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Internet Access While Sailing? (Revisited) 308

Posted by timothy
from the might-be-some-holes-in-this-plan dept.
El Genio Malvado writes "10 years ago the question was asked, What is the best way to get Internet while at sea? After reading the responses — and after a decade of technological advancement — is there a better, more reliable method? For someone with the ability to telecommute 100% of the time, then the idea of sailing around the world with a paycheck direct deposited must be getting more and more tempting. What does the community at large have for modern resources for constant streaming internet at sea?"
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Internet Access While Sailing? (Revisited)

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  • BGAN (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:12AM (#32949226)

    If you have the money, look into BGAN terminals. Hughes and Thrane & Thrane are the two major manufacturers.

    I'm too lazy to insert links, google is your friend.

  • NMT (Score:4, Informative)

    by etnoy (664495) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:12AM (#32949228) Homepage
    In some countries the NMT system [wikipedia.org] is still operational and is used by ships for it's excellent coverage (compared to GSM, that is). Don't have any links at the moment, but I know some ships that are using NMT to get an OK network connection when out on the sea. Other than that, I think I remember you can surf using VHF. Don't know about SSB, internet over SSB would be slow but with an awesome coverage. Last resort: Satellite.
    • Re:NMT (Score:4, Informative)

      by neurophys (13737) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:01AM (#32949670)

      I use the NMT - system as implemented in Scandinavia (http://www.ice.no/ [www.ice.no]). It works all places I sail. It cost approx as an ADSL-connection. I opted for a plan of $30/week when in use (summer and winter holidays) and nothing at other times.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Yes, but where do you sail? I looked at the wikipedia article and the NMT doesn't seem to be implemented outside of parts of Europe these days, and even when implemented it seems to have a maximum range of about 30km for a cell. Kinda useless if you're in the middle of the Indian ocean, or even in Europe, if you're in parts of the North Sea or the Mediterranean. 30km isn't *that* far in nautical terms.

        The only product that'll work regardless of where the person is actually sailing is something like Inmarsat

  • BGAN (Score:5, Informative)

    by chainsaw1 (89967) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:14AM (#32949240)

    This was asked sooner than 10 years ago, and I'll repeat my answer to that thread.

    You want BGAN. It's an INMARSAT service. Designed for marine use, but will not be cheap

    http://www.inmarsat.com/Services/Land/BGAN/default.aspx [inmarsat.com]

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      From wikipedia:
      BGAN terminals are not allowed to be used on the open ocean on a moving vessel. Inmarsat has created the FleetBroadband service that uses the I4 satellites for maritime communication.

    • by Albanach (527650)

      It's been pointed out above, than BGAN is only useful for stationary vessels, it cannot be used on the open ocean. For that you need FleetBroadband also from Inmarsat. Needless to say, it's even more expensive.

      • by chainsaw1 (89967)

        BGAN would probably work on a sailing vessel 8 kts). It works on riveriene craft we have used. The asker unfortunately did not provide details on the displacement and dimensions of the boat used, nor the environment in which it would be used (intercostal? Open ocean? Time of year? Tropical or artic? How much actual connected time is needed to telecommute? Insert other requirement related questions here...)

        Needless to say, any boat / ship that is rocking enough will have difficulty maintaining a signa

    • by SimonInOz (579741) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:47AM (#32950256)

      In 1980 I went sailing. I had made heaps of money in - of all places - Belgium, where we wrote one of the first commercial packet switching networks in the world. It was cool. And no installed base, oh joy.

      Anyway I bought a 30' Iroquois catamaran and set off. I sailed about 2 years, down to the Med, over the Atlantic, around the West Indies. Sometimes single-handed, mostly with 2-4 folk aboard. There may have been some drinking.

      It was, without doubt, a high point of my life, despite the storms, loneliness, terrible food, sunburn. And did I mention the storms?
      No GPS then - we had to use a sextant. I wrote some nice sight reduction programs for it on my HP 41C calculator - you just can't kill off habits, can you?

      Communication - we didn't have no stinking communication! A VHF radio, range about 20miles, and otherwise we could listen to shortwave radio sometimes.
      We could only send the odd postcard from ports, and look - without much hope nor any success - in the poste restante in the main post offices. Phone calls were very expensive and we did this rarely.
      We didn't have comms - there was no internet (we were just inventing networks - inter-networks lay in the future) HF radios would have weighed more than the boat. Food, water more important.

      (And in case you cared ... I ended up selling the boat in the Virgin Islands - it's still sailing in Florida apparently; moving to Australia, where I still am, happily in the sun, still writing the odd bit of code. And I still have the sextant in the garage - it's a lovely thing. The HP41c has not survived. Nor has HP, not really).

      Pah - on-board communication, nah - listen to the waves. Enjoy the quiet. Watch the sky. See the moon rise, blood red, from the sea. Let your mind actually think, perchance dream.

      • by mzs (595629)
        That was beautifully written.
      • by the_rajah (749499) * on Monday July 19, 2010 @10:24AM (#32950676) Homepage
        We had very reliable daily communication with home in the US.....via SSB ham radio. No Internet, obviously, or even computers or programmable calculators. In fact, no calculators at all. We did have a nice old Loran A that we used to get fixes at night. We always did a Noon meridian transit to verify our latitude and kept track of distance covered with the taffrail log. No problem finding Barbados dead-on after 28 days at sea. For the older hams who might remember, the rig was a Galaxy GT-550 and the antenna was a Hy-Gain triband vertical. We mostly used 15 meters.

        Our electronics, freezer and refrigerator was powered by a 32 volt battery bank that was recharged via a 15KW diesel generator or the diesel propulsion engine. For entertainment, we had a Zenith Transoceanic radio for BBC, VOA, etc and we had a reel-to-reel tape deck stereo system that we could use when the generator was running as was usually the case at meal time since the main stove was electric.
      • by Shinobi (19308)

        "Pah - on-board communication, nah - listen to the waves. Enjoy the quiet. Watch the sky. See the moon rise, blood red, from the sea. Let your mind actually think, perchance dream."

        This is something more people need to do. Sailing is not for me, however. For me, it's hiking or skiing. Just going out for a couple of weeks of wandering far away, without electronics and such intruding, and navigating just by map and compass when necessary. Keeps the brain healthy.(It's actually something that bothers me.... ho

  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:14AM (#32949242)

    But I remember when a Loran-C [wikipedia.org] was high tech. Now people want to stream video from the middle of the Atlantic... Hey, back in the old day we didn't need porn we just brought women with us. Owning a sailboat and cruising the Caribbean went a long way towards getting those panties off!

    But seriously, always have a good old almanac and sextant as a backup. Because if your generator gets fucked, you and your high tech toys are fucked. They never turn off the sun and stars, however ('cept in a storm of course - Murphy's law would have your generator fail in the middle of the hurricane anyway).

    Personally I go sailing to get AWAY from the rest of the world, not to stay connected to it.

    • by sukotto (122876) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:03AM (#32949696)

      Don't just *have* the sextant. Make it a habit to take a daily noon sighting and record your distance logger.
      Always assume the GPS is wrong until verified by hand.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    http://www.inmarsat.com/Services/Maritime/FleetBroadband/default.aspx

    • by n1ywb (555767) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:32AM (#32949396) Homepage Journal

      Agreed, Fleet Broadband is your only good option. It's not particularly cheap, though it doubles as a sat phone which you'd probably want anyway. I guess it all depends on how much bandwidth you need vs how much money you make. It's not particularly fast either, 300k-ish if I recall, and it's a shared channel(s). But it's much faster and cheaper than the older F-77 technology.

      Also that equipment isn't the worlds most reliable, you either need to buy two so you can have a backup, or think hard about how much downtime will cost you when you are two weeks out of kerplopistan harbor and nobody there knows how to fix one of these things so you have to get parts flown in air-freight.

      The trouble is most satellites use spot-beams to focus their signals on continental areas, where the people are. They intentionally focus their signals AWAY from the ocean, where the people are not. Services like Hugues Net, etc. They usually work in coastal areas, but that's about it.

      • Any idea why the hardware is that flaky?(fundamentally tricky design problems; because we can; etc?)

        Off the cuff, I would think that somebody selling a very expensive service, to people who probably have their reasons for needing it, where most of the investment is in the satellites, would want the reliability of their ground hardware to be less of a joke, and more of a chuck norris joke...
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by n1ywb (555767)

          The ocean is a tough environment.
          The antennas are gyro stabilized and have a lot of moving parts.
          Lighting is common at sea and does terrible things to radios.
          Radios in general get hot and fail sometimes. No ship goes out to sea with only one means of communication, usually 3 or 4.

          • Yep. Go look at the antenna farm on bigger boats. They aren't there to impress the chicks.

            WD-40 only goes so far.
  • by Bert64 (520050) <bert AT slashdot DOT firenzee DOT com> on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:29AM (#32949376) Homepage

    Get a diving suit and a pair of wire cutters...
    Dive down to an underwater cable, cut it and splice yourself into the middle of it! High bandwidth internet access at sea.

  • A few solutions (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:34AM (#32949412)

    1. A lot of marina's seem to be starting offer wifi which covers the moorings. So you can at least get online when in port at reasonable speeds.
    2. GSM coverage usually extends at least 10 miles offshore, if you're travelling parallel to the coast (and it depends where in the world you are) you might be able to use GSM networks. Getting hold of local sim cards is much cheaper than paying roaming fees.
    3. Iridium phones can manage dial up internet access at 2400bps for around $1.50 per minute. Globalstar phones will give you 9600bps but (despite the name) coverage is far from global. Thuraya give you "unlimited" internet access for a mere $3550 per month and speeds into hundreds of kilobits per second. Other's have already mentioned Imarsat's BGAN. http://www.satphone.co.uk/index.shtml has good info on all of these.
    4. Try and rig up something over amateur radio and use an AX25 to TCPIP gateway. Speeds will be slow (a few kilobits per second at best) and its likely to be unreliable. But it should be cheap/free.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      4. Try and rig up something over amateur radio and use an AX25 to TCPIP gateway. Speeds will be slow (a few kilobits per second at best) and its likely to be unreliable. But it should be cheap/free.

      OP said he wanted to do work over this link. One of the rules of amateur radio is "non commercial use".

  • Doesn't work everywhere, its slow but somewhat cheaper than BGAN and you only need a handheld satellite phone for it to work.

    but still at $5 per MB I would be writing a script to compress my RSS feeds using PAQ8 so I can download them over TFTP and writing a custom binary protocol IM client to save bandwidth
  • by ChapsRL8 (665139) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:36AM (#32949450)
    The million dollar carbon fiber sailboats that compete in the Volvo Ocean Race in 2009 used three systems for voice, data, and fax communications. The one that I recall was Thrane & Thrane SAILOR 500 Fleet Broadband. They would shoot HD video with HD cameras and then upload clips via that system from the middle of the ocean. SAILOR 500 Fleet Broadband is a complete system with bandwidth up to 432kbps and allows phone calls to be placed at the same time. I believe the monthly service fee is upwards of $400 a month excluding equipment fees and installation. http://www.thrane.com/Maritime/Products/Satellite%20Communication/SAILOR%20FleetBroadband/SAILOR%20500%20FleetBroadband.aspx [thrane.com]
  • seems they are aiming directly at this kind of market.

  • Iridium NEXT (Score:3, Informative)

    by grumling (94709) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:46AM (#32949530) Homepage

    If you're willing to wait another 5 years, Iridium is in the process of replacing their constellation:

    http://multivu.prnewswire.com/mnr/iridium/44300/ [prnewswire.com]

  • They must have some Internet access at sea. Not that they would want to share it, though.

    Just curious, anyone know?

  • Pigeon (Score:5, Informative)

    by retech (1228598) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:52AM (#32949584)
    If you are ANYWHERE near South Africa, New Zealand or Oz use a carrier pigeon it's faster than access here anyway and heaps cheaper. Plus you won't get nailed when going over your data cap!
    • New ICT axiom for 3rd world installations: Never underestimate the bandwidth of a cage full of carrier pigeons with 32GB MicroSD cards.
    • Going over your data cap will result in the drowning of your poor pigeon! Use low-bandwidth protocols!

  • Well, you could get your Amateur Radio license, then you could use Winlink 2000 to send and receive emails while at sea.

    http://www.winlink.org/ [winlink.org]

    Of course, I personally despise Winlink 2000, because of the robots that never listen to see if other stations are transmitting, before they transmit, but that's just my personal opinion.

  • iDirect (Score:3, Informative)

    by falconcy (1082517) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:25AM (#32949978)
    Forget BGAN, they charge on actual throughput and can be pretty expensive to operate. What you actually need is a SeaTel or similar tracking antenna - this will constantly keep you connected to the satellite as you are mobile, an iDirect http://www.idirect.net/ [idirect.net] 3000 series or X3 modem (depends on the provider you use) and a subscription with one of the many providers of such services. The initial setup costs could be a bit pricey, so just look at the hardware cost as an investment. Your best bet is a provider with the ability to actually offer service over multiple satellites covering most of the globe. It can get a bit complicated when switching satellites so choose a company which specializes in Maritime VSAT services, they will be able to advise you on how best to do this.
  • by abarrow (117740) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:30AM (#32950032) Homepage

    Much depends on where you are going to be, exactly what access you want, and how much you are willing to pay.

    Long distance cruisers generally go for SSB-based email (either Sailmail [sailmail.com] or Winlink [winlink.org]) because it's cheap and relatively reliable. Of course, "reliable" in this context means that depending on the HF propagation conditions you can probably get an email message out sometime that day. And you are limited to short, text-only messages. Still, these days you can update blogs, Facebook, etc. via email...

    Other systems like Ocens [ocens.com] are also available for email via Iridium.

    After that, if you are offshore and away from GSM coverage, you start talking about real bucks. Inmarsat is the most common. Iridium, Inmarsat, Globalstar, etc. all pretty much have two things in common - they are slow compared to land-based systems and they bill by the bit.. a lot. Streaming video and surfing Spring Break Girls Gone Wild is probably not in the cards. Hell, even checking a webmail email account is not really feasible unless you are Carlos Slim and own a telephone company.

    So, that's a long way of getting around to saying this: In the past 10 years, not a lot has changed. Inshore, close to cell coverage, you can do very well. Offshore, you are still pretty much stuck with the same old systems that were in place 10 years ago, only now they are more expensive. Oh, and in the case of Globalstar, they are also less reliable now.

    • by abarrow (117740) on Monday July 19, 2010 @10:06AM (#32950452) Homepage

      Oh, one more thing I forgot to mention - WiFi coverage is getting to be scary ubiquitous. About two weeks ago I had a Skype conversation with a friend on his boat in Tuamotus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuamotus [wikipedia.org], which is basically a circular bump in the water that has a village with about 10 people and two chickens. Pretty much all over the South Pacific they find the same thing: there is usually a somewhat-usable WiFi connection available.

      There are some realities with offshore cruising that still would probably make your round-the-world telecommuting dream possible.

      1. You don't do much during passages except stand watch, sleep and eat. If you think you are going to be able to crank out that last bit of code during a passage, you are kidding yourself. It's either too bumpy or too busy. You don't want to do other things except keep the boat moving toward your destination.

      2. Crusing sailboats spend a very small percentage of their lives making passages. 10% is a lot. Most of the time is spent at anchor or in marinas enjoying the local color. Assuming you are in a place with WiFi, you are pretty much good to go.

      3. You can use text-only email to keep up with things during your passages. That may be enough until you get to where you have better Internet access.

      4. I don't know where you thinking of going, but pretty much your longest passage is going to be around 4 weeks offshore. That's West Coast to the Marquesas. Otherwise, you just won't be out of touch for that long.

    • As a half-ass sailor who telecommutes, it sounds like cruising up and down the US, Japan or EU coast for a while is a pretty good option. Being in sight of land also makes supply and safety a lot less like a full time job. If you want endless open ocean views, just don't look to starboard.

  • is rather like whipping a dead horse. Yes, there are sources where you can get the service, but you are going to pay a small ransom and keep paying as you use it. That's the upshot of the deal.
    The downside to it is that you are going to be set back to the good ole days of 56K dialup. No viewing of multimedia stuff, no gaming, save for turn based board games perhaps, and no huge email attachments, both outgoing and incoming.

    Even with the new Iridium birds being fired into orbit, you will never, ever get fast

  • Simply adapt it so that you use bottles launched into the sea rather avians. Implementing it is nothing but an hardware problem, after all.

  • They seem to have it figuredout:

    http://www.pegasus.com/log/pacific-cup-2010/facetime/ [pegasus.com]

  • For someone with the ability to telecommute 100% of the time, then the idea of sailing around the world with a paycheck direct deposited

    I can't believe anyone could do both of those things competently and simultaneously. I'm glad I'm not paying you, or sharing the oceans with you...

Aren't you glad you're not getting all the government you pay for now?

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