Internet at Sea

I mentioned yesterday that I would be exploring my options for Internet at sea.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find what I was seeking…

My needs are very unique, so it is no great surprise that I’m having trouble. Because we’ll be circumnavigating, I want something that is global, and because I have to pay the bill, I want something that I can afford. The first of these two goals is difficult to achieve, and the second is completely impossible.

I have found near-global solutions, but there really is nothing inexpensive, that offers Internet as many of us think of it.

To be fair, I am ignoring some perfectly good low-cost solutions that work around the world, and some that are free, or darn close. For instance: which uses single side band, to permit the sending and receiving of simple text messages. I know very little about the use of these services other than to say that I’ve tried them, didn’t give them the attention they deserved, and failed miserably. Sending data via SSB is something that works unreliably, and that you have to fuss with a bit to make happen. I like the idea of free, but really need to be able to send longer messages more reliably.

I do subscribe to a service that is in this category – Skymate is a real workhorse on my boat, and works virtually everywhere: It is not cheap, but it is affordable. Sending or receiving about 50 one sentence emails a month costs “only” $70, with cheaper packages available. I use Skymate in a few ways, and if you look at Skymate for what it does, not for what I wish it could do, it is one of the greatest devices on the boat. It gives “simple to use” email, which is limited to approximately one text paragraph, virtually anywhere in the world. It also gives weather information that is very good inside the US, and not as good, but reasonable information outside the US. Lastly, it has a fairly simplistic monitoring system, that sends me regular emails updating me on key information about the boat (location, battery voltage, bilge pump status, shore power connection). But.. it won’t surf the net.

For surfing the net, there is really only one “awesome” solution on a boat: wifi. The problem with wifi is that it only works in marinas. It is cheap, and usually fast, but you can’t take it to sea with you. That said, you can extend its’ range. I use a device by Syrens:, which claims 12 mile range and have also heard good things about: There are a lot of different options, and I don’t know of a good comparison chart that matches them up. While running north along the US coast last year, we ran close enough to shore that I was able to “snag” an internet connection frequently. Unfortunately, they never lasted more than 5-10 minutes, but it was usually enough time to get my email out.

For 99% of people, cheap hi-speed internet, via wifi, while in marinas, and some text-message solution, such as Skymate, while traveling at sea is more than adequate.

I’m in that other 1% (actually, closer to .0001%) that plans to circumnavigate, yet still needs broadband internet access while at sea and while in third world countries where internet is impossible. I’m technically retired, but still working. I have a little internet business ( which started as a hobby, but seems to be exploding. I’m doing 30,000 websites, with a couple hundred more every week. It’s not paying the rent, but I expect it will someday, and the business needs constant attention. I have to find a way to work at sea, or not go to sea — which isn’t an option. 

There are inexpensive satellite based internet solutions, but these tend to be US only, or Europe only. For instance: There are also systems that run off the cellular phone networks, that are very inexpensive, and very fast — but, once again, these are not worldwide solutions. That said, as we circumnavigate, I am sure that I will be using these systems, particularly in Europe, where good 3g service is available throughout much of the Med — IF you can figure out how to get a european account opened with a company like France Telecom (no easy task). As we go around the world, I will be doing a continent by continent, and country by country, analysis of the best, and cheapest, way to get internet, and may find myself swapping in and out satellite or cellular-based internet systems, the same way I swap in and out satellite tv receivers.

All of this is the long way around to saying I’ll probably install one of these:

Assuming they do what they say, which is FAR from a safe assumption, Fleet Broadband will have true global broadband service by next summer. This also assumes that you believe 432k access is broadband. It’s about 1/12th the speed of my home DSL connection here in Seattle, but it’s really not bad and I’ll be thrilled to have it. However, this speed comes at a cost. Their “bulk” plan for heavy usage is “only” $66,000 a year, for which you get to download roughly the same amount of data as fits on two dvds – total. Ouch. And, this doesn’t count the cost of installing the system, which is probably another $50,000. Double ouch. I will probably go for it, because the alternative is shutting my business down, which probably costs me more in the long-run, but, that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

There is also a service coming from Iridium, call Openport, which hasn’t yet released prices (or, I can’t find them). They claim their pricing will be 30% lower than anyone else’s, and that their device will be a fraction of the cost of comparable systems. I hope this is true…

-Ken W

PS I had an offline email asking about the “Post Comment” feature. People are having to scan backwards through the blog postings each day to see if any new comments were posted. There needs to be a “What’s new” that shows any new comments to my blog posts. Reader comments are usually the best part of my blog, and I don’t like anything that discourages them. This is now on my list to “fix” and you can expect an upgrade to this blog sometime in the next month. Thank you for bringing it to my attention!

PSPS As long as this is “techie day” on the blog… (hopefully I haven’t put everyone to sleep…) I’ll mention one more geeky thing. I added to the blog last week a new feature which makes the blog possible as an RSS feed. If you are someone who knows what that is, you’ll be happy. And, if you are not — no worries, it’s just an alternate way to read the blog.

7 Responses

  1. R. Foster: I’m a network engineer, with a life in computers, and your question went right over my head. I do buy a lot of bandwidth for Talkspot, but it comes cheap these days.

    As to cellular — I do have a cell-phone based dedicated device for getting internet on the boat. It has an external antenna and works great. Unfortunately, it was pre-3g, and doesn’t give great speed. I will be checking this winter to see if there is a 3g device that I can replace it with.

    -Ken W

  2. Mark: I also have noticed the AIS data going in and out. My guess is that you are right — and, the transmitter is weak. When I first took delivery of the boat we had the AIS attached to a large antenna that gave it amazing range. I was picking up AIS targets 75 miles away. Unfortunately, I was seeing instability in my nav software at the time, Maxsea, and one theory was that the AIS antenna was mismatched to my unit. We swapped to a smaller AIS antenna, and went too far — suddenly my AIS range is under 6 miles. One of my projects this winter is to get an antenna that is properly sized for the AIS on my boat. -Ken W

  3. It came back on for a bit off Palos Verdes then disappeared again (yes, I do need to get a life). I don’t see the other boats on the site doing it though, so I would guess either the AIS on Sans Souci is cutting in and out, or it is a lower-power AIS transmitter than the others are running, or it is just lower to the water.

    The ride doesn’t look bad until the boat gets up near San Francisco. (

  4. Hi Ken,
    Firstly i followed the departure of Sans Souci from Newport today and it was great to see how that site works, however your boat stopped transmitting it’s AIS signal as it approached San Pedro Channel off Long Beach. I can only guess that it is a problem with the site.
    As to your thoughts regarding updating to Navnet 3, it would have to be the best system i have yet seen as well as being very simple to operate. My observations after spending 3 days on a yacht with navnet 3 installed

  5. Ken,

    I see that she is on the way from Newport by the AIS tracking! I look forward to following her progress.

    Jim E.

  6. Ken:
    I know your exploring all types of networks so that you will have Internet (data) connectivity during your circumnavigation trip. First question is, when your approaching the service solution providers you’ve described above, are you engaging as yourself or your company TalkSpot? You may find significant cost savings by simply using your company as the front.

    Food for Thought. Has TalkSpot explored providing affordable global Internet connectivity? For your trip, or for the future of TalkSpot, have you considered a MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) modeling to secure or lease wireless spectrum from carriers on a global footprint? Wireless networks are providing very favorable pricing solutions for access to voice and date spectrum. The Initial thought, is to leverage Talkspot to secure DATA only, network connectivity via cellular providers backbones worldwide. This does not solve your offshore connectivity issues, but might provide a reliable solution when traveling near wireless networks, which are everywhere internationally. Far better than Wi-Fi and you can use same booster technology to reach towers 15 miles offshore.

    PS: Kites
    I know you’ve mentioned interest here. Kites are becoming available that will be great for Passage Makers. Take a look at Sail Anarchy and discussion regarding kites for yachts.
    http://www.sailinganarchy.c (
    These kites can be easily launched and taken down from the bow of San Souci. If over long passages you can increase distance by gaining 1 or 2 Knots, can improve time and range. Kites can be used in conjunction or as alternative for a Get Home device.

  7. Thanks-a-Lot Ken for all the time you put into this…we are reading daily

    Like to take some pictures next weekend when she arrives back home in Seattle

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