Wifi Parabolic Grid Antenna at this URL: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00NQGVLRG/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Add this to your monthly cellular service bill and you might estimate what it would cost you. With this set up…we have never exceeded our data limits on our plan since we can use available WiFi from way out in most anchorages. We have Internet cell signal out to 10 NM at sea (LTE or 3G from coastal towers) and GPS signal (for apps) to nearly 15 miles.
We will be doing further testing soon and will report on what adjustments we make and lessons learned.