General Shipboard Communications ~ 2016 Wants

In the past if you had a VHF radio, things like Sat Phones and Sea Mail were considered esoteric which for most meant too expensive. Truth to be told the services at that time proved to ssomewhat erratic. In the intervening years things have changed. Everyone carries a smartphone and they expects to find Cell service and WiFi hotspots in lots of places. This applies to people on your boat, they pull out the iPad or cell phone and want to go to it! This is easy in a marina where you are close to shore and have the WiFi password, but many other places it is difficult.

If you improve general communications aboard, what do you want?

Cell Phone Extender - Wilson Electronics 460108

Thanks mainly to long distance truck drivers in the West who were often out of range of cell services, improvements have been made. As the phone companies went to 3G and now 4G, erected lots of new towers, cell service in the continental US is good almost wherever you are. In parallel Wilson electronics developed amplifiers and antenna systems for Truckers and Marine that substantially extend the reception range and call quality. The standard for Wilson 460108 Mobile 4G Amplifier Kit boosts talk, text, internet, 2G, 3G, AWS, and 4G/LTE for most US carriers: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, US Cellular ... for vehicles such as cars, trucks, vans, RVs and boats. The installation and set up are straight forward following the written instructions provided. It allows multiple users and cellular devices (smartphones, tablets, etc) to be used simultaneously. It amplifies signals both to and from cell tower with up to a 50dB gain, which is the equivalent to going from almost 0 bars to 5 bars. While technically 4G LTE range can be up to 60 miles,the Telcos routinely downrate the signal to a 30 mile range to substantially reduce power usa by the towers. At the fringes or with geography interfering this is where having your own amplifier to put back what the Telco has removed is efficient for you and the Telco.

We opted to install a 318430 marine antenna at the top of the Mizzen mast. Over the standard antenna supplied with the 460108, it gives and additional 5 dB of boost. We will report when we have tested the system both for single and multiple use when 20, 30 and 40 miles offshore. We are particularly interested in iPad performance with internet traffic that has multiple images in a page, whether or not we want them. We will test with simulteneous Cell phone and iPad use at 20, 30, 40 miles offshore and report the resutls.

WiFi Range Extender and Router - Alpha Products

The whole effort on WiFi has been driven by the poor signal strength we have routinely found in marinas. The first part of the effort involves in simply trying a 14dB Gain directional antenna pointed at the marina WiFi extenders. This generally gave good results up to 1000 ft, but if the boat moved the performance dropped off. The unit claimed ranges from 1 to 3 miles but did not deliver. We tried and omni directional 9dB antenna and got comparable results without loss of strenght with boat motion. This proved that for a boat an omni directional antenna is essential. We intuitively knew this but did want to prove it to ourselves.

Next step was to use a powered antenna and router combination. We knew that a router was going to be essential in the future on the boat because many different devices could log on. We chose an Alfa R36 802.11 b/g/N Repeater and Range Extender AWUS036H, switched out the supplied 5dB antenna for the 9dB omni directional one. The amplifier output is nominally 2,000 mW, but what this means in terms of real perfomance is unknown to ourselves, crudely put "amplified is better than non amplified". Setting up a Router is not for the faint hearted. We hooked the router up to a laptop with Cat5 cable, went to the install page at 192.168.1.2 and followed the written and on line instructionand screens. Without any tricks or work arounds the router was recognized and installed. Next we found that we could aquire a 4.8ft marine omni directional antenna for mast mounting. It is now on top of the main mast and peaks out at 60ft. We have 2 steps left to complete, make the router password protected and selecting hot spots of differing distances from the boat. Like the cell extender we will report results.

PC Server

The Garmin 7215 GPSmap chartplotter has a VGA input to display PC content. In this day and age most people are buying Laptops or Tablets to use in the PC world. We happen to want to be able to view and work on CAD files, Music Composition/Play software ... and sit at a desk / Nav Station while we do it. We also wanted a 12VDC computer that could hook straight into the boats DC power. A number a machines are available and we chose an OEM/ODM Mini Cpu Gaming PC Mini Htpc T4200U 4G RAM, 256G SSD 300M WIFI Intel Core i5-4200U Turbo Boots to 2.6GHz support 720P/1080P 4k HD Gamer PC that we found on Amazon for less than $300. Having a 356G Solid State Drive means we do not have to worry as much about a marine atmosphere. Everything is solid state chips with the port gold contacts USB, LAN, Mic ... being vulnerable. It is very compact so we were able to mount it right above the 7215. We added a wireless keyboard and mouse from ANKER, also from amazon for about $30. Everything worked fine. One of the nicer features is the ability to hook up a pair of Logitech Z5 USB speakers. These give excellent sound fidelity to PC audio output. The PC does not hace a CD/DVD drive but we have a Samsung USB CD/DVD drive, thus we can play movies with good video and Audio fidelity.

70-Mile TV Range Powered 1byOne HDTV Antenna and AXESS 24" TV

The final effort was to complete our "living room / office" equipment, which entailed getting a TV / PC Monitor. We went the RV route on this because again we wanted a 12VDC unit. We found an AXESS TV1701-24 24-Inch Widescreen 1080p HD LED TV with Built-in USB and HDMI Ports and a Full Function Remote. We wanted an LED unit because that gives the least power consumption when in use. This was another Amazon purchase for about $275. The screen size we chose is the largest that would fit on the shelf behind the straight bench in the Salon. To provide a TV signal we looked for a long range marine antenna.The boat formeerly had a Shakespeare TV antenna but the amplifiers was shot. We bought a 1byOne 70-Miles Omni-directional Amplified Outdoor HDTV antenna Marine Antenna with Stainless Steel Base, Suitable for Both Outdoors and Marines High Performance. The antenna is on top of the Mizzen Mast so it will be interesting to find out the true range, of course we will report on that later.