If you spend extended periods of time on a sailboat, being able to get online is crucial. It’s important for navigation, passage planning, weather forecasting, looking for the nearest grocery store, and staying in touch with friends and family on land. The good news is: if you’re sailing relatively close to the coast, getting online shouldn’t be too difficult. Mobile networks often have a huge reach, so most long-term sailors will be able to get decent coverage. That said, here are some tips for getting online easily.
Use a SIM card and your phone as a hotspot. For long-term sails, use SIM cards with data plans. A mobile network can be fifteen times more powerful than public WiFi; it’s faster, and you’ll be able to save some money. Mobile data is often cheaper than spending time at an onshore bar or café, plus it’s a lot more convenient.
Google Project Fi. If you’re in the market for a new smartphone, see if you can get a Fi-ready Google phone. This project allows people to use one SIM card worldwide and change the data plan based on travel needs. Some people swear by it.
Apple SIM. While more expensive, the Apple SIM is usable in 180 countries. Users buy local data plans directly from the iPad. Unfortunately, this is not an option within most sailors’ budgets, but some people who live on their boats love it. It saves a lot of time and the effort of going to shore to purchase SIM cards in each country.
WiFi Boosters. Some budget-conscious sailors might choose to keep their mobile plan costs as low as possible. The best way to do this? WiFi boosters. These are small boxes that you can mount to your mast, backstays, or spreaders that catch shore WiFi directly from the boat. Before giving this option a shot, understand that it only works well in populated areas and that you’ll need to choose your anchoring spot based on the WiFi signal.