How To Get Satellite Internet on Your Boat

Catherine McNally
Editorial Lead, Internet & Gaming
Read More
Published on December 14, 2020
4 min read

Ever wished you could download a work PDF or watch an episode of Gilligan's Island while you’re 20 nautical miles from shore?

Getting internet on your boat might seem like a big headache, but new technology makes it a lot easier. You can now choose between a few different internet options for your boat: broadband global area network (BGAN) systems, cellular hotspots, or grabbing a land-based public Wi-Fi signal with the help of a Wi-Fi extender.

Let's dig into the features of each and find out which option is best for you.

Pin
BGAN systems and mobile hotspots also work on your RV

If you also call a camper home, it's good to know that BGAN systems and mobile hotspots are two ways you can hop online while roaming on land. Find out more in our guide to RV internet options.

1. BGAN systems for internet on your boat

Your first option for hopping online is a BGAN system. Unfortunately, this option is also the most expensive, but it doesn't leave you at the mercy of the marina Wi-Fi and gives you an internet connection most anywhere in the world.

Pros
  • Completely portable
  • Wide selection of terminals
  • Rugged equipment designed for field professionals
Cons
  • Extremely pricey
  • Slow download speeds

In essence, a BGAN system is a portable hotspot that can be used anywhere on the ground or water. That's why field correspondents who need reliable connections and need to move frequently often rely on BGAN systems.

Portable BGAN internet service uses a terminal that links to your devices with an Ethernet cable, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or USB. In order for the onboard terminal to communicate with the satellite, it uses GPS, and a clear view of the sky is required for connection.

BGAN internet options for boats

Product
Price
Download speed
Learn more

Explorer 510 BGAN Terminal

$2,145.00

464 Kbps

Inmarsat BGAN Hughes 9202

$2,999.00

464 Kbps

Iridium Pilot

$4,795.00

700 Kbps

KVH TracPhone HTS VSAT

$17,995.00–$49,995.00

5–20 Mbps

Data effective 12/14/2020. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.

Different terminals can work at different download and upload speed with BGAN. Paying more gets you a more expensive terminal that operates at a higher connection speed. But before you pull out your wallet, know that you'll also need a service plan.

Prepaid and postpaid BGAN service plans are available in almost any quantity, with data costs averaging less than $5.00/megabyte. Most shops that sell BGAN terminals, such as Global Marine Networks and Ground Control, will also sell BGAN data plans.

Or you can pay a monthly fee for BGAN access, and you'll simply get charged for how much data you used. An example of an access plan is Ground Control's BGAN Standard+ Plus plan.

2. Mobile hotspots for your boat

If a BGAN terminal is too expensive for your taste, a hotspot might do the trick for a fraction of the cost.

Pros
  • Mostly inexpensive
  • Small and portable
Cons
  • Signal might be spotty offshore
  • Need to switch SIM cards if leaving US

The biggest downside is that you'll start losing your hotspot signal once you're anywhere between 5 to 10 miles offshore. But if you're following the shoreline, a hotspot is the least expensive option for an internet signal that comes along for the ride.

Here in the US, we typically recommend Verizon Wireless hotspots, since it has the largest coverage area. But keep in mind that if you cruise on over to the Bahamas or another country, you'll need to swap out your SIM card for a local provider.

Here's a quick look at some marine-friendly hotspot options:

Hotspot options for your boat

Product
Price
Download speed
SIM card network
Learn more

Globalstar GSP-9600

$149.99

9.6 Kbps

N/A; Requires Globalstar satphone

Skyroam Solis X Smartspot

$179.99*

4G LTE

No SIM card needed

Verizon Jetpack MiFi 6620L

$199.99*

4G LTE

Verizon

Glomex WebBoat 4G Plus US Verzion

$995.00

4G/3G (Up to 100 Mbps on LTE)

GSM

Data effective 12/14/2020. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
*Amazon.com List prices of $179.99 and $199.99 (as of 12/14/2020 9:07 AM MST). Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon.com at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. Reviews.org utilizes paid Amazon links.

Don't forget that your hotspot will also need cell service. If you're keeping to US waters, here's a look at how the three major cell phone providers compare when it comes to coverage.

3. Use public Wi-Fi with a Wi-Fi extender

The cheapest option of them all, public Wi-Fi can be both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing when you can get a signal, and a curse when your connection is slow or spotty.

Luckily, Wi-Fi extenders can help with most of those problems, and some are made specifically for mounting on your boat.

Pros
  • Free or low-cost
Cons
  • Need to be close to a marina
  • Possible security risks
  • Connection could be bad

A marine Wi-Fi extender might cost you more than a hotspot device, but it doesn't require you to purchase a monthly cellular plan or SIM card either.

And if your local marina delivers a strong Wi-Fi connection, it may not be necessary. But others cruising the water have remarked that many marinas struggle to deliver Wi-Fi. So an extender might be beneficial if you're headed into uncharted territory.

Here's a quick look at a few marine Wi-Fi extender options.

Wi-Fi extenders for your boat

Product
Price
Antenna
Connection
Learn more

Bearifi BearExtender Antenna

$54.97*

10 dBi directional

USB

C. Crane CC Vector RV Long Range WiFi Repeater

$249.99*

8 dBi omni-directional

Wi-Fi

Wave WiFi Rogue Pro

$421.00*

8.5 dBi omni-directional

Ethernet or Wi-Fi

Data effective 12/14/2020. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
*Amazon.com List prices of 54.97, $249.99, and $421.00 (as of 12/14/2020 9:29 AM MST). Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon.com at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. Reviews.org utilizes paid Amazon links.

Heads Up
Looking for the WiriePro?

If you heard from a friend that the WiriePro or WirieAP was a great option for on-boat internet, we're sad to say the company shut down.

Basics for using the internet on your boat

If you're a boater who rarely ventures far from shore, your cheapest option is public Wi-Fi and a signal booster system that puts Wi-Fi networks in reach of your vessel. And mobile hotspots can offer an internet connection if a marina with public Wi-Fi isn't in sight.

But for a more reliable, expansive (and expensive) internet connection, BGAN satellite systems are your best solution—and also the most expensive.

Just know that, whichever marine internet option you choose, your online experience won't be the same as it is at home. Even creature comforts like unlimited web browsing and unlimited ship-to-shore calling cost the equivalent of a decent midsize automobile for a satellite dish that has a diameter of about two feet.

Challenges to getting internet out at sea

For the most part, the challenge of getting satellite internet for a boat is cost, along with the fact that a boat moves.

The movement of your boat requires a satellite that can maintain a connection while it's rocking in the water.

Distance also factors in, as larger and more expensive satellite dishes are required to compensate for angled signals as a boat veers towards the poles. If you’re looking for a strong signal anywhere in the world, be prepared for a substantial price tag.

Wi-Fi extenders and hotspots don't face these same challenges, but they do require you to be closer to shore. And public Wi-Fi connections may be spotty, while hotspots require you to pay for cell service and a SIM card.

Now that you know more about the best ISPs in the US, check these out next.
Need internet at home too? Look for internet plans in your area.

Live a full digital nomad lifestyle and get internet on your RV too.

Catherine McNally
Written by
Catherine McNally
Catherine has a degree in journalism and an MBA, and has spent the last 10+ years writing everything from Okinawa travel guides to stories on Medium. She’s been online since AOL CDs were a thing and is an unapologetic PC gamer. She believes the internet is a necessity, not a luxury, and writes reviews and guides to help everyone stay connected. You can also find her on Twitter: @CMReviewsIt.

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  • Mike R

    We plan on traveling the Great Loop in addition to the Bahamas and the Florida keys. We also enjoy fishing but are rarely more than 10 miles offshore. We would like the ability to watch Netflixs and other internet programming as well as browsing and using our cell phones. Most of the time we are at marinas or on the hook within site of some community. Can you recommend the best type of system for our use/ Thanks, Mike

    • Ryan M

      Mike what did you go with? In the same “boat”.