Your boat is a refuge, a respite from the pressures of work, people and the elements of life that just don’t respect your need for leisure. Yet sometimes even that comes at the cost of having to be in touch via email or web-based information systems. Needing to stay in touch with work while on your boat might be a downer, but new systems can make your boat an even greater battlewagon — just by connecting to a Wi-Fi network.
Marlin recently tested three devices to expand the Wi-Fi range. Here’s how they work: Wi-Fi transceivers use a line-of-sight transmit-and-receive signal. Sure, Wi-Fi will penetrate bulkheads and living room walls to a backyard boat in a canal, but as the walls increase and the distance increases, the signal decreases. A non-amplified signal in the best conditions is usually only available for a maximum of 200 linear feet. To increase that range, you need two things: a powerful antenna at a height unimpeded by boats or structures and an amplifier to magnify the signal.
In my test, I didn’t take to the water, but I mounted the devices on a “mast” in my truck and drove away at 100-foot increments until I lost the ability to send an email. This was not line-of-sight operation, having traveled around a corner, leaving multiple homes and vegetation in the path of the signal. Without the devices, I could only connect about 65 feet from the router.
Simrad recently introduced its Evo2 displays, connecting directly to the Internet via a Wi-Fi module. Equally important, Navico, Simrad’s parent company, introduced its GoFree online store. Hardware and software together make these multifunction displays not just an isolated system for navigation and power-systems monitoring, but now firmware can be downloaded directly. Or you can purchase charts and download them wirelessly — forget the SD card. Through GoFree, you’ll be able to buy Navionics, C-Map and other charts, including Navico’s brands. We’ll bet other electronics companies follow suit in this march toward online connectivity.
There’s still another great reason to bring these Wi-Fi extenders aboard, and that’s the ability of systems to make sonar records of their fishing trip, each ping associated with a GPS coordinate. As you return to port, this record can be automatically uploaded to the GoFree store, quickly converted into a local chart then just as quickly downloaded to your chart for enhanced detail in contours of just a few feet, drastically enhancing bottom detail. A 5-foot outcropping or drop-off that can be nonexistent on a bathymetric chart can create an upwelling you might easily skip on your sonar or not see on your standard chart.
Many users have connected to line-of-sight Wi-Fi routers many miles away. Once connected to a router, it allows you to connect any number of Wi-Fi-enabled devices and communicate through it. The device uses very little power, burning only 500 milliamperes (mA) at 12 volts, meaning it can run 24/7 without draining house batteries. Its newer transmitter is not as powerful as the Rogue Wave’s, but it supports the newer, faster Wireless N network. It is waterproof and corrosion resistant and comes complete with a mast-mounting bracket.
It took only a few moments to assemble the device and then only 15 minutes to connect it to 12-volt power following the two-page instructions. We named our system, set a password, then disconnected from power and the local area network to mount the device where we wanted it. It booted up and connected automatically every time thereafter. We didn’t need technical service since our hookup was easy, but we called anyway and left an anonymous message. The call was returned less than 10 minutes later by the company owner and engineer.
For more information, visit The Wire website.
Connection Distance: 740 feet
The Rogue Wave has been around longer than other devices, and its design and construction are sleeker. But it does not have an internal local Wi-Fi network like the Wirie AP does. So for multiple connections on board, you’ll connect to its Ethernet cable directly or connect the Ethernet cable to an external Wi-Fi router. Its transmitter is more powerful than the Wirie AP’s but does not support the faster N network system. It’s waterproof and corrosion resistant, and it came complete with a mast-mounting bracket. Owners report connectivity up to 12 miles.
Like the Wirie AP, this device connected quickly and easily once we resolved local hardware issues unrelated to the device. A test call to the technical assistance desk produced instant response. At over 1,000 feet, it gave us our longest range and strongest signal.
For more information, visit the WaveWifi website.
Connection Distance: 1,046 feet
Price: $350, Wi-Fi only
Netgear EX6100 Range Extender
This dual-band Wi-Fi bridge works on both a 2.4 gHz and 5G router. Plug it into any 110-volt outlet between your router and the areas of weak signals to bridge the Wi-Fi signal to a backyard boat. The device is not waterproof.
After plugging it in near the router, it was easy to connect, requiring no technical service, but a test call had us in touch in five minutes. It retained the setup information as we disconnected and booted it up outdoors, 30 feet from the router. This device would be ideal for bridging a signal to a backyard boat or to a nearby marina Wi-Fi router.
For more information, visit the Netgear website
Connection Distance: 651 feet