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Thinking of an afternoon on the water in your sailboat, speed boat or pontoon boat probably conjures images of sitting back with your feet up while the wind and water spray across your face. However, despite the fact that you may be 10, 20, 30 or more miles offshore, there may be times when you need internet access from your boat.
There are ways to reach your work or family, or even entertain yourself by streaming a show when you’re on the water, whether that’s through marine satellite internet or boat Wi-Fi. Although boat internet options are more limited than residential options, you still have a few choices.
Internet options for boats
As you investigate your options, there are two main things you need to know — floating vessels can have Wi-Fi and there are three primary ways to connect your boat to the internet:
- Satellite internet system — satellite internet options for a boat require a satellite antenna, a connection device and a data plan
- Cellular hotspot and booster
- Wi-Fi booster
Top 3 satellite internet options for boats
Sailor 900 VSAT System
The Sailor 900 VSAT System is a top-of-the-line marine satellite internet system that can cost from $37,000 to $53,000. It is available from marine stores and websites that specialize in boating and boat satellite systems, such as SatPhoneStore.com, ComSat, High Seas Technology and more.
The Sailor 900 VSAT System is a stabilized satellite antenna system that comes fully configured and ready to go. There is no additional work needed prior to installation. There is a single cable that connects the above deck antenna to your system in the cabin. For a flat fee, it will provide you with broadband internet that can always be on.
Garmin inReach Explorer+
The Garmin inReach Explorer+ uses the Iridium satellite network, which gives you connectivity across the globe. However, the use of the Iridium network requires a subscription fee over and above the purchase price of the device. The Garmin inReach Explorer+ allows for two-way text messaging, has an interactive SOS and 24/7 search and rescue monitoring and, with the additional Earthmate app, can connect to compatible Android and iPhone tablets and phones for access to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) charts and more. It contains preloaded DeLorme TOPO (topographic) maps with onscreen GPS routing.
Iridium Go! Satellite Wi-Fi Hotspot
A mid-range option, the Iridium Go! Satellite Wi-Fi Hotspot is a satellite communications device that takes advantage of the Iridium satellite network. It is available from Amazon. In addition to the device, you’ll need a subscription to the Iridium satellite network, or you can choose a pay-as-you-go option.
With the Iridium Go! Satellite Wi-Fi Hotspot, you can wirelessly connect up to five Android or iOS mobile phones and tablets. In addition to sending text messages, with the connection to the Iridium Go! Satellite Wi-Fi Hotspot, you’ll be able to place phone calls from your mobile device. It’s simple to use — once the Iridium Go! Satellite Wi-Fi Hotspot is turned on, it automatically connects to satellite so you can connect your mobile devices. The Iridium Go! Predict Wind app can help you monitor the weather when you’re on the water.
Iridium Satellite Network
Both the Garmin inReach Explorer+ and the Iridium Go! Satellite Wi-Fi Hotspot requires a subscription to the Iridium Satellite Network. The company offers several plans with varying amounts of data. The entry-level Go! 40 plan is $60/mo. and includes 40 minutes of data. Other plans are the Go! 90 plan, which has 90 minutes of data for $100/mo. and the Go! 250 plan, which is $108/mo. for 250 minutes of data. The company’s top-tier plan, the Go! Unlimited provides 150 minutes of calling and unlimited data for $150/mo.
Other internet options
Other boat internet options include mobile hotspots and Wi-Fi extenders. You can get a mobile hotspot from most cellphone providers, like AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, along with electronic stores like Best Buy. They can range in monthly price from free to $14.17/mo. or from a purchase price of $50 to $230. However, the problem with mobile hotspots is you need to be near a provider’s cell tower to access a signal. This means you can’t venture more than five to 10 miles offshore.
A Wi-Fi extender increases the range for Wi-Fi networks. If you’re on the water near the public Wi-Fi networks you may find at marinas, restaurants and stores, a Wi-Fi extender could increase your range and keep you connected. However, like a mobile hotspot, you can’t venture too far offshore. The benefit is once you purchase the equipment, you won’t have a monthly fee.
The bottom line
Being out on the open water no longer means you have to disconnect from the rest of the world. There are boat internet options that will fit any boating scenario and any price range.
If you don’t venture too far from shore and don’t use your boat all the time, a mobile hotspot or Wi-Fi extender could be an option. But if you like to cruise on the open water far from shore, you’ll need to go with a satellite internet system. Then, it depends on how much you use your boat whether you’ll want a lower-priced option like the Garmin inReach Explorer+ (from $350-$450), a mid-range option like the Iridium Go! Satellite Wi-Fi Hotspot (from $695-$775) or a top-of-the-line solution like the Sailor 900 VSAT System (from $37,000-$53,000).
For all your other internet needs, check out internet providers and options in your area.
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Written by:Laurie Garrison
Laurie Garrison is a Florida-based freelance writer whose specialties include sports business and sports tech. She also writes on broadband subjects, as well as business and marketing awards entries where she ha… Read more
Edited by:Robin Layton
Editor, Broadband Content
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