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Marine Wireless Communications

Staying connected while on the water has never been easier.

July 23, 2013
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For boaters who place a priority on Internet and e-mail access, three tiers of marine wireless connectivity offer differing capabilities. With Wi-Fi and cellular, ranges vary widely. The distances we outline here are based on manufacturers’ claims, but your actual range will likely be less.

Wi-Fi
Up to 12 miles offshore; $30 to $500
Most marina hot spots reach about 300 feet. Some onboard devices can extend that range.

The Super USB WiFi Antenna 3 (up to one mile, $110, ccrane.com) from C. Crane is a portable, water-resistant performance antenna that plugs into your computer’s USB port.

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The Rogue Wave Pro (up to seven miles, $499, wavewifi.com) from GeoSat Solutions is one of the best values for Wi-Fi reception on a boat.

The O2Connect Waterproof Directional Antenna ($120, radiolabs.com) from RadioLabs boosts signal reception up to seven miles when aimed at a distant Wi-Fi source.

PDQ Connect (pdqconnect.com) offers the Slate X 2000N ($30) to the AllPro long-range extender ($400). PDQ claims ranges of up to 10 and 25 miles, respectively, but we’d cut expectations by at least 50 percent.

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Cellular
Up to 20 miles offshore; $44 to $860
Cellular coverage can be marginal to nonexistent offshore, but these devices can increase range.

The DM547 ($44, digitalantenna.com) universal cell phone cradle from Digital Antenna boosts your signal up to 10 times. The adjustable holder fits most any size mobile phone and has a built-in amplified antenna.

Digital Antenna’s DA4500 ($240) pocketbook-size cellular amplifier and an externally mounted marine fiberglass antenna (18 inches to 8 feet, $160 to $290) boosts signal gain by up to 100 times.

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Digital’s PowerMax Wireless Cellular Amplifier/Repeater Systems ($650 to $860) can be connected wirelessly to mobile phones, computers or tablets for ranges of up to 20 miles offshore, depending on cell site location and blockage by structures or hills. Installation requirements reserve these systems for 45-plus-foot boats.

Satellite
Worldwide; $275 to $17,000, plus airtime
Marine satellite connectivity extends globally, but the equipment and airtime can be pricey

The InReach Smartphone ($275, inreachdelorme.com) by DeLorme is a text communicator with 150-character messaging. $9.95 per month.

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The SPOT Global Phone ($499, findmespot.com) provides service starting at $25 a month.

Iridium’s 9555 Handheld Phone ($1,400, iridium.com) with AxcessPoint ($150) lets you e-mail from a wireless device. $1.25 per minute.

The FB150 Satellite Terminal ($7,300) from Intellian (intelliantech.com) provides Internet and e-mail access at 150 Kb per second. Airtime starts at $149 per month.

KVH’s V3 VSAT Terminal ($17,000) offers 2 Mb per second service. Voice service starts at 49 cents per minute and data packages at $49 per month.

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