Apr 10, 2015

Another try to get Wi-Fi on board

N 27° 48.999', W 15° 45.949'

All cruising boats have a VHF-radio and most also have either a SSB-radio or a satellite phone (or both). However, most of us spend way more time near the shore than off shore. There seems to be one radio connection more important than the others; Wi-Fi. 

We have had many tries to pick up a Wi-Fi signal to share it inside our boat (or at least have it working on one computer). Now it seems that we have a working solution.

We like to use the Internet on laptops, tablets, etc. in our boat. Usually that's impossible because there is no Wi-Fi coverage inside the boat. Our steel hull and aluminium deck are not helping us, it's a bit different with GRP. We have tried external antennas outside the boat, but that is sometimes a bit difficult. What we need is an outside antenna with a system that connects to the Wi-Fi providing the internet connection, while devices inside the boat share that connection through our own Wi-FI access point.

We had the idea to implement that with Raspberry Pi, but fortunately found out that there were already many devices for this task.

We had to make the decision between Ubiquiti and Mikrotik products, both have very interesting devices. We chose Mikrotik Metal  2SHPn, because of its more powerful transmitter. It also seemed a bit more robust, which is always a good thing on the water.

There is an antenna included in the package with the Metal, but we decided to have more gain with a better antenna. Omni-directional antenna is simple to use, especially when anchored out. We bought a TP-Link TL-ANT2415D.

We tried the system in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Metal was able to see more than 60 access point at once!  That's a lot compared to the old 10 or so . The system was really working as we expected it to.

A bit of a warning! Mikrotik Router OS is not the easiest user interface to work with. Here is the screen where you connect to the WiFi.

This is only a part of the screen. However, if you can handle mail via SSB, this should'n be too difficult to handle.

We believe that Metal can also be configured as a Wi-Fi access point for on board devices. We haven't tried that yet. We just happen to have some extra Wi-Fi routers (leftovers from work in Finland) with us and configured one of them to serve as our access point.

We sailed to Las Galletas, Tenerife. There was one windy day in the marina and all of the sudden there was no more antenna.

Well, there was the antenna, but the fiberglass tube had flown away (fallen to the bottom of the sea). Antenna was sold by Manhattan Computer in Las Palmas. We tried to talk to them about guarantee, but the guy just told us, that we should also have the fiberglass tube with us. We might as well have used it as a sword and broke it :) That much for the guarantees here... 

Oh well! We still have the Metals own antenna and it is also working pretty well.