Staying connected to the Internet, cell towers and all of the apps that many of us carry on our phones or pads is a new reality of the cruising life. For many adults and just about all children, Facebook, texting, email and apps are totally ingrained in our daily lives, so it can be traumatic to abandon them to go sailing.
For cell phones, you can add a booster or amplifier to your phone that will increase your range by as much as a factor of three. Wilson Electronics makes several good ones for mobile use that will work well aboard boats. With the cell range enhanced, you can stay in touch by phone or text in many coastal cruising grounds that might be out of range with a standalone phone.
The Internet is more of a problem, but not really. A dedicated satellite-based Internet connection—Inmarstat, etc.—will be cumbersome and expensive. You can buy a special Wi-Fi booster such as the device built by the cruisers at Five Mile Wi-Fi. But a simpler solution is to use a smartphone with a signal booster that has a “hot spot” facility that turns the phone into an Internet hub via the cell network. The monthly charge for “hot spot” connectivity is around $20, and from one phone you can link as many as five computers.
Everybody seems to have a laptop, but aboard a boat normal computers become serious battery drains, sucking up 4 or more amps each per hour. Four laptops running five hours a day will consume close to 80 amp hours! Instead of using normal laptops on the boat, why not supply the kids and yourselves with netbook computers that are small, durable and use about half of the juice as a standard laptop?
Staying connected used to be an expensive luxury aboard a boat. Today you can bring it all with you as you cruise the coasts. You’ll enjoy it. And your kids will be happier to join you if they can stay in touch with their friends all of the time.