How to Get Satellite TV on Your Boat

Dave Schafer
Jun 07, 2021
Icon Time To Read4 min read

In the US, you’ve got a choice between DISH and DIRECTV. Not all satellite antennas are compatible with both providers—especially if you want HD programming. Pick your provider before you invest thousands on your marine satellite dish.

You’ll want a satellite dish intended for marine use that supports your TV provider. The dishes that come with your TV package are intended for stationary use on land, not a boat. Dishes intended for boats are larger, more advanced, and much more expensive.

Choosing a satellite TV provider

DISH and DIRECTV each excel in different areas. Let’s run down some of the pros and cons of each.

pro Better budget packages
pro Larger channel selection
con Genie DVR offers fewer features than Hopper 3
con Top-tier packages are more expensive than DISH

For sports fans, it doesn’t get a whole lot better than DIRECTV. The provider has a larger number of dedicated sports channels than DISH, and more channels overall.

Just know that you might miss games that are broadcast on local channels, depending on where your boat is located. Local channels on satellite TV operate using spot beams to the intended area and can be picked up only if you’re within a few hundred miles of the target area.

DIRECTV also offers a great package selection, with everything from budget plans that start at $44.99 per month up to top-tier packages that include premium channels like HBO®.

Read frequently asked questions about DIRECTV.

† for 12 mos plus taxes. Autopay & Paperless bill req’d. Prices higher in 2nd year.

pro Awesome Hopper 3 DVR
pro Great customer satisfaction ratings
pro 2-yr. price lock
con Fewer overall channels
con Extra cost for Hopper 3

DISH has a solid number of channels to choose from and the top-tier packages are reasonably priced at just $94.99 per month.*

It does require a two-year contract, but the upshot of that is the prices are locked for two years, whereas with DIRECTV you’ll see a price hike after one year of service. DISH also scores well in customer service and customer satisfaction surveys.

The best part of DISH, though, is the DVR. We think the Hopper 3 is the best on the market by far. It has tons of storage space and the ability to record up to 16 shows at once, so you can load it up with content to watch while you’re out enjoying the high seas.

*for 24. months. New customers only. All offers require 2-year commitment with early termination fee and eAutopay. Price includes Hopper Duo for qualifying customers.

Choosing a marine satellite dish for your boat

18" diameter Supports DIRECTV, DISH, and several global providers Works worldwide14" diameter Supports DIRECTV Works in North America18" diameter Supports DISH and DIRECTV Works in North America

What to look for in a marine satellite dish

Satellite tracking

Most satellite dishes—even “fully automatic” ones like the DISH Playmaker from Winegard—are designed to be used when stationary. The automatic satellite tracking on these dishes is more like automatic satellite finding—it will lock onto a satellite, but it won’t follow the satellite if the dish moves. Since a boat is constantly moving—even when anchored—this is a problem.

You’ll have to pay a lot to get a dish that’s constantly tracking. Most cost around $1,500 and some even go up to $13,000. If you just want to watch while docked, you can get away with a cheaper model. But if your goal is to catch the big game on the open ocean, it’s going to cost you.

Dish size

The size of the satellite dish doesn’t make much difference on land, but it can be important on the water. Satellite TV providers aim their satellite signals toward land masses to maximize signal strength where the bulk of customers are, so the farther away from land you are, the weaker the signal gets. Larger dishes are more sensitive, so you can get a stronger signal when you’re out at sea.

Do you want HD channels?

If you want HD channels, check the specs for any dishes you’re looking at to verify it supports HD. This is mainly an issue with DIRECTV: many dishes that support both DISH and DIRECTV can pick up DIRECTV in only SD. If you want to watch DIRECTV in HD, look for a dish that explicitly says it works with DIRECTV HD signals.

Will you be traveling to other continents?

If you’re planning on sailing to Europe or South America, your satellite TV may not work. Many dishes have components that are localized to a specific region, and they won’t decode satellite signals from other areas. This component is called the LNB, or low noise block, and it’s what converts the satellite signal into something usable by set-top boxes and DVRs.

If you plan on doing a lot of traveling between different regions, consider a dish that has an LNB that works across different regions. You won’t have access to your US-based satellite TV plan, but you can pick up regional international networks.

Pro tip

If you have more than one TV on your boat and want to watch different channels on each, you’ll need additional set-top boxes from your satellite provider. You’ll need one for each TV that you want to have independent. Our verdict? It might be easier (and cheaper) to just compromise on what to watch.

FAQ about satellite TV on boats

Can you get satellite TV on a boat?

Yes, you can get both DIRECTV and DISH satellite TV on a boat. You’ll need a special (and expensive) marine satellite dish designed for use on a boat and compatible with either DISH or DIRECTV, but it’s absolutely possible.

What do you need to get DIRECTV on a boat?

You need three things to get DIRECTV on a boat: a DIRECTV package, a marine satellite dish that’s compatible with DIRECTV, and a set-top box or DVR that’s compatible with DIRECTV.

What is the best marine TV antenna?

The best marine TV antennas are made by Garmin, Intellian, and KVH. For stationary antennas to use while you’re docked, Winegard is the gold standard.

How much is satellite TV for a boat?

A satellite TV package for a boat can run around $125 per month, and the marine satellite TV dish can cost several thousand dollars (up to $13,000 in some cases), depending on the model you go with.

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Dave Schafer
Written by
Dave Schafer
Dave has written professionally for tech companies and consumer technology sites for nearly five years, with a special focus on TV and internet. He uses his industry expertise to help readers at get the most out of their services. No matter the project, he prefers his coffee black (the stronger, the better).