Boat docks and the internet
September 10, 2007 3:14 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to get internet access without a phone line? Specifically, on a docked boat.

What has your experience been with getting internet access someplace without a land line?

Our boat is docked someplace with such horrible phone service that it's not worth paying for. We need internet access for email, web browsing, and transmitting sending secure/ confidential files, usually via email.

I hear satellite access is prohibitively expensive. Is that still true? Would it be worth it if a few boats got together and shared it? What are the drawbacks to this sort of arrangement?

We are in the Berkeley Marina, in the San Francisco Bay. Currently we aren't worried about internet access while sailing.

Advice, anecdotes, or horror stories all welcome.
posted by small_ruminant to Technology (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
WiFi Co-op says they have an access point there.
posted by Floydd at 3:24 PM on September 10, 2007

Depending on the cell phone reception in your general area, you can tether your computer to your cell phone and connect using your cell provider's data network. I used this as a stopgap while on vacation and it worked out OK, although the reception in the area I was in was sucky. It can be expensive, though, especially as some ISPs will require you to have the most expensive data plan to allow tethering (they can't stop you from tethering, but they can cancel your plan when they catch you). Oh and also you have to have a compatible phone.
posted by anaelith at 3:25 PM on September 10, 2007

Actually, that link is a couple years old. Maybe contact one of the hotels in the area and arrange to use their wireless?
posted by Floydd at 3:27 PM on September 10, 2007

What about getting a wireless broadband card? I know we have Sprint cards through work and the people who use them are satisfied with the speed.
posted by radioamy at 3:48 PM on September 10, 2007

Seconding the tethering. I've used it on Lake Lanier in Atlanta often enough without a problem. The main issue is connection speed- being on the t-mobile network isn't very fast.

Is this a weekend getaway boat, or are you actually living there/using it every day? If it's for recreational use (and thus not used as much), chances of getting caught tethering are greatly reduced.
posted by jmd82 at 3:51 PM on September 10, 2007

I'm really happy with my verizon wireless card. It's a USB form factor, so it works with a desktop as well as a laptop. I get decent speeds and few drops- if you can get a good cellphone signal, you should be just fine.
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:31 PM on September 10, 2007

Oh, and FWIW, the issue with satellite is extremely high latency- the bandwidth is great, but it has to go up a long ways, turn around and come back- this rules out skype, VOIP, and most MMORPGs.
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:33 PM on September 10, 2007

I tether my Windows Mobile phone to a laptop on Sprint. Gets around 1.8 Mbps/600Kbps up/down. This plan works out at $30/month for unlimited data with some registry tweaks) and includes unlimited SMS and 500 minutes of peak voice. There is a more legit "phone-as-modem" service for an extra $40?/month. It also roams for free on Verizon's network so if Sprint's coverage sucks, you have a backup with Verizon. Latency is high, but not as high as a sat phone link. I even managed to get a "1X" internet connection (basically, slow iphone speeds) in the Mojave and crossing through southern Utah mountains so I was impressed. I think it would work well in a boat in the Bay Area.
posted by meehawl at 8:07 PM on September 10, 2007

Ditto satellite latency being a problem -- all to-and-fro takes a long time. Also, the satellite can get overloaded badly at peak times (we're using Starband) which can make it almost unusable while it's saturated, mostly just minutes but could be longer. Satellite is the best only when there's no alternative!
posted by anadem at 10:43 PM on September 10, 2007

Response by poster: To respond to Floydd, it doesn't seem to reach the dock we're on reliably.

To answer jmd82, we'd be using this everyday.

Thank you, everyone.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:43 PM on September 10, 2007

If the wifi's there but doesn't quite reach, a cantenna or other reception-boosting device may be worth looking into.
posted by alexei at 11:09 PM on September 10, 2007

I'm looking at something like this myself, but for a rural area. It doesn't look prohibitively expensive to do mobile satellite anymore (by that I mean just moving it to a one place and then stopping and using the satellite access) basically you just put your dish on a tripod and off you go.

Here's an article about it.
posted by bigmusic at 7:46 PM on September 13, 2007

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