Our marina has WiFi and used to have an access point on the dock near our boat. It has not been working for the whole year, so I decided we needed to do something. If it was just my wife and I, it would not matter, but if I want my kids to have fun on the boat, they need to have internet access. You could argue about whether that is necessary, since part of the benefit of having a boat is getting away from it all, but that doesn't happen if the kids don't want to come along. Later on, when we are retired and doing more cruising, it will be helpful to get internet access in remote anchorages, though the solution I picked may need some upgrades for longer distances.
If you have followed the market for marine WiFi boosters, you know that commercial solutions run about $400 and up, with some stripped down versions in the neighborhood of $250. My goal was to get much of what the commercial solutions give at $100 or less. I decided on a system that can also be easily removed from the boat and used at other locations that are WiFi challenged.
Ubiquity makes Cutomer Premises Equipment (CPE) that is the standard for point-to-point solutions in commercial markets and provides the Bullet router that is used in most of the commercial marine solutions. I chose not to use the Bullet as it would have cost over $100 with a quality antenna, but instead chose a NanoSation locoM2 that combines a router with a 60* directional antenna. The NanoSation is designed to be mounted outdoors, but I plan on just setting it in the flybridge enclosure tie wrapped to one of the bimini poles. Power is supplied over the Ethernet cable via a power injector (POE), so the only wire going to the NanoStation is a Cat6 cable and I don't have to worry about weatherproofing the connection like you have to with a Bullet and antenna assembly. The big trade-off that I am making is that you have to aim the NanoStation at the signal you want to pick up, where the Bullet with an omnidirectional antenna does not have to be aimed. At a dock, this is no big deal, but when at anchor swinging around the hook, it could be a problem.
On the other end of the Ethernet cable will be a Ubiquity airGateway access point. This is a really small (1x1.5x2") router/antenna combo that will be used as an access point with the routing being done by the NanoStation. The basic unit has an internal antenna, but I paid $10 more to get one with an external antenna for better WiFi connections on the boat.
The only other piece necessary is an Ethernet cable, which I will make up myself.
You might have noticed that I also bought a GoFree Wifi unit made by Navico, the parent company of Simrad, B&G and Lowrance. This unit is a wireless interface for the marine electronics, allowing a tablet to be used to display and control the chartplotters. With this, you can sit at the dinette and use the chartplotter to plan a trip, set waypoints, view AIS targets on the chartplotter and initiate VHF calls to them using the VHF radio remote. Navico does not make it easy to use this device for browsing the internet or streaming video, though I think you can get into the guts of the GoFree router and make it happen. More important, there are bandwidth issues with the radar and sonar overwhelming the network, making it desirable to separate the marine network traffic from the consumer electronics side of things. That said, having the chartplotters connected to the internet periodically allows direct updates of the software and also uploading of sonar data to Navionics' crowdsourcing database that generates more precise and current sonar data. Once I have this all running, I am going to see how best to make this connection to the internet, as there are multiple options available.
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