Internet access at sea is more of a necessity than a luxury nowadays for a lot of reasons. One important reason, especially for seafaring professionals, is access to the latest weather and navigational data. Easy communications with family and friends is also a benefit of having web access while at sea.
Just as there are plenty of reasons why Internet access is a basic need at sea, there are also a lot of challenges involved in getting a reliable and speedy connection while afloat. Let’s explore some of the usual methods of connecting to the Internet while seafaring.
The WiFi Way
Usually free and boasts the highest speeds, WiFi is the most common way of connecting to the Internet. If it’s not already available in your ship, local marinas, nearby establishments, and even neighboring sea vessels can provide you with a WiFi connection, so long as you’re cleared for access.
Unfortunately, the WiFi way, despite its high throughput and availability, is also the most range limited option. In order to reliably connect over long distances, using a WiFi range extender is required. Range extenders generally come in antenna form, sometimes with an attached smart box that handles the software side.
The Cellular Channel
Using your mobile phone to connect to the Internet can also be a viable option. Check if your local mobile carrier has Internet data packages, and see if your locale has service coverage.
Like WiFi, mobile Internet can be fast. It also has the advantage of having a wider connectivity range. However, this depends greatly on the availability of mobile cell sites in the area, and the user’s distance from these structures. Mobile signals are also subject to interference, which results in “dead zones” in cellular coverage.
A signal booster can further increase a mobile phone’s connectivity range, as well as combat dead spots in coverage. Consider getting a carrier-appropriate booster kit. For example, if you’re on Verizon, there’s a wide variety of Verizon signal boosters designed for different uses.
The Satellite Solution
This is the most expensive method of connecting to the Internet while seafaring. Investing in a satellite system will require a lot of money as the technology involved is currently only practical at the enterprise level. The costs can be extremely prohibitive, so consider this option as a last resort.
Mini-VSAT service boasts the best setup for high bandwidth throughput, but the equipment is extremely expensive, costing in the tens of thousands. Coverage is also limited, with only a handful of regions available for service.
Inmarsat BGAN is also another satellite option that costs less to get started and can provide good bandwidth. Getting started will set you back a couple of thousands in equipment and the costs of data transmission are markedly high. There is a technical element to using this service, as you always need to point the system antenna toward a satellite, which can be a challenge when you’re on a moving ship.
Iridium is the cheapest choice in satellite-based Internet, but it’s also the slowest. Iridium relies on low earth orbiting satellites to get the job done, so it’s practically available anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, like the other options, the data cost is also high and the speeds are akin to dial-up connection speeds.
There are a handful of ways to connect to the Internet while seafaring. Each option has its strengths and weaknesses and will have varying costs as well. Choose the most practical option for your needs and your budget.