Can You Use the Internet at Sea?

yacht with satellites

Whether you have a bored kid, a broken GPS device, or just a desire to catch the end of an important sports game, you might feel tempted to connect to the internet while at sea. Sure, part of your motivation for boating is leaving the rest of the world behind and getting some alone time or time with your family – but there are also times when an internet connection is a practical requirement.

So how can you do it?

The Options for Internet on the Water

Here's the good news: there are many different options available for you to get internet while on the water. If one of these options doesn't work for you, either because it's inaccessible or too expensive, you can likely try one of the others.

  • Wi-Fi from the land (with an extender). One option is to utilise Wi-Fi, the same way you would use it on land. The only difference is you're going to be further away from the primary source. Obviously, you won't be able to use this method if you're in the middle of the ocean or if you're miles away from the nearest Wi-Fi source. But if you're relatively close, and you can see the location transmitting Wi-Fi, there's a good chance you'll be able to connect to it. Often, boaters tap into public Wi-Fi networks from local cafes, restaurants, hotels, and other establishments; as long as you have the password, you can attempt to join the network.

There are a few weaknesses to this approach, however. For starters, there's no guarantee that you're going to be able to make the connection, even if you have the password. You might simply be too far away. You can compensate for this by purchasing a booster or Wi-Fi extender, but even this may not be enough. Additionally, once you connect, you'll be competing with all the people using this public Wi-Fi source, including other boaters. Because of this, you might experience slow speeds and other issues.

  • Satellite internet. Another option is to utilise satellite internet, which is commonly used by rural consumers who don't have reliable access to the internet otherwise. Satellite internet relies on the presence and activity of satellites orbiting the earth; because they can “beam” information directly down, they're not subject to the same limitations as wired internet or Wi-Fi.

However, to get access to this service, you'll likely need specific equipment installed on your boat and you'll need to pay for an active subscription. This can be expensive, so it's usually only found on large yachts and other boats that accommodate many people at once. If you typically go out by yourself on a small vessel, this may not be a good fit for you, since it may not be worth the money.

  • A mobile hotspot. Alternatively, you could bring along a mobile hotspot. Mobile hotspots connect to the internet wirelessly and can serve as a local connection point; every person on your vessel will be able to connect all of their devices to this reliable and accessible network.

However, for your mobile hotspot to work, there needs to be a service provider with coverage in this area. If there is no reliable service provider, or if this area isn't covered by anybody, you may not be able to find a mobile hotspot that works. Even if you do, coverage at sea is rarely consistent or guaranteed.

Compensating for Lack of Internet: Communication and Safety

So, what if you're not able to connect to the internet, or what if your internet connection is spotty and unreliable? If you care about your ability to communicate and the safety of yourself and others on board, it's important to make sure you have emergency communication and navigation alternatives in place, such as:

  • Physical charts and navigation. As a backup, it pays to have physical charts accessible and to know how to navigate in an emergency. Grasping the basics of celestial navigation or learning how to navigate via physical charts could save you one day.
  • Extra chargers and batteries. Always bring along extra chargers and extra batteries for any electronic communication devices you have. There's no guarantee your phone is going to work, but if it does, you'll need to make sure it's powered.
  • VHF radio. A VHF radio serves as your most reliable form of communication at sea. Sending out a distress signal could save your life in an emergency, so make sure you understand how to operate this piece of equipment and make sure it's working properly before leaving.
  • Flares. It's also a good idea to keep some flares onboard. This way, you'll be able to visually signal your position, even at night.
  • Visual and audio signalling devices. It pays to have other visual and audio signalling devices onboard as well. Your boat should be outfitted with ample lights, sirens, horns and other equipment to broadcast its presence.

Compensating for Lack of Internet: Information and Entertainment

Some people want to be connected to the internet on a boat because they want more information and/or entertainment while boating, but there are plenty of alternatives for these as well:

  • AM/FM radio. Tune in and listen to the latest sports or some commentary.
  • Music. Download your favourite playlist and connect to an impressive set of onboard speakers.
  • Movies and TV shows. Install a screen and bring along your favourites.
  • Books and games. Don’t shy away from traditional forms of entertainment, like books and games.

You don't need the internet to have a good time on a boat, nor do you need the internet to signal an emergency or call for help. That said, there are many ways to access the internet that could improve your onboard experience.

If you're looking to improve your onboard experience by purchasing a bigger or a more luxurious vessel, we might have exactly what you're looking for. Check out our wide assortment of new and used boats for sale today!

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