Ask Ken: How to Send Emails and Texts While Boating

Use these tools to maximize your Wi-Fi and cellular reach.

Sending Texts and Emails While on the Water
Sending Texts and Emails While on the WaterGarmin

Q. How can I send and receive emails or texts when I am on the boat and away from the dock?

A. One way is to maximize your Wi-Fi and cellular reach by linking your mobile device with specialized range extenders from companies such as Digital Antenna, Aigean Networks, Shakespeare, Wave WiFi and WeBoost.

You can also use satellite messengers such as the ACR 406 Link, which lets you use your ACR EPIRB or PLB to send short pre-written messages (e.g., “I’m here, I’m OK”) along with your position to family or friends.

Another satellite messenger is the Garmin InReach Explorer+, which offers two-way texting, forwards tracking information, and can show your position on free downloadable National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration charts to recipients. Optional weather forecasts are available.

The SPOT Gen3 can deliver emails and position reports via the internet and SMS to a computer or cellphone. You can also save a track of your trip for future reference.

Each satellite device above requires an annual subscription and has an emergency SOS Mayday function.

How to Email and Text While at Sea
Want ways to send and receive emails and texts while at sea? Here are products that can help.

WebWatch WC-1 ($850) by Shakespeare is a mini antenna dome (12 by 12 inches) that combines Wi-Fi and cellular signal amplifiers in one housing with cell speeds up to 4G standards. It is smart enough to automatically switch from cellular to a Wi-Fi connection when within Wi-Fi range to save on airtime costs. The WCT-1 version ($900) adds an HDTV antenna to the Wi-Fi and cell-signal boosters in one antenna housing.

Tip: Be wary of Wi-Fi-product range claims because performance can vary widely. Also, you may not always experience optimum speeds at all times. On a busy boating day, high Wi-Fi activity can slow connection speed.

A directional Wi-Fi antenna can help boost your range to a distant hotspot. You can temporarily mount a high-gain directional antenna on a rail, arch or hardtop and point it in the direction of a Wi-Fi hotspot antenna.

Safety First
The most important feature of a satellite communicator is the ability to send an emergency Mayday message to summon first responders to your location. Be advised that VHF radio coverage extends out only to slightly beyond the line of sight. At times your radio signal may be blocked when you find yourself on the far side of an island or behind another physical obstacle. Satellite-based communications extend your blanket of safety worldwide.

Double Duty
As most of these satellite communications devices are pocket-size and portable, they are great to take along with you when you venture beyond cellphone coverage on land. They can serve to summon assistance should you encounter an emergency when hiking, hunting, or when traveling in the country, off main highways, or in the mountains or desert where cell service is out of reach.

Worldwide Service Extras
SkyMate M2500 ($995) consists of a fixed-mount transceiver module, external antenna, and keypad control that bundles global email, SMS, navigation, position reporting and weather forecasting with satellite imagery. SkyMate's optional Sentry ($249) monitors important boat functions (e.g., bilge water level, shore power, unauthorized entry, and if your boat has been moved) and notifies you by text message when you are away from the boat.

Add Voice
The Iridium Go! ($900) is a palm-size portable hotspot that lets you make a wireless connection to your smartphone, computer or tablet. In addition to email, data and text messaging, you can update weather reports, post to Facebook and Twitter, and even share photos with friends. You can also use your cellphone to make phone calls anywhere in the world by tapping into the Iridium network of communications satellites.