Radio Labs WiFi
15 October 2006 | Southern California
More and more marinas and harbors around the globe are offering WiFi service to visiting boats. This is not only convenient but a great business move for the folks providing the hot spots. Cruisers are famous for being fairly frugal (as one of Scottish descent I prefer this description to: 'cheap', etc.). Give a cruiser free or fairly inexpensive access to the Internet and they will be emailing, browsing, and skyping like crazy.
Most folks take their laptops to the hot spot but more and more cruisers are bringing the hot spot to their boat with amps and antennas. You can get into a fairly complex/expensive setup pretty quickly. After looking around a fair amount we ran across the Radio Labs Marine WIFI solution. It is an all in one unit with an antenna and integral WIFI card attached to a 15' USB cable. Install the drivers, plug it in and you're done. It's great because we can put the antenna in a spot that has good line of site with the hot spot. I often tape it to a jib sheet at anchor or stick it in the sail bag. It is also easy to take it with you and use it with your laptop. We have been able to get on nets more than a mile away.
In the picture above you can see the 2 foot antena hanging from the Starboard jib sheet with the USB cable running into the boat through the forward port light.
We carefully considered a BGAN Explorer 500 Satellite system for phone and Internet access. While I think that the BGAN is the way to go if you're going satellite, we have tabled the satellite solution for the time being due to the availability of WiFi and the utility of SSB email and document retrieval solutions. If we feel like there's a gap in our coms solution after a few months cruising we'll reassess the situation.