Marine Communications and Internet Access

I work in communications, primarily marine communications lately (5 years). I work with sail and motor yachts, but the same ideals work for most vessels big enough for persons or crews to live onboard for extended periods of time.

There are multiple methods of Internet Access around for marine vessels. Many of them are very recent as far as how long they have been available.

What kind of Internet Communications a vessel uses depends on a couple of things… Their Budget (or companies budget) … and How much time they spend on the “Deep Blue Sea” where no land-based (terrestrial) Internet Connections can be used.

There is also something called Sail Mail (and others?) that work via MF-HF SSB Radio and for low volume / low content text only emails and some weather content uses.

Inmarsat has been around for a long time - and it seems to me was the “gold standard” until less than half a dozen years ago or less. Mini-M’s and Fleet (33, 55, or 77) systems as well as the old Saturn B - were, and in some cases still used.

Starting in the 2000’s (I came into this in early 2004) vessels started using Cellular by installing gear that did GSM for voice but also included GPRS Internet. It wasn’t the easiest thing to install because typically it took a 9-pin modem cable connection to a PC and knowing how to set that up to make it work.

Also WiFi Hotspots … crews were already getting that on laptops - so companies started making gear to share the wifi onto the boat without having everyone connect independantly - and to bring better signal and connection into the vessel.

Cellular is also going into 3G - so there are things like GSM’s outgrowth to UMTS - with HSPA - High Speed Packet Access - now available to individuals - so thusly vessels could take advantage of this as well by using router boxes designed to share such connections. They made it a bit easier to connect since the old modem cable thing went away.

Back on Satellite… newer VSAT systems came out from SeaTel and Nera (Nera later dropped out of satellite?) and KVH. Even more recent the Fleet Broadband - which is basically BGAN at Sea, and KVH’s Mini-VSAT or Tracphone V7 have come out. I didn’t say they were cheap - but the do work in a lot of places (Deep Blue Sea) where the other stuff just won’t work.

I usually recommend that vessels implement at least 2 or more of these things - so that they can choose a least-cost system to use depending on their geographic location and wether or not they are near land or in dock or not.

I also have a longer article on Cellular Internet as it pertains to marine vessels… if anyone’s interested. I’d have to figure out how to post it on here with the pictures that come with it. But I’ll do it if there is enough interest.

I’m also interested in other uses for computers and computing devices, including newer hand held cellular and such gear - as well as Navigation and Piloting uses of all sorts of Methods and Communications that touch computer and computer-like gear. A lot of things are bumping together even entertainment stuff is having networking these days. Nobeltec Radar goes over a CAT5 cable and is picked up by the computer using TCP/IP just like the Internet and Local Network stuff works.

It’s cool stuff … but always it’s nicer when technology helps to make a captain and crews life easier on marine vessels.

Hi All !

I was wondering if anyone had some sound tehnical advise for me as far as dockside internet access is concerned?

I currently connect through a marina wireless internet provider using a WaveRV (Radiolabs) USB antenna connected to my desktop computer. It has the hardware built in to the antenna itself and has a 15’ USB cord with the related software installed and running on my computer.

Typically my connection speed is on average 10Mb/sec download and 0.8-0.9Mb/sec upload speed using the website as an indicator.

I want to be able to run a wireless signal throughout my boat in order to give me more flexibily in where I can place my desktop as well as to get rid of the USB connection to it. I also plan on using other wireless devices (AppleTV, Skype, etc) as well as on-line gaming so I want to ensure the best possible signal quality. I require internet access ONLY while at dock and I am currently about 300’ from the provider signal on shore.

I see a lot of other systems with external non-usb antennas, bridges, routers, PoE, etc and this really seems like overkill if I don’t need internet access while away from the dock.

So it seems my only 2 remaining options are:

  1. Keep the usb antenna, purchase a small notebook computer running WinXp, install the antenna on that and then bridge this connection to my Apple Airport Express wireless access router using the Local Area Connection adapter on the notebook.

  2. Buy a high power wireless router. Should this in itself provide a good enough connection the the ISP connection point if the router was mounted inside my boat? This would eliminate both the USB antenna and the Airport Express from the scenario entirely.

Am I at least heading in the right direction here?

Thoughts, comment or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.



If the wireless ISP is using standard 802.11A/B on the 2.4 GHz band then you should be able to purchase a wireless bridge such as the Ubiquiti Nanostation Loco 2 ( This device is powered via PoE and will allow you to plug in your router to the radio and then use the router to (with wireless) to provide service to your boat.

Using a wireless router as both a bridge and an access point is generally a poor idea as you are trying to do a point to point link (back to your ISP) and then do multipoint connectivity inside your boat.

I don’t necessarily recommend the vendor above (no experience with them), but in my previous life as a network operations manager at a wireless ISP I used the NanoStation from ubiquiti with much success.


P.S. if you have any further question please feel free to pm me.