Best Internet Options for Boats


 

Which internet option is best for boating?

Communication on the water is better than it’s ever been. Today, you have more options than ever before, including satellite antenna systems for transatlantic voyages and cellular boosting equipment suitable for cruising along the coast.

There isn’t a universal best internet option for boating because it’ll depend on where you’re cruising, how much data you need, and how much you want to spend. Some options cost a few hundred dollars, while others will set you back $50,000 or more. 

Marine internet options

There are three ways to connect to the internet while boating.

  1. Cellular data (requires a mobile hotspot or your phone + data plan + booster)
  2. Public and private Wi-Fi hotspots at docks and marinas (requires your device + booster or extender to strengthen the signal)
  3. Satellite internet communications (requires a satellite antenna + data plan + laptop or device)

When to use what 

In a marina or dock

Marinas sometimes have Wi-Fi hotspots you can use while visiting. In docks and marinas, you can also often capture a decent cellular data signal if you have a booster. Since boats deflect cellular signals, we recommend using a booster to get a good signal. 

In US waterways

On lakes and along shorelines, you can often get a cellular signal if you strengthen it with a booster. Remember, since it’s cellular service, it’s hit or miss. Some of the equipment we recommend can boost cellular signals up to 20 miles offshore.

In open water

Once you cruise away from the shore and go deep into international waters, your only options are a satellite phone, a satellite internet hotspot, or a satellite internet antenna.

Best cellular options for boats

Using cellular data for your internet connection on board your vessel is the most affordable way to get online for casual boaters. With the right equipment, you can extend a cellular signal up to 20 miles out from land.

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Best cellular internet setups for boats

Equipment setupMobilSat marine cellular systemCel-Fi GO Marine Mobile Cellular Signal BoosterAlpha 4G Camp Pro 2+
Top featureBoosts cell signals up to 20 miles100 dB max gain (stationary)Boosts 4G data and shares with other devices
Equipment price$1,839 $799.99$187.97
Service plans$79/mo. & up$25/mo. & up (varies by carrier)Service plans: $25/mo. & up
Get itLearn moreLearn moreLearn more

*Data as of 3/31/2021. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. See full disclaimer.

The MobilSat cellular system is our top pick. It’s a comprehensive solution and extends cellular range up to 20 miles away from the shore. It’s very effective for boaters who cruise along the coast or go boating at lakes and along rivers. Like any cellular data, it won’t work everywhere, but it delivers an affordable internet solution for boating.

Of course, cellular data won’t work if you go too far from shore. Even with a booster, you’ll only be able to get online when you’re located close to shore and in a direct line of sight to cell phone towers. Once you cruise away from shore, or past the nearest port’s cellular coverage area, you won’t have a signal. That’s why we recommend always having a satellite phone on board for emergencies.

The advantage cellular internet offers to boaters is the price tag. Cellular equipment and data service are much less expensive than satellite setups. Even a complete marine setup with cellular modem, router, and a top of the line booster is less than $2,000. 

Cellular data plans are affordable. Cellular data is $5 or less per GB, while satellite data for marine vessels costs $300 or more per GB. So most boaters use cellular as much as possible, even if they have a satellite connection for deep sea excursions. 

Best Wi-Fi boosters for boats

The cheapest way to get internet on a boat is to use the marina Wi-Fi when you’re docked—but we all know how unreliable public Wi-Fi can be. Marinas, docks, harbors, yacht clubs, and ports often have some sort of Wi-Fi hotspot connection. A good Wi-Fi booster can help stretch a hotspot signal just a little further so you can access the marina Wi-Fi in your boat.

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Best boosters for marina Wi-Fi

BoosterRedPort Halo – Long Range WIFI ExtenderAlfa WiFi Camp Pro 2
Top featureBoosts Wi-Fi signal up to 7 miles Moderate signal gain of up to 5 dB
Price$399.99$145.00
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*Data as of 3/31/2021. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. See full disclaimer.

With all the metal, glass, and wood in a marina, it’s no wonder that Wi-Fi signals don’t travel very far from the access point. The solution is often as simple as amplifying the Wi-Fi connection with a booster or extender. 

The best marina Wi-Fi booster kit we’ve come across is the RedPort Halo Long Range WIFI Extender. It is designed to boost a Wi-Fi signal up to seven miles, but it costs about $400. A budget option is the Alfa WiFi Camp Pro 2 Long Range Repeater Kit, which has less boosting power than the RedPort Halo but can also solve weak Wi-Fi issues around a marina.

Best satellite internet and phone for boats

Once you head away from the coastline and out of range of cell phone towers, satellite is your best (and only) option. You’ll need to outfit your boat with a satellite hotspot or antenna to get service on the open sea. Global satellite internet service plans are available through VSAT internet, SeaSat, iDirect, and other carriers.

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Best satellite internet equipment for boats

Equipment setupSea Tel SAILOR 900 VSAT SystemKVH’s TracPhone HTSIridium Go! Satellite Wi-Fi HotspotGarmin inReach Explorer+
DescriptionBest in class satellite systemTop satellite phone optionBest satellite hotspotBest budget satellite phone
Service areaGlobal serviceGlobal VOIP and data serviceGlobal serviceGlobal service
Data infoiDirect data network (Ku band)VSAT data networkGPS, tracking, and SOSWeather, mapping, SOS, and navigation
SpeedsDownload speeds up to 768 KbpsSpeeds up to 5 Mbps download/2 Mbps uploadSlow speeds (2.5 Kbps) Very slow speeds
Equipment price$34,995$16,999 & up$715$449.99
Data plan price$249.00 per 3 GB & up$145.00$653.00 for 300 min. prepaid card$11.95–$64.95/mo.
Get itLearn moreLearn moreLearn moreLearn more

*Data as of 3/31/2021. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. See full disclaimer.

We like the KVH TracPhone V3 HTS VSAT marine satellite internet system because it can be customized depending on your boat and individual needs. It’s priced at $16,999 and up. Satellite data for marine vessels is priced at $300 per GB and up.

VSAT marine equipment is a big investment, but it’s extremely rugged and dependable. And satellite data service is the only available internet solution away from cellular service areas. VSAT service is broadcast from VSAT’s satellite system in high-Earth orbit. VSAT service is available almost everywhere except in the extreme northern and southern polar regions. All VSAT service works while in motion as well as while boats are stationary, although speeds are slower while a boat is moving than when anchored. 

Due to the high cost of data at sea, many boaters opt for satellite phone and text service only. The Iridium GO! Satellite Wi-Fi Hotspot delivers a very low speed satellite communication service of up to 2.5 Kbps. The Iridium Go! works for voice calls, text messaging, navigation and tracking, and SOS. To learn more about data plan options, check out prepaid data cards for the Iridium Go! The Garmin inReach Explorer+ is a similar voice and text only service that offers GPS, emergency calls, and navigation from anywhere in the world. With the Garmin inReach, you’ll sign up for a service plan when you purchase your equipment.

The final take

When you’re close to land, getting cellular internet on a boat is fairly easy and can enrich your cruising experience. It’s an affordable option for streaming music and checking emails. You can also make use of free Wi-Fi zones at marinas and harbors if you have the right equipment.

For those intrepid boaters who venture into the deep ocean, we recommend a satellite phone or hotspot device. Even if it’s just for navigation and emergencies, satellite communication is the most reliable way to connect in extremely remote locations.

FAQ about internet options for boating

How do I get the best signal from Wi-Fi hotspots at the marina?

Using a booster will help you make the best of wimpy Wi-Fi at a marina. Most marinas have some sort of Wi-Fi connection available (whether it’s paid or included in the price of docking your rig). But the quality of marina Wi-Fi varies widely. A lot of the problems with marina Wi-Fi boil down to high usage, bad network design, lots of interference from metal and glass, and poor technical support. You may need to walk around the dock to get a signal. 

If you intend to use marina Wi-Fi for anything other than the most casual of social media browsing, or on multiple devices, you’ll need to outfit your boat with the right equipment. 

How much does satellite internet for boats cost?

Satellite internet for boats costs $300 per GB of data, which is much more expensive than data on land. Equipment costs several thousand dollars as well, varying depending on your setup. 

The cheapest satellite internet for boats is going to be a low bandwidth satellite phone communicator with GPS, mapping, and texting capabilities, like the Garmin inReach Explorer+ that’s priced below $450. You’ll also need a six-month Iridium talk and text satellite plan, which starts at $349.99.

Can I get online on a boat using a cellular data plan and a hotspot?

Yes, getting a mobile hotspot and a cellular data-only plan (or a phone plan with a generous data allowance) is a good way to connect along the shoreline and while cruising at inland lakes and rivers. 

Boaters who plan to use cellular data will need a booster to extend the signal. Be aware that even with a booster, your signal will probably go in and out as you cruise along the coast. 

For most recreational boaters, cellular service from AT&T, Verizon, or another mobile provider will be the fastest and most affordable way to get internet on a boat.  Cellular signals don’t travel very far, so don’t expect steady service while cruising across the Gulf of Mexico or sailing along the outer banks of North Carolina.

How much data do I need on a boat?

Internet data use on a boat varies from person to person, depending on how heavily they rely on the internet and what they’re doing online. Basic tasks like navigation and text messages use very little data, while streaming video uses a lot of data. 

Some cruisers disconnect from technology while out on the water and need the internet only for GPS and emergency service. These boaters catch up with family and friends while docked at marinas and use less than 1 GB per week while out at sea. Others who will be working remotely throughout their journeys or using the internet recreationally on a luxury yacht will use much more data.

Amazon.com prices as of 3/30/20 10:15 MST. Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon.com at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. SatelliteInternet.com utilizes paid Amazon links.

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