Scroll for more

TECH TALK: Getting connected on board your yacht


Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a pyramid with the most fundamental human need – ‘physiological’ – (food, safety, warmth) at the bottom and then rising in five increasingly complex levels. For anyone under the age of about thirty there is now a sixth level of primary human need underpinning all of them – Wi-Fi. And it isn’t much less important for the rest of us.

And if you have kids you’ll already know that the ultimate punishment is no longer the traditional ‘grounding’ – they no longer leave the house anyway. Pulling the plug on the router has now become the nuclear deterrent. So if you don’t want a mutiny aboard ship you’d better make sure that you have strong and reliable internet access.

It’s a subject close to the heart of Manager of Princess Individual Chris Bailey, who has spent nearly a decade refining yacht Wi-Fi access almost into an art form.

Chris, – my kids are revolting and I need Wi-Fi – where do I start?
On board Wi-Fi has come a long way even within the last few years. As technology advances we’ve ensured that we are at the cutting edge of marine internet access and have recently teamed up with a company called Yacht Surfer, who offer some fantastic solutions.

What’s so special about it?
One of the big issues people have on installation is actually setting up Access Point Name (APN) – the gateway between a mobile phone system and the Internet. One of the key features of Yacht Surfer products is Auto Set Up. Basically you insert your dedicated mobile phone SIM card and the unit takes care of the rest. Plus, as it is a proper marine unit rather than a domestic one, it is powered via a 12 volt or 24 volt source so doesn’t require generator power or shore power.

Can’t I just connect my devices directly to my marina Wi-Fi Hot Spot?
Absolutely you can. But bear in mind that many Wi-Fi providers make a connection charge per device. On a typical boat it isn’t unusual to have half a dozen phones, several tablets and maybe a couple of laptops, all needing to be online. By connecting via an on board router you pay for a single connection that then feeds all the devices. And its increased range creates greater scope for finding a cheaper (or even free) connection.

Brilliant, but what about when we’re away from port?
That’s where the router’s 3G and 4G facility comes into its own. By connecting via the mobile phone system you can have WiFi where-ever there is a phone signal – and again, on a basic system you’re only paying for a single connection no matter how many devices are connected – particularly important abroad where many providers charge heavily for data roaming.

How many devices can be connected to it?
That depends on the usage. Five devices checking email occasionally require a lot less data than one device streaming high definition movies or TV for example. We can increase data capacity significantly if required though, using a system called a Sonic Surfer. This is a real game changer, as it allows up to five SIM cards to be connected in unison. The really clever thing is that rather than simply ‘load balancing’ where the load is shared across the cards, they all work to boost data traffic allowing much faster and heavier data transfer.

What if I want to go further offshore?
As you know, mobile phone coverage only extends a short distance out to sea. If you want to maintain connection during off shore passages then satellite communication will provide global access.

Isn’t satellite data connection expensive?
It’s not the cheapest – 3G or 4G mobile phone network is cheaper, and connecting to a Wi-Fi hot spot less still, sometimes free. So what we can do is configure the router to source a Hot Spot as a priority, switch to the phone network if unavailable, and only switch to satellite as a last resort. Switching is seamless, so it doesn’t affect your connection.

So with that set up we’ll have permanent Wi-Fi coverage throughout the boat?
That depends on the size of the boat. A Princess 43 would probably be fine with a single router, but once over fifty feet you need to start thinking about repeaters in order to avoid dead zones. On an 88ft Princess for example we’d normally recommend three units, and we hard wire them in to avoid wireless losses.

Can you fit this to my existing boat?
As well as being an option for new yacht customers we can certainly undertake to retrofit these systems to existing craft. It is a relatively non-invasive operation and is done to factory specification.

Perfect. How long does it take and what does it cost?
Each system is entirely bespoke dependent on individual requirements regarding size of boat, coverage required and typical connected data usage, and normally takes anything from a day to a week. We’re very happy to discuss the options and quote for supply and installation; so just give us a call and we’ll talk you through it.

View our 2021 featured retrofit products here, or for more information email [email protected]